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Kazakhstan: In Praise of the First President

1 Dec

Lord Venal has seen fit to put pen to paper as Kazakhstan prepares to celebrate the Day of the First President on 1 December, the country’s newest public holiday.

President Nursultan Nazarbayev bestrides Kazakhstan like a colossus – his image beams down from billboards on nearly every street corner. The Park of the First President is a fixture of all major towns and cities. Every evening he tops the TV news agenda meeting with dignitaries, opening factories and winning EXPO 2017 bids.

The First President awaits visitors

The First President awaits visitors

Wildly loved by his adoring public – he won 96.5 % of the vote in the last election, The Leader of the Nation, as he is also known, has worked ceaselessly over the last twenty-two years as he has steered the good ship Kazakhstan through turbulent waters to leave the country becalmed in a sea of economic prosperity and political stagnation.

He is one of the world’s longest serving presidents – only a few presidents have kept the throne warmer for longer than the glorious leader – Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, Manchester United’s Sir Alex Ferguson and arch-rival Islam Karimov in Uzbekistan spring to mind.

Toys_4_NAN

The Nazarbayev University in his fairytale capital city, Astana, proudly carries his name as do a network of Nazarbayev Intellectual schools, which have mushroomed across Kazakhstan in recent years. The day cannot be far off when Nazarbayev kindergartens, fertility clinics and dating agencies will grace the provincial capitals.

I, along with my former cell mate, Jonathan Aitken, the famed hagiographer, who is in Astana to sing the praises of the First President yet again, would like to wish the Leader many happy returns on this the anniversary of the distant day back in 1991 when he won his first election along with the hearts of the Kazakh nation. Long may he reign – Kazakhstan’s very own Superkhan!

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Kazakhstan: Praise Heaped on Leader’s Hagiographer

5 Jun

Tory jailbird turned hagiographic biographer, Jonathan Aitken, has received a glowing review for his latest masterpiece Kazakhstan Surprises and Stereotypes from UK academic Andrew Massey.

Massey, a Professor of Politics at the University of Exeter, was full of praise for the old lag’s lavish take on Kazakhstan’s twenty years of independence.

It’s surprising that an academic who specialises in politics seems to have taken Aitken’s line without question on last year’s presidential election which saw the Leader of the Nation romp home against very tame opposition

Indeed, when in 2010-2011 the old Soviet era bureaucrats engineered a referendum to extend the President’s term of office by ten years, Nazerbayev [as received] himself simply called an early Presidential election instead and declared anyone could run against him. There were three other candidates and the incumbent won with over 95% of the vote.

“Anyone could run against him” ??? Maybe Massey’s remit doesn’t spread as far as Kazakh politics. Whatever next – that Kazakhstan has a multi-party democracy? Pull the other one!

Massey also marvelled at Aitken’s unprecedented access to the movers and shakers of Kazakhstan

He visited a large range of institutions and interviewed people at all levels, including opposition leaders, when he could contact them.

Does the “when he could contact them” refer to when the opposition leaders were not sitting behind bars for exercising their right to free assembly?

Maybe the University of Exeter is angling for a piece of the Nazarbayev University action, and such gullibility on the part of its academics will surely help that process along.

Massey’s geography  also leaves a lot to be desired

The last twenty years have seen the birth of a new nation, throwing off the fetters of colonialism and seeking to chart a confident path squeezed between the Russian North, the Chinese East, the barbarous totalitarian regimes to the South and a resurgent Islamic west.

I’m sure Kyrgyzstan will not be pleased to be described as a ” barbarous totalitarian regime”,  and the resurgent Islamic west remains a mystery – could he mean Turkmenistan?

Sting Proves Astana Party Pooper

4 Jul

It looks like  Sting has taken Kazaxia’s advice, as the veteran British rocker pulled out of his planned concert in Astana, Kazakhstan amid concerns over human rights abuses in the country. He came under pressure from Amnesty International to cancel his show scheduled for 4 July because of the

repression and crackdown against oil workers, their union leaders, their legal representatives and of the human rights NGOs working with them

Sting got into trouble for playing a concert in Uzbekistan for Gulnara Karimova in 2009. Now he seems to have rediscovered his conscience and is once again positioning himself as the great human rights defender.

