Rice in Kazakhstan & Tajikistan

by Nathan Hamm on 10/13/2005 · 5 comments

Secretary Rice wrapped up her Central Asia trip with stops in Kazakhstan and Tajikistan.

The Kazakh opposition (a part of which successfully staged a protest a short while ago) is not pleased with Rice.

Bulat Abilov, a leader of the For A Just Kazakhstan opposition coalition, said democracy in Kazakhstan was a third priority for Rice behind protecting oil and military interests.

“I am a little disappointed because there was no clear message,” he said after her speech in the capital Astana.

Rice’s arrival on Wednesday coincided with the detention of Tolen Tokhtasynov, a campaign manager for the opposition’s joint presidential candidate, Zharmakhan Tuyakbai.

A group of 20 riot police detained him in the biggest city Almaty late on Wednesday and took him to a court where he was fined $375 for organizing a demonstration at the weekend without official permission, the opposition said.

“The authorities are trying to hinder our election campaign,” Amirzhan Kosanov, a senior member of For A Just Kazakhstan, said. “Of course it was linked to Rice’s visit. He was on his way to the airport to fly to Astana.”

If you want to read the statements that have Kazakhstan’s opposition upset with rice, check the Secretary’s Central Asia trip page. It’s especially worth reading her remarks at the Eurasian University. I can see how the opposition may not have liked this.

Some believe that these and other economic reforms are all that are needed to guarantee lasting prosperity, but this not the case. Wise statesmen know and history has demonstrated that political and economic freedom must advance together, and complement one another. History also teaches us that true stability and true security are only found in democratic regimes. And no calculation of short-term interest should tempt us to undermine this basic conviction. America will encourage all of our friends in Central Asia to undertake democratic reforms. And as they do, they will solidify a lasting partnership of principle with the United States.

Our goal is not to lecture our friends on how to do things the American way. Rather, we seek to help our Central Asian partners achieve the stability they seek. And our historical experience has taught us that stability requires legitimacy, and true legitimacy requires democracy.

But then again, there are things for the government not to like in there too. As the aforementioned RFE/RL article, the US is walking a tightrope in Kazakhstan.

But given that Kazakhstan’s deficits of liberalism do not create the same level of misery as Uzbekistan (heck, not even as much as Kyrgyzstan), the balancing act isn’t nearly as difficult. And there are few reasons for the US to go nuts pressuring Kazakhstan to make reforms that we’ve yet to see a pressing need or demand for from Kazakhstani society. (Maybe no one reports on it, but the only people I’ve seen talking about how bad Kazakhstan are come from the political opposition. And while their plight is worth worrying about, it’s not clear that the public-at-large is clamoring for immediate democratic reforms.)

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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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jodi October 13, 2005 at 4:45 pm

When I first read that headline, I thought you were talking about some sort of food aid (rice) being handed out or something, or maybe something about plov. Anyway, sorry for the random comment. The title just made me smile when I realized what you were talking about. 🙂

WLB October 13, 2005 at 10:51 pm

It is very interesting to me why there is not pressure from society on the government. I have done some informal surveying, and present the results to see what others think:

In the cities most people are well-off and happy to be making money and buying cellphones and pizza. They are tired of politics and rallies which they associate with the USSR, and they believe that all politics are fake and staged anyway and since everyone knows everything is fake, protests make no sense

The opposition is just as corrupt and self-interested as anybody else.

I also notice people citing the Kazakh tradition that leaders are great and powerful and should be expected to take advantage of their situation, not to think of the common people first. That it is right to crush the opposition (Note the editorial in The Almaty Herald last week on how Stalin was well loved and Gorbachov was weak)

Also overall officials have a very clear attitude of indifference. It is extremely hard to lodge a complaint. The government does not respond publically to critics–witness the refusal of Nazarbayev to have a debate. It is hard to break through this wall of indifference.

Finally, people buy into the macrotalk. Taxi drivers know that the GDP is growing fast and they think that’s super even though they are poor and miserable. Bayterek is beautiful and that makes them proud to be Kazakh. even if they live 2 km away and have no water in their house.

Disha October 13, 2005 at 11:13 pm

WLB, this “passivity”/”acceptance” can at least partly be explained by the factor of “it could have been worse, just look at what’s happening in the other countries of the Central Asia, heck, in all of the postUSSR (except the Baltics, of course). At least we are not at war, we don’t have our planes and schools blown up, we don’t have skinheads, we don’t go out of country looking for jobs, it’s our neighbors who are coming here to work illegally, etc, etc.”

As for the “the leader knows best” attitude, I don’t think of it as a particularly “Kazakh” tradition but rather something that is universal, or, at least “postSoviet” — the people there have been innoculated with cynicism, and that’s why you might be getting the “yeah, all politicians are corrupt, that’s life” type answers.

WLB October 14, 2005 at 9:21 am

Sorry for playing pop anthropologist and saying, “yeah this is a kazah tradition!” I hate doing that.

I think that the elite have played a good job of making people think: It could be worse. Look at Tajikistan and Uzebkistan. Instead of it could be better. Look at the Baltics, look at Germany.

And things are bad in Kazakhstan for many, but it doesn’t get news coverage. People don’t like to talk about it, etc.

But yes things are also good for many in KZ as well.

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