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Ashgabat Blues Over Dictatorland

7 Apr

We have received the following missive from an acquaintance of Lord Venal, who recently had cause to be in the Turkmen capital Ashgabat.

Somewhat disappointed by the closing of all nightclubs at an unearthly early hour, he was gratified to receive a personal invitation from President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov to drop by at one of his elegant palaces. “After a few drinks, His Excellency pulled out his guitar and treated me and the young ladies present to some of his favourite songs, all written by himself! Knowing I’m from distant Albion, we then settled down to watch the latest BBC production, Dictatorland, which His Excellency enjoyed, but only up to a point. Knowing that a friend from my (rather minor) public school works in the upper echelons of the BBC, he immediately dashed off a letter for me to pass on, which I reproduce below.”

To Director of BBC

London

England

Dear esteemed Sir!

I watched your fine show Dictatorland (thanks to excellent Hola!!) which show success in fellow region leaders in important task keeping order and maintaining popular support and stability in country Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Belarus. You know these leaders follow me in my example how to keep good order on streets, even if in some way they act very primitive, like dictator of tinpot. We here in Turkmenistan famous not needing to shoot people on street like you showed in Kazakhstan, or beating people. We keep order by kindness and goodness of all police officers and lofty wisdom of president (myself).

So why then BBC not ask to come to Turkmenistan? We do not understand this incomprehensible decision. You only need to address yourself to me I arrange everything for you. See nice things, meet nice people. I let you interview me (but note you don’t ask questions, just stand up and write down everything I say in little notebook). You make good programme very popular around world and give glory to my country.

I look forward I hear from you with offer of coming to Turkmenistan.

Gurbanguly

(President)

Kazakhstan’s Recycled Art

17 Mar

Kazakh artist, Saule Suleimenova, has found a novel way of dealing with some of the masses of plastic bags that litter Kazakhstan – by recycling them into artworks.

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Saule Suleimenova’s ‘Civil Registration Office’ – note the shadowy police figures lurking in the background

Saule Suleimenova’s latest exhibition – called “… Somewhere in the Great Steppe”- features a series of paintings made entirely from discarded plastic items such as carrier bags and tablecloths – the style is known as cellophane painting. To see  how the bags are recycled into paintings, check out this video.

 

The exhibition opens with images from the steppe across the four seasons and then travels into the city, taking in village life along the way. The collection is part of her ongoing projects I’m Kazakh and Aruakhs (Spirits of Ancestors), which combines  archive images of Kazakhs against a backdrop of present-day scenes.

The themes in this exhibition are bang up to date with a triptych called ‘Civil Registration Office’ which depicts the chaos in registration centres at the start of this year when Kazakhstan introduced new laws to track the movements of its populace and assert its control over this formerly nomadic people.

The exhibition is open daily from 10.00-19.00 in Almaty’s Aurora Space, which is located by the Abay Opera and Ballet Theatre,  on the corner of Baiseitov and Zhambyl Street, but you’ll have to hurry if you want to catch it as it closes on 23 March.

 

Central Asia: Breaking the 100% Barrier

17 Feb

Presidents in Central Asia have been striving over the past 25 years to break through the mythical 100% of the popular vote threshold in elections. Once believed to be mathematically impossible, experts now think that with advances in technology the day may soon come when politicians can exceed 100% of the vote.

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Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov romped to victory once again with 97.69% of the vote

“As we have seen in recent elections in Central Asia, the incumbents are getting ever closer to the magical figure of 100%. Most recently, President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov picked up 97.69% of the vote in Turkmenistan’s elections, held on 12 February,” Lord Venal, a seasoned Central Asian election observer told kazaxia.

“And this was bettered in Kazakhstan in 2015 when President Nursultan Nazarbayev got 97.75%. So, yes, we could soon see the barrier being broken.”

Advances in fixing the vote has meant that scoring more than 100% should not be a problem in the future.

“Ballot stuffing, vote stealing, carousel voting – we’ve all seen these methods used over the years and these methods are becoming more sophisticated. Why not stuff in more votes than there are registered voters, it’s entirely possible,” Gary Kefali, a politics guru told kazaxia.

