Friday, January 21

“Unity, stability and harmony” is only half the truth about Kazakhstan

  • Ivar Dale

    Adviser, The Norwegian Helsinki Committee

Soldiers on the main square in Almaty on 6 January.

“Unity, stability and harmony” is only half the truth about Kazakhstan.

This is a debate post. Opinions in the text are at the writer’s expense.

Thousands protest against the regime in Kazakhstan. Persistent pressure on civil society has created a dangerous situation. It is difficult to see how the regime will navigate out of this.

Castles and large estates

Kazakhstan’s most important industry is, as in Norway, based in the west. The oil city of Aktau is the size of Stavanger, but the city of Almaty is 3000 kilometers away. Production does not take place in the North Sea, but in the Caspian Sea. In the western part of Kazakhstan live the industrial workers who have made the country an economic success.

But unlike the Rogalanders, ordinary people in windswept cities such as Aktau and Zhanaozen have seen very little of value creation. The money is channeled to the capital Astana, or Nur-Sultan, as it was recently renamed. From there, significant funds find their way to private bank accounts abroad.

One of Nursultan Nazarbayev’s daughters owns a listed castle on Lake Geneva, while another has large estates in London, including 221B Baker Street, Sherlock Holmes’ fictional residence. All thanks to the oil workers in Western Kazakhstan.

The life of the political elite in the hustle and bustle is of course known to ordinary Kazakhs. Even though independent newspapers are routinely confiscated and shut down by the security police, people read news online. If you go out and express your dissatisfaction, the police are there at the minute. The law requires that you apply before you protest, and that you stay at home when you are rejected.

The practice has received serious criticism internationally, including in a comprehensive report from the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Assembly. Our election observers have not approved a single presidential or parliamentary election. Real opposition parties are not allowed to participate, and the election result is given in advance.

Violent price increase for gas

This week, however, large-scale demonstrations have broken out in peaceful Kazakhstan. Protestants have paralyzed the center of a dozen cities across the country. Government building is on fire. Large police and military forces have been deployed to control the crowds.

The building where the mayor of Almaty has his office has been set on fire.

It is no coincidence that the demonstrations began in a seemingly insignificant rag town in the desert near the Caspian Sea. Many people in the west use liquefied gas as fuel in their cars, and fuel is something you need with such enormous distances as here.

Just after the New Year, the price of gas went up sharply, without any plausible explanation or compensation for a local population on lice wages.

The street protests soon grew so large that the president had to announce a price reduction. But it came too late. The demonstrations are now about far more than gas. The protesters are demanding the resignation of the president, an end to political persecution, and that the authorities turn on the internet again.

14 were killed, but who was charged?

Together with a colleague, in the autumn of 2011, I visited the striking oil workers in Zhanaozen.

Ivar Dale i Zhanaozen i 2011.

The security police filmed us while we talked to the people who had camped in the center. It was strong to hear the workers appeal to the world community.

The shock was all the stronger on Kazakhstan’s Independence Day on December 16, 2011. The world woke up to videos of police shooting fleeing protesters in the back in broad daylight. 14 people were killed.

We returned the following year, when the court settlement was underway. It was not the killers who were charged, but the protesters. Several were tortured in custody. It was obvious to all observers that this left an anger that would be impossible to put a lid on.

Soldiers in Almaty 5 January.

I have lived in Kazakhstan for several years. The country you meet during official visits to cities like Nur-Sultan is different from Kazakhstan where ordinary people live. The official PR package can be enticing.

I get annoyed when retired Norwegian officials write unrealistic Nazarbayev tributes in lavish advertising documents with expressions such as “harmony, unity and stability”.

Former Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik (KrF) has also avoided in chronicles problematizing the major human rights challenges that come with the apparent stability in Kazakhstan: constant violations of freedom of assembly, violations of freedom of expression, monitoring and harassment of dissidents, political persecution and non-regime critics. obvious nasking from the treasury.

In desperation, the country’s formal president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev on Wednesday appealed for military assistance – against his own citizens – from the Collective Security Pact. CSTO is a Russian-led, post-Soviet variant of NATO.
January 2022 will mark a turning point in the modern history of Kazakhstan. The “unity, stability and harmony” that is said to prevail in the country is only half the truth.

At the time of writing, sharp shots are reported at protesters. Tokayev calls hard-working oil workers international terrorists. Government building is on fire. Several police officers have been killed.

Now it is a matter of the Kazakh authorities knowing how to keep up with the flow of time.

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