Nazarbayev Demonizes the Internet

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by Nathan Hamm on 5/24/2012

President Nazarbyaev gave a long speech at the Astana Economic Forum yesterday, describing what calls his “concept of civilized development in the 21st century.” (For those with a particular interest in this subject, the full text of the speech is available.) In the course of laying out his vision, which includes social and economic justice based on a global rather than “Washington” consensus, he takes a swing at the internet, saying that its improper use can derail development.

Nazarbayev said that the unprecedented level of global communications technologies now available reduce barriers of time and distance, but that this potential cannot be used as a tool of provocation to undermine the moral foundations of public order. Instead, he says, these tools should be used for “constructive goals.” Later in the speech, he describes the protests of the Arab Spring as having unleashed a host of ills including the hampering of social development and complication of international relations. Such revolutions, Nazarbayev says, are harmful to politics and society.

Though Nazarbayev’s warning about the misuse of the internet comes well before his mention of the Arab Spring in his speech, the two ideas are closely connected as a major theme in his speech is that revolution has nothing to offer modern politics or societies but waste and chaos. He commented last month that countries affected by the Arab Spring have been set back economically 15 years and that they’ve ushered in Islamist rule. In that interview, he also said that using social media for political purposes threatens stability and he complained then too that the west pushes values incompatible with the mentality and tradition of much of the world.

It is unlikely that this talk signals any significant expansion of restrictions on the internet beyond those that already exist. However, it is another reminder that Kazakhstan is pursuing the same strategy as Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan of demonizing the internet as a source of considerable danger and incompatible western morals and ideologies while encouraging “legitimate” use of it as a tool to enable businesses and government.

Nazarbayev casts Kazakhstan as a bridge between east and west. But, having Ilham Aliyev and Islom Karimov as peer practitioners in his approach to the internet places him and Kazakhstan very far from the middle ground.

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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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