Earlier in the tour a date in Minsk, Belarus was cancelled, allegedly because of concerns over the economic situation in the country. Surely Lukashenko’s regime is much worse that the relatively benign one in Kazakhstan so it’s strange that Astana is taking the flak over its human rights’ record, whereas Belarus escaped criticism from Amnesty International.

The gig was to have been a central plank of the celebrations for the anniversary of the day Astana became Kazakhstan’s capital, 6 July, which also happens to be the birthday of Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev.

The Leader of the Nation is likely to be not very amused at this latest turn of events and heads could well roll in Astana. His birthday treats have a tendency to fall flat – in 2008 the birthday boy looked on stony-faced as a somewhat tired and emotional looking  Whitney Houston stumbled around the stage.

Sting hits Kazakhstan

2 Jul

Sting will be returning to Central Asia for a concert on 4July in Astana for the first time since he was stung by a fierce UK press reaction following his concert for Gulnara Karimova in Uzbekistan in 2009.

The concert is part of the ageing rocker’s world tour, called Symphonicity and is timed to coincide with the ongoing celebrations for President Nazarbayev’s birhtday, sorry I meant the anniversary of Astana becoming the capital of Kazakhstan on 6 July.

In honour of the occasion, Kazaxia has penned a little ditty to be sung to the tune of that old Police standard, Roxanne.

‘Oh Sting, you don’t have to play for dictators,
your money’s made now, you’re a billionaire,

Oh Sting, why you wanna sing for dictators,
those days are over, why should you care?’

Kazakhstan: Almaty Jewellery Wars Hot Up

15 Jun

Chopard face off with Alsara in central Almaty

The battle of high-end jewellery designers – Aliya Nazarbayeva and Gulnara Karimova – is hotting up as Chopard, the Swiss company working with Gulnara, placed a billboard directly opposite one advertising Aliya’s Alsara brand on the junction of Abylay Khan and Kurmangazy streets in the centre of Almaty.

As reported on Kazaxia in April, the youngest daughter of Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev launched her exclusive jewellery collection through the auspices of Italian company Damiani. This made her the second Central Asian president’s daughter to enter the world of jewellery design, following in the footsteps of Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov’s eldest daughter, who launched her Guli collection in collaboration with Chopard in 2009.

Aliya’s posters feature her glamorous visage beaming down from the billboard at the teeming masses of motorists sitting in Almaty’s notorious traffic jams. One could not accuse Ms Nazarbayeva of modesty, as another billboard stands at the entrance to the Luxor fitness centre. She is rumoured to own the luxurious facility which is said to have been inspired by a visit to the fabled city in Egypt.

Still no word on Aliya shadowing Gulnara – also known by her stage name of Googoosha – into the world of music. Maybe she’s leaving that to her opera-singing elder sister Dariga, who has often performed on Kazakhstan’s stages and further afield, including Moscow.

Kazakhstan: Heading for the Hills

2 Jun

Yum yum ... horses grazing at Ush Konyr

It’s that time of the year in Kazakhstan when people in years gone by would have made off for the high pastures with their horses, cows and sheep in the annual migration to the rich upland grazing land known as the zhaylau. The summer months would be spent fattening up the animals – and the humans – on the riches in the mountains in preparation for the long, cold winter.

Wild flowers in Ush Konyr

Soviet-era collectivisation put paid to this nomadic existence and few people in modern-day Kazakhstan still follow the wandering traditions, but come the weekend and many city-dwellers still feel the call of the wild and take off to the mountains in their 4x4s for a spot of communing with nature and to get their supper by picking wild mushrooms.

Mushroom mania

Last weekend Kazaxia joined the exodus and visited Ush Konyr, which is easily reached from Almaty – head for President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s home village of Shamalgan and then follow the track that winds steeply up to the 3,000 metre pastures. In no time at all you’re in the rolling grasslands where President Nazarbayev spent his early years. He had such fond memories of this carefree existence that he penned a song about it. See it performed here by Kazakh band MuzArt.

More wild flowers in Ush Konyr

The smog and noise of Almaty feel light years away as you breathe in the clean air and concentrate on foraging for edible mushrooms and admiring the rich covering of wild flowers. You’ll see packs of horses grazing as you hike around and the occasional paraglider taking flight, but not a great deal else will intrude to spoil your peace and quiet.