At the Center of Kazakhstan’s ‘Ugly Trade’

by Joshua Foust on 11/30/2007 · 4 comments

Months ago, we complained about The Economist‘s coverage of Kazakhstan’s bid to chair the OSCE, in particular their dodgy characterization of recent history and their apparent confluence of Astana and Moscow. Later we noted that, while Kazakhstan’s democracy is certainly not ‘down for the count,’ it certainly faces an ever-steeper climb toward the “free and fair” standard the West holds so very dear.

Though the Russian election monitoring scandal was front and center at the recent OSCE Ministerial meeting in Madrid, the subject of Kazakhstan’s bid for the Chair was discussed as well. At this point, it is a safe bet that 2009 is out as far as Kazakhstan goes, though subsequent years are certainly possible given how much the Kazakh government seems to be itching for it. We got our hands on the text of the speech of H.E. Dr. Marat Tahzin, Kazakhstan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, and it has some interesting tidbits:

  • They’re working on yet more “reform” of Kazakhstan’s electoral system, though this time with ODIHR with the end goal of supposedly eliminating the so-called seven percent rule.
  • They’re stating a desire to liberalize media laws, as well as to loosen tight libel and defamation laws. How this turns out will be interesting to see, given the years of harsh treatment of dissident journalists.
  • There was a firm statement in support of ODIHR, the “follow-up mechanism,” and strengthening local government.
  • While proffering support for ODIHR’s mandate, the Minister was also promising to be a good leader who won’t “weaken” them.

Of course, you would expect the Minister to be saying these things. After all, he wants to generate a positive groundswell of support for his country’s bid to chair the OSCE. Pinky-swearing to finally start behaving like a legitimate and liberal country is a good way of doing that, even if his government’s actions suggest not nearly the same clear-eyed commitment to openness and transparency.

But the gist of it was twofold: disavowing any connection between Moscow’s prickly attitude toward the election monitors, and to hinge Kazakhstan’s internal reforms on whether or not it gains the Chair. Both are wonderful as far as they go; however the real proof, as they say, will be in the pudding. Talk is bountiful, especially in Central Asia. Action is far less common, and far more interesting. Dr. Tahzin’s speech is after the jump.

Update: Kazakhstan will get the OSCE Chair in 2010.

of H.E. Dr. Marat Tazhin,
Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan,
at the OSCE Ministerial Meeting
(Madrid, November 29, 2007)

Dear Mr.Chairman,
Dear Colleagues,

Saluting everyone present I would like to express our sincere gratitude to the Spanish Chairmanship and personally to Minister Miguel Anjel Moratinos for the fruitful work and perfect arrangements of the present Ministerial Meeting in Madrid. Allow me also to salute the forthcoming Finnish Chairmanship and to wish Minister Ilkka Kanerva every success in conducting such a responsible mission.

We set grand-scale political modernization tasks. While implementing the program of democratic reforms the OSCE and its institutions’ recommendations are duly taken into account.

On the 5th of November of this year, the ODIHR senior officials visited Astana, thus marking the beginning of the next stage of the “follow-up mechanism”. The sides agreed to hold an initial plenary meeting of experts at the end of this year to set a specific course for joint activities for all of 2008. Thus, precisely in consultation with the ODIHR, a timetable for working on the reform of Kazakhstan’s election legislation has been established.

In the context of future Chairmanship we are going to incorporate various proposals into a consolidated bill to amend the Media Law, which will reflect the OSCE recommendations as well. This will be the core of the work conducted on media legislation in 2008. The Government of Kazakhstan will take into consideration the ODIHR recommendations.

More than 8,000 media outlets are registered in the Republic of Kazakhstan. Over 80% of the media is privately owned.

The Government of Kazakhstan has always been attentive while addressing issues related to media activities. Thus, draft laws aimed at increasing legal responsibility for libel and vilification in the media, as well as on publishing activity have been recalled or suspended. In collaboration with the Office of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, the issue of reduction of criminal liability for defamation in the media is being addressed.

