Pulling him to the podium

by Nathan Hamm on 10/14/2005 · 2 comments

During her press conference with President Nazarbayev, Secretary Rice apparently stopped the president from leaving and brought him back to the podium to answer questions.

Some are all atwitter about this, as Instapundit puts it, chasing down of a dictator.

From Gateway Pundit:

After Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made stops in Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and later to Tajikistan, she was not about to put up with any silliness from the Ex-Soviet Autocratic President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, on Thursday!

Also mentioning the incident are Indepundit and Tigerhawk.

One such event does not set the tone for the whole trip.

I would be tickled pink if the State Department would leave Russian intact in its transcripts if it chooses not to translate it. Thankfully, Knight-Ridder does the work for them and reports on a less than stellar exchange between Rice and a member of the opposition.

After giving a speech Thursday in Astana, energy-rich Kazakhstan’s booming capital, Rice was challenged by Bulat Abilov, manager of an opposition campaign. He said his colleague was arrested in the city of Almaty by masked government agents hours before Rice arrived Wednesday night.

“Is it allowable, normal when there are political prisoners in this country?” Abilov asked Rice. He called Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, an “authoritarian leader” and questioned his commitment to fairness in presidential elections scheduled for December.

Rice chose to emphasize the positive, in Kazakhstan and elsewhere. She declined to criticize Nazarbayev, who has been in power for 15 years.

“I think it will be possible, and is necessary, to have free elections in Kazakhstan,” she replied.

The campaign manager for the For a Just Kazakhstan Movement was arrested Wednesday night as he tried to make his way from Almaty to the capital in order to meet with Rice. And Rice had bupkus to say about it.

In fact, in answer to Koppel’s question, this is what Rice had to say.

Andrea, I think if we were interested only in oil and the war on terrorism we would not be speaking in the way that we are about democracy here or in Saudi Arabia or throughout the Middle East. And so quite clearly, while we do have interests in terms of resources and in terms of the struggle for terrorism, we have in no way allowed those interests to get in the way of our open and clear defense of freedom. We have talked about that in any number of circumstances. I think that, for instance, in Uzbekistan it’s been very clear that we do not see a conflict between our strategic interests and in our interests in democracy. In fact, we’ve spoken up clearly in that case. I’m here talking, on camera, with the President about the need for Kazakhstan to have free and fair elections; to have international observation of those elections; to have access to media for the opposition. I met, after the speech, with two people who will be a part of the campaign. And I will take their concerns with me to Washington and we will press for free and fair elections here, just as we pressed for free and fair elections everywhere else in the world.

Just not in any kind of specific way apparently…

Gateway Pundit applauds the answer. I think that if one is looking for a clear indication that the US is gung-ho about realizing democracy in Kazakhstan, it’s pretty weak. And as I mentioned yesterday, Kazakhstan’s opposition is not impressed.

And because of something else I said yesterday, I think it’s worth taking Nazarbayev’s answer to Koppel a little more seriously than a redaction as “(blah, blah,…)” indicates. Yes, it’s fairly hollow and glosses over Kazakhstan’s undemocratic behaviors as perfectly normal, but it’s worth paying attention to. (And come on, that Rice answer was pretty fluffy.)

So it’s up to you what you mean by definition of “dictator” — but it’s up to you. As you see, we have political parties, free political parties in Kazakhstan. We have opposition that criticizes the authorities. You can get opposition newspapers anywhere you want. We have 5,000 NGOs in Kazakhstan. And members of the parliament and the President in Kazakhstan are elected according to the (inaudible) free elections. And so far today, we have 15 candidates registered for the presidency.

I do not for a moment want to suggest that the mere existence of the opposition and criticism of the president is evidence that all is fine. But it’s worth noting that Nazarbayev does not say he is a dictator and does not say he is not one. I’m sure it was lost on Ms. Koppel, but he more or less told her he doesn’t care what she thinks.

Because like I said yesterday, and as commenters confirmed, Kazakhs do not perceive their country as a mess, do not feel repressed, support President Nazarbayev, and do not feel a pressing need for political liberalization. If the opposition’s criticism of the US is true, I think we might be on the right path.

In the press conference, Nazarbayev mentioned that his policy is to achieve democratization through economic development and prosperity. There is a very strong case to be made for the efficacy of such an approach. And in Kazakhstan’s case, Nazarbayev seems to be genuine in the execution.

I’m sure we’d all love to see Kazakhstan become a vibrant democracy. It has a long way to go, but there’s reason enough to believe that current economic policies are laying the groundwork for Kazakhs to build their own democracy down the road much like what happened in East Asian developmental dictatorships. We certainly shouldn’t shy away from supporting our ideals, but we also can’t lose sight of the fact that Kazakhstan is not Uzbekistan. In a complicated kind of way, Nazarbayev is an autocrat to be sure. But there are reasons to be satisfied with his performance, not least among them that Kazakhstanis themselves seem fairly satisfied with him.

Update: Apparently, the incident was only reported on television last night. See Gateway Pundit’s comments to his post.


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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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{ 2 comments }

Brian October 14, 2005 at 11:33 am

This is off topic, but, this just came a few minutes ago as a big story on the BBC website:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/4342928.stm

Holy crap, talk about balls!. I wonder what’s going to happen to that poor woman.

WLB October 16, 2005 at 8:44 am

I give Nazarbayev’s answer some points because in the past he didn’t touch questions like that. He could have ignored it. Of course he doesn’t answer it fully, failing to mention that at least some of those NGOs were started, owned, and are run entirely by the government (or people who work in the government full-time), opposition papers are harassed, etc. But it’s better than Rice trying to answer the question she thinks is behind Koppel’s question-ie is the US only interested in oil and terrorism in CA?-rather than answering the question.

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