However, time may be against Nazarbayev – at 76 he may not have too many more chances at growing his vote beyond 98%. Berdimuhamedov, by contrast, is a relative youngster at only 59 and so he could have many more goes at reaching the Holy Grail of electoral success.

Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan’s incumbents offer the best hopes of breaching 100%. Relative newcomer, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev of Uzbekistan picked up 88.61% in 2016.  Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon grabbed only 83.92% of the vote in 2013. In Kyrgyzstan, President Almazbek Atambaev is a long way off as he got a measly 63.2% in 2011, and he won’t be running again anyway.

“President Nazarbayev should be up for election [in 2020?] before President Berdimuhamedov, and I foresee officials doing their utmost to make him the first leader ever to exceed 100% of the popular vote,” Venal concluded.

Castro Provokes Central Asian Personality Cult Crisis

11 Dec

In its first move, the Association of Traditional Rulers has condemned the
late Cuban leader Fidel Castro for “failing to take seriously his
responsibilities as leader, in death as in life”.

The newly-formed Association unites Central Asia’s presidents – Gurbanguly
Berdymukhammedov of Turkmenistan, Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, Emomali
Rahmon of Tajikistan and Almazbek Atambayev of Kyrgyzstan, together with
candidate member Shavkat Mirziyoyev of Uzbekistan.

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Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev immortalised in an Almaty park

The Association pointed with regret to remarks at Fidel Castro’s funeral by
his brother and current leader Raul Castro that no monuments, institutions
or streets would be named after the late leader. Nor would statues and busts
be erected in his honour.

“The leader of the revolution strongly opposed any manifestation of cult of
personality,” said Raul Castro.

“The Association upholds the clear duty of all responsible leaders to accept
the burdens of office that history has thrust upon them,” a brief statement
from the Association declared. “Fidel Castro – in his dying wish – has
betrayed that trust.”

The Association insisted that a presidential personality “was not the
property of one lone individual, but belongs to the entire nation,
encapsulating, defining and leading that nation’s very essence, for all
eternity”. It termed any rejection of that lofty responsibility as
“selfishness”.

Central Asia’s leaders have graciously taken on themselves the burden of
having streets, towns or universities named after them, the Association
pointed out, and allowing statues of themselves or their ancestors to
inspire their populations in visible locations. They have also acceded to
popular requests to have portraits of themselves in schools, offices and
other locations.

The Association does however credit the late Cuban leader with adhering to
at least one of the standards of traditional rulers. “Fidel Castro did not
absolve himself of the responsibility to ensure that his close relatives –
and his mistresses – also selflessly took on the burdens of senior
government positions.”

Is a Trump-style Upset on the Cards in Uzbekistan?

2 Dec

2016 has been a year of surprises in the political sphere, and could we be about to see another shock as Uzbekistan goes to the polls on Sunday to elect a successor to its late president Islam Karimov?

As the year comes to a close, kazaxia’s politics guru, Gary Kefali, has been in Tashkent to gauge the mood and he’s found some astounding evidence that another upset could be on the cards.

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Repairing the presidency in Uzbekistan via a four horse race

While all the experts are predicting a walkover for former prime minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who is acting president, Kefali’s  straw poll of people he’s bumped into indicates a victory for dark horse candidate, Khatamjon Ketmonov, despite all other signs pointing to red-hot favourite Mirziyoyev.

It would be no surprise if this happened – the year of the monkey has already delivered many shocks – its first surprise was in March when Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, was returned to power with 98% of the popular vote – he’d been widely tipped to get 97%. Then in June, the UK voted to leave the EU, a move that the pollsters and pundits missed.

Fast forward to the USA in November and the cheeky monkey had another trick up its sleeve as Donald Trump lost out to Hilary Clinton in terms of votes cast but still won the presidency, an upset hastened by America’s arcane electoral college system. Again, the pollsters and pundits called it wrong giving Trump little chance of victory.