Kazakhstan supports and will advance the idea of developing media self-regulation mechanisms that would take many existing issues off the agenda.

In 2008, concrete measures will be taken to liberalize the registration procedures for media outlets. The work towards this end is being conducted by the Government and the journalist community in concert with the OSCE representatives.

Kazakhstan continues its work on implementation of the ODIHR recommendations in the area of elections and legislation concerning political parties (follow-up mechanism).

It is planned that, on the basis of recommendations developed in the course of a broad discussion, the Central Election Commission of the Republic of Kazakhstan will prepare a package of recommendations, which will be considered by the Government in 2008; and the same year, a draft law, prepared on the basis of the said package of recommendations, will be sent to the Mazhilis of Parliament.

Thus, with the assistance of ODIHR and the OSCE’s other institutions, we intend to take measures to reform the Law on Elections by the end of 2008.

Kazakhstan will take measures to liberalize registration requirements for political parties by the end of 2008.

In the framework of the conducted constitutional reform, local representative bodies’ authority has been significantly expanded. Their place and role in the overall system of government had been redefined.

In the context of the Kazakhstan’s future Chairmanship in the OSCE state’s efforts in refining the system of local self-government will continue.

Kazakhstan has extensive experience in creating various nation-level dialogue platforms for examining the most acute domestic policy issues. For several years, various commissions functioned in the country, the last of which (the State Commission on Democratization, chaired by the Head of State) summarized these discussions and developed a package of constitutional reforms, which were passed by the country’s Parliament this year.

On November 14, 2007, the Lower House of the Parliament – Mazhilis decided to form the Public Chamber. It represents a platform for public dialogue, enabling all interested sides to present their vision of the problems of the state’s economic and political development and to develop mechanisms for solving them.

Kazakhstan has taken measures on further liberalization and greater openness and transparency of political-governmental processes, as well as on creation of an effective model of cooperation between the government and civil society.

We consider the human dimension to be one of the most important directions of the OSCE activity. This is why Kazakhstan pays priority attention to the broad scope of activities within the framework of this “basket”.

It is commonly recognized that one of the most important achievements of Kazakhstan in the humanitarian sphere is securing the inter-ethnic and inter-religious accord. Additional emphasis on strengthening the dialogue between religions and people is the imperative demand of our time.

Kazakhstan will support the extension of the mandates of three Personal representatives of the Chairman-in-Office on religious tolerance and freedom of religions. Our experience in promoting of these principles is exemplary. Kazakhstan has hosted two Congresses of the world and traditional religions, bringing together the spiritual leaders of main confessions, as well as the high level OSCE Conference on tolerance. Our country is a member of the group of friends of the ‘Alliance of Civilizations’.

As an OSCE Chairman we shall stand for the compliance with the fundamental principles of open NGOs’ participation in the OSCE events in accordance with the Helsinki document of 1992 and Budapest document of 1994. We stand for preservation of the mandate of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.

By and large, we intend to make our contribution into ensuring the humanitarian security and to share our relevant experience which might be in demand throughout the entire area of responsibility of the OSCE.

Kazakhstan commits to preserve ODIHR and its existing mandate and will not support any future efforts to weaken them.

As a potential Chairman Kazakhstan commits to be a fair and objective leader, that will not be party to any proposals that are problematic for ODIHR and its mandate in future.

Dear colleagues,

The OSCE, which was once established as an instrument of détente, should remain to be a capable mechanism of implementation of international legal instruments to maintain politico-military security.

Being an active proponent of regional security, voluntarily abandoning the forth largest nuclear arsenal, Kazakhstan will continue to pursue the policy of contributing to the stability in Central Asia and on the entire OSCE’ space.

