Kazakh Minister Fired as Netizens Criticize Pension Plans

A Facebook-driven reaction to the government's attempt to ram through a pension reform without public discussion has given people approaching retirement age in Kazakhstan a rare voice. The republic's Social Affairs Minister was toppled after a gaffe at a public appearance made him an object of ridicule, while Kazakhstan's strongman president Nursultan Nazarbayev has since undersigned several amendments to the bill.

The unpopular pensions bill would introduce significant changes: it would increase retirement age for women from 58 to 63, it would make currently voluntary retirement contributions to the state pension fund compulsory, and it would increase the government's role in handling retirement money vis-a-vis private pension funds. The bill has been met with fierce opposition from the public, especially the proposal delaying female retirement age for women, given that average life expectancy in Kazakhstan is only 67. Growing social and economic inequality in Kazakhstan provide a fiery backdrop to discussions about the bill.

One of the main spokespersons for the pension reform, Serik Abdenov [ru], ex-Minister of Labor and Social Protection, has emerged as a caricature of official incompetence ever since the bill first became public knowledge. Back on April 26 he was pelted with eggs during a press conference on changes to the pension system. Later, when addressing a group of concerned workers in the town of Temirtau, he was asked why women should work five extra years. Abdenov replied [ru] “You have to work and work, because, my dear fellow countrymen, because, because.” The video went viral and “патамушта-патамушта” – “because-because”, misspelled for comic effect – became a meme, with women posting pictures of themselves holding a sign that says “I have to work until I'm 63 because because”.

A woman is holding a sign that reads “I have to work until I'm 63, because-because…. Widely shared. Originally posted on the public facebook group “патамушта-патамушта”.

“Because, because they do whatever they wish”

The general feeling among netizens is that the reforms are being introduced by complacent officials who do not care enough to even explain the purpose for the reforms.

Assel Khodzhi posted [ru] on the Facebook page of the public group “Because Because”:

Патамушта у нас всё через патамушто, творят, что хотят, а на народ наплевать!

Because everything is done just because, they do whatever they wish to and do not care about people!

Other netizens go further, accusing uncaring officials of misusing public funds. WoOTTw commented [ru] on a newsreel uploaded onto YouTube video by national broadcaster Channel 7:

денег мало им видать,всю страну разворовали и продали,теперь деньги где брать? только у народа забирать последнее […] правительство ВОРы и ему по барабану на народ,тоесть на нас всех

Apparently they are short on money, after robbing the whole country, where else would they get more money? Take what is left from the people […] the government is a THIEF and it doesn't care about the people, about any of us

Another commenter иван иванов is certain [ru] that public monies are being appropriated by Nursultan Nazarbayev, President of Kazakhstan:

[…] На самом деле законопроект антинародный, преступный. Так и хочется спросить нашего дорогого (в прямом смысле) Леонида Ильича Назарбаева : зачем такой злой, зачем как собака. Он сейчас собрал со всего мира, любителей пожрать и потанцевать на халяву (за деньги народа Казахстана) […]

[..] The bill, in fact, is anti-people, criminal. One would like to ask our precious President Nazarbayev: why he is so mean, why he is such a dog. He has now gathered, from all over the world, those who love dancing and devouring free food (all at the expense of the people of Kazakhstan) […].

By far the most unpopular aspect of the bill is the proposal to delay retirement age for women from 58 until 63. Gauhar Suleimenova, also commenting under the Channel 7 clip, condemns [ru] this:

Не у всех женщин легкая работа, есть,которые убирают помещения, есть, которые бегают по всему городу разносят квитанции, есть,которые стоят целыми днями на базаре, потому что нужно прокормить своих детей,им прикажете тоже заниматься всем этим и в совсем зрелом возрасте?Задумайся,Серик Абденов, если в голове хоть капелька мозгов у тебя есть.Задумайтесь и те,которые приказали ему говорить такие глупости.Женщин нужно беречь,мы – матери,а это уже огромная заслуга,чтобы к нам относились с уважением!

Not all women have easy jobs, there are those who clean buildings, there are those who run all around the city to deliver the receipts and bills, there are those who stand all day in the market, because they need to feed their children – will you order them to keep doing the same when they are old? Think, Serik Abdenov, if you have some brains left in your head. Also, those who ordered him to say such silly things, think too. Women should be nurtured, we are mothers, and this in itself is already a huge achievement that earns respect!


In this demotivator (left), a young boy asks ex-Minister Serik Abdenov why his grandma has to work until she is 63. The response: “Because, boy, because”. On the right, the new law is likely to increase a sense of vulnerability among Kazakhstan's elderly (images shared via public facebook group “Патамушта. Патамушта”)

Serik Abdenov, owing to his “because-because” gaffe, has rapidly become a target for Internet ridicule and humor.

@_script tweeted [ru]:

а можно некоторые пункты трудового договора в РК заменить на #патамуштапатамушта?

can we replace some parts of the labor code of Kazakhstan with #because-because?

To which he got a reply [ru] from @GoogleRoma:

@_script Нет, нельзя. А знаешь почему? #патамуштапатамушта

No. And you know why? #because-because

@Miyatov remade the words of a famous Soviet song to poke fun [ru] at the minister's gaffe:

#патамуштапатамушта мы пилоты, небо наш, небо наш родимый дом. Первым делом, первым делом на работу. А пенсия? А пенсия – потом!)))

#becausebecause we are pilots, the sky is our home. Work comes first. What about our pensions? And pensions – afterwards!)))

The battle is over, the war goes on

In what might be seen as a victory for Internet humor, as well as more old-fashioned expressions of public discontent such as egg-throwing, Serik Abdenov was fired [ru] on President Nursultan Nazarbayev's orders on June 10. On the same day, Nazarbayev blasted [ru] the government and the National Bank's “clumsy” handling of the “socially important” bill.

Previously the bill had been approved by the parliament and sent to the president. However, in the wake of growing public ire, Nazarbayev returned [ru] the bill to parliament with an amendment [ru] proposing step by step increases to the retirement age beginning from January 2018, not January 2014 as proposed by parliament. The lower house of the Kazakh parliament has already approved [ru] the President's amendment, and the upper house is expected to do the same.


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