Lord Venal, who is in Tashkent as an unofficial election observer, has been gauging the mood in the nightclubs of Tashkent – Lord Venal’s impeccable source for keeping his finger on the pulse (literally at times) – is showing an increasing likelihood of a Trump-style upset in Uzbekistan’s 4 December presidential poll.

Lord Venal has heard repeated whingeing about an out-of-touch, self-serving political elite, intent on amassing ever-greater wealth at the expense of the hard-working masses. They have seen their standard of living fall relentlessly as the rich get richer. The elite simply don’t understand the ordinary guy – and even show contempt for him, is the constant refrain. The elite is backed by the Mainstream Media (known here too as the MSM), which relentlessly backs its own.

Calls are growing to “drain the swamp” in Tashkent’s government district. Proposals are increasing heard to build a wall on the border with Kyrgyzstan to keep illegal migrants out. Some have even gone as far as to call to lock up some of the leading candidates.

Lord Venal points out that few correctly predicted that Brexit would triumph in Britain, let alone that Donald Trump could prevail in the US over a tried and tested candidate with years of political and government experience. But if the word in the Tashkent nightclubs can be believed, a similar upset in Uzbekistan is not out of the question.

(Lord Venal adopts a policy of strict neutrality in all elections he monitors. Any hospitality offered by governments plays no role in any assessment he issues. A careful reading of his conclusions on earlier elections will show no influence from visits to restaurants, casinos and nightclubs, or gifts of carpets, caviar or jewellery designed by presidential daughters.)

 

Panto Season Opens Early in Central Asia

23 Nov

Along with extreme snowy weather, the pantomime season has arrived early this year in Central Asia.

That veteran performer from Uzbekistan, GooGoosha, will recreate one of her most famous roles on the Tashkent stage – Sleeping Beauty. The audience will no doubt revel in shouting “Oh yes she is!” and “Oh no she isn’t!” as it ponders whether she is dead or merely sleeping.

There will be plenty of opportunities for shouts of “Behind you!” with a host of suspects lining up to surprise the slumbering princess – such as the ugly sisters (played by Security Service head Rustam Innoyatov and his sidekick, presidential hopeful Shavkat Mirziyoyev) and the real life figures of her estranged mother and  her younger sister, Lola.

Across the border in Kazakhstan, there are plans for a revival of ‘Carry on Cleo‘, with the infamous line “Infamy, infamy. They’ve all got it in for me!” The past year has seen trouble on all sides for Astana with land protests metamorphosing into a coup plot led by a beer baron, and religious militants on the rampage in Aktobe, so it seems apt that this comedy classic will get a fresh lease of life.

 

Free Skating in Almaty, Rok

18 Nov

OK, so we take it all back – there is some good value to be had In Kazakhstan after all. Halyk Arena opened its doors this week, offering free ice skating to Almatinians until the end of the year.

Back in 2011 this very blog berated Kazakhstan for being a rip-off, but now we’ve been forced to reassess that opinion as free skating arrives in its commercial capital, Almaty.

Skating fans should head for the 3,000 capacity Halyk Arena, one of the main venues for next January’s Winter Student Games, or Universiade (The Olympics for university students) in Almaty, to take advantage of a freebie spin on the ice.

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Sunkar, the games’ mascot, gets ready to take to the ice at the Halyk Arena 

 

The newly-built facility was launched this week and is Kazakhstan’s first sports facility to have struck a naming rights deal. The nation’s biggest bank, Halyk Bank, has paid an undisclosed fee for the right to have its name attached to the stadium for three years.

One of the aims of holding the games is to promote winter sports among the population, so it was good to see loads of kids joining Sunkar, the mascot of the Almaty games, on the ice at the arena opened its doors earlier this week.

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Sunkar and his young friends on the ice

The free skating offer is on Friday evenings (20.00-22.00), and all day on Saturday and Sunday and runs until 31 December. Skates can be hired, for a fee, at the rink.

The Universiade starts on 28 January and runs until 8 February. Halyk Arena will host the Men’s Ice Hockey tournament.