We support the initiatives aimed at strengthening the role of our Organization in the process of post-conflict rehabilitation in Afghanistan. We share the view on the necessity to take urgent steps to implement the priority social and economic programs for Afghanistan. Extending our general support to the idea of strengthening the role of the OSCE in Afghanistan, which we consider to be valuable and timely, we expect the appropriate decisions to be adopted.

Kazakhstan is proud of its successful experience in promoting the economic reforms, settling the most difficult environmental problems of the former Semipalatinsk nuclear test cite and the Aral Sea. We think it expedient for the Organization to considerably increase its activity on the economic and environmental track.

Mr. Chairman,

We have repeatedly underlined that we consider the issue of the support of Kazakhstan’s bid to chair the OSCE in 2009 as an integral element of the Organization’s reform and its political future. The declared equality and mutual respect of the OSCE Participating states should proliferate into all spheres of its activity.

We stand ready to reconfirm that Kazakhstan’s aspiration to avail of the right to chair the OSCE is regarded as a logical follow up stage after 16 years of independent political and economic development of the country. This bid is an important element of our conceptual understanding of the secure world. Its origins can be traced back to the address made by President Nursultan Nazarbayev at the OSCE Lisbon Summit in 1996.

As we have stressed a number of times, our Chairmanship in the Organization aspires to become a powerful catalyst of the reform process and an additional confirmation of the rightly chosen path of further liberalization and openness. This initiative has facilitated the sustainability of the high tempo of transformations, readiness to conform to the highest standards of organization and quality of life. We believe that positive decision on our bid will have a multiplicative effect for the comprehensive modernization of our country and the region in its entirety.

With dynamically developing economy at hand, a liberal vector is our principle and a conscious choice.

Kazakhstan is the collective candidate of the Commonwealth of Independent States. Moreover, our bid is endorsed by the absolute majority of the OSCE Participating states. Availing of this opportunity I would like to express our sincere gratitude to all countries which extended their support to our candidacy.

Kazakhstan’s active position and its adherence to the OSCE values and increase of the efficiency of its bodies have prepared our country for the Chairmanship in the Organization and continuation of positive cooperation after completion of these functions. As an active participant of the OSCE, Kazakhstan recognizes the high responsibility for the future of our common Organization.

We hope that the OSCE would be able to adapt to the changed reality, retain its authority and weight on the world arena and become a renovated dialogue platform uniting Euro-Atlantic and Euro-Asian space. Kazakhstan stands ready to make its contribution to the execution of these goals in the capacity of the Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE and a member of Troika.

Thank you for your attention.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Jamie November 30, 2007 at 9:35 am

Hello Joshua. I’m presently writing a paper on this very issue. Where did you find this speech? I want to use it and can’t find it anywhere. Thanks!

Nathan November 30, 2007 at 10:24 am

Jamie, I’ll leave to Josh whether or not to mention where he got this speech in particular, but the text of these speeches get sent around pretty regularly at the behest of the embassies. They rarely get published though. Sometimes pr wire services will carry them — the Uzbek Embassy in Germany gets them distributed in that way fairly often, for example.

I’d go ahead and just cite as the source. I did that all the time on academic papers, and even blog-hating professors didn’t bat an eye (even when I cited myself…).

Steve LeVine November 30, 2007 at 3:20 pm

Hi Josh, I agree that the test, as you suggest, is not these interminable vows of reform, but demonstrated commitment to the OSCE charter. Call it the Ukraine test. Or the Georgia test. In both of these former Soviet countries, the presidents actually have a chance of losing in an election (in Ukraine one has — Kravchuk — and most recently in Georgia, Saakashvili has resigned to run in a snap election in January).

Let’s see Nazarbayev run in a bona fide election. Until then, why not invite Ukraine or Georgia to lead the OSCE? Best Steve

Steve LeVine, author
The Oil and the Glory

KZBlog December 2, 2007 at 12:44 am

Jamie: News wires are actually publishing large chunks of the speech so if you feel won’t fly as an authoritative source to your prof. for some reason, if you dig around you can get the quote you need from someone else.

Nothing against of course

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