Kazakhstan: 2007 – Filthy Politics and Grapes of Wrath

The passing year was rich in shaking news and political scandals in Kazakhstan, all of which have been finding reflection in the blogosphere’s reactions and online debates. Many of those events will find their place in the history textbooks of the future, and life may never remain the same after 2007.

POLICY MILESTONES
The poll shows that three major macro-political developments have been in the focus this year. Interestingly enough, the most discussed Kazakhstan-related topic on the West – the expected chairmanship of the first Central Asian, post-Soviet state with poor human rights record in the OSCE, the Europe’s most influential and solid pro-democracy and security institution – is less regarded by the Kazakhstanis with only 16 per cent of the vote. The Astana’s bid for this post was so aggressively advertised within the country that the citizens have simply got tired of the issue itself.

According to sammuel_kasso, this topic is weakly accepted by the people: “It’s more like a news item for Euronews Channel”. Moreover, as aftakep says, the chairmanship is scheduled for 2010 – that’s the year when we shall discuss it. Nemtschin agrees: “I don’t see much use of the OSCE; the bid is good just for PR”. Although, even being not so popular within the country, the fact as such may lead to a much broader global impact, undermining the Organization’s authority.

The second subject on top of the bloggers’ vote is devoted to a row of political manipulations in Kazakhstan, that included constitutional reform – claimed as a “step towards democracy” by the authorities, but turned out to be a leap towards strengthening the control over political field – the subsequent extraordinary parliamentary elections and formation of a one-party parliament. The presidential “Nur-Otan” party grabbed all seats in the Legislature, which is now elected fully by party lists. OSCE, a body to be governed by Kazakhstan in two years, said the vote was neither free nor fair – the same characteristic it has been giving to all previous elections in Kazakhstan.

“The constitutional amendments have logically finished what had been planned from the very beginning – no strangers in power”, nemtschin reacts. Pulemetchizza is more emotional: “The amendments and mono-party parliament is an unprecedented hypocritical filth”. Slavasay ties this issue together with OSCE: “It shows how a state with a “president-for-life” [constitution now provides for termless rule of the country’s first president] and a one-party parliament can become a leader of the community of democratic countries”.

The “Nurbank” affair, disgrace of Rakhat Aliyev – once almighty and horrifying elite member, former chief of special services, former media mogul and ex-husband of the president’s eldest daughter Dariga Nazarbayeva – and the war of kompromats [rus – discrediting materials] lead the chart. Aliyev served as Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, when the scandal emerged in a commercial bank, which he was used to own. Top managers of “Nurbank” had been abducted, tortured and deprived of their assets – reportedly, personally by Aliyev, who was then quickly sent back to head the Kazakh embassy in Vienna, Austria. Two of the bankers are still missing. The trial over Aliyev and accomplices is under way, while the ex-son-in-law is splashing out scandalous recordings of wiretapped telephone conversations of the country’s top officials.

“Nurbank” affair and the so-called “Rakhatgate” looks like a TV reality show”, sammuel_kasso notes, but the people closely watch it with an intense interest, none of the soap operas can boast with – and the poll proves that, giving 50 per cent of the votes to the first instance in the history of Kazakhstan, when the high-ranking official and president’s relative is prosecuted for crimes, – and when the accused strikes back with illegal wiretapped recordings and counter-accusations.

SOCIAL TENSIONS
The most frequent addition in the comments to this poll was about mortgage crisis and sharp rise in prices for almost every kind of goods and services. The first echo of the housing credits crisis in the United States came on the post-Soviet space to Kazakhstan, whose oil-driven economy has already suffered from the evil circle comprised of banks, giving away money to the construction firms, construction firms groundlessly inflating prices for housing, and again banks giving away overpriced mortgages to the people. Many construction sites are now very quiet – Kazakhstan’s building sector is in serious depression.

Another blow came from the galloping inflation and weak regulation of markets. Immediately after the parliamentary elections, which the ruling party declared as a vote of confidence to its policies, prices for bread jumped up two times. Other types of first priority food products then followed this example, and then the price for public utilities increased. The cost of living has suddenly become much higher – even representative of the middle-class level have accepted it painfully. For the socially vulnerable groups of population it was a pure shock. Most of them could barely make both ends meet with their pensions and allowances with no perspective of saving. Now they should further restrict their expenses.

The issue of the rise of grass-root nationalism in Kazakhstan also worries the bloggers. There were several instances of inter-ethnic clashes in the country over the past year – Kazakhs and Turks, Kazakhs and Chechens, Kazakhs and Uighurs… The trend – if it is present – is, indeed, very alarming and lamentable for Kazakhstan, which is a home for nearly 100 ethnicities. For nearly a century, Kazakhstan was proudly bearing the titles like “laboratory of friendship”, or “an island of tolerance”. The clashes were flaring up from the minor routine squabbles, often caused by alcohol, – and in most cases eyewitnesses say the wrangles seemed to be carefully orchestrated and well-organized by somebody, although initially the roots of resentment lay in lack of the rule of law, especially on the local level.

Cross-posted on neweurasia.net

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