Situation in Kazakhstan: Echoes up to Moldova. IPN debate

There are a number of reasons why the people in Moldova should be concerned about what’s going on in the Republic of Kazakhstan even if Moldova, figuratively speaking, is situated in another corner of the world. The issue is of interest not only because January 10 in Kazakhstan is a mourning day, in memory of tens, if not hundreds of people who died as a result of the violent events of the last few days. There are also serious concerns about the possible developments in the world, in general, and in the geographical region of which the Republic of Moldova forms part, in particular. The experts invited to IPN’s public debate  “Situation in Kazakhstan: Echoes up to Moldova” considered the eventual “echoes” or the direct ties between the situation in Kazakhstan and the situation in Moldova.

Igor Boțan, the standing expert of IPN’s project, said that Kazakhstan is officially a secular, unitary presidential republic that is about 2.7 million square meters in area. It is the last ex-Soviet republic that declared its independence from the USSR in December 1991. The population totals about 19 million people. Approximately two thirds of the population are ethnic Kazaks, while nearly one fifth are Russian ethnics who live primarily in northern Kazakhstan. “It is a country with one of the highest percentages of young population, which is very mobile, relatively educated and urbanized. This makes Kazakh society very susceptible to social inequity, especially as regards the so-called “stratification”, where 1-2% of the country’s population are very, very rich, while the majority lives in poverty. The presidential regime in Kazakhstan gradually developed into an authoritarian one that was adjusted to the traditional structure of the Kazakh society, being based on three geographical unions of ramified clans. The social elevators for the very young population of Kazakhstan work in a different way, depending on the affiliation to one of these three clans. The Soviet political inheritance, which is actually a totalitarian one, and the huge natural resources possessed by the country, actually modulated the totalitarian political regime whose main beneficiary is the clan of ex-President Nursultan Nazarbaev, who governed the country during 30 years. Reaching an old age, he had to find a method for transferring power to representatives of the clan, ensuring a high level of security and guarantees that the clan’s wealth will be kept for him and the members of his family,” said the expert.

According to him, this regime showed its vulnerable character not only once. There were witnessed many uprisings of the population, primarily the young one and mostly from the Western part of the country, where the natural resources are concentrated. It happened so in 2011, when the revolt of the workers of the crude oil extraction industry was cruelly suppressed. All these things show that there are tensions in society, but there are no political mechanisms for easing them by debates, opposition and possibility of having discussions. The events that started in Kazakhstan on January 2, following the sudden rise in fuel prices, also erupted because of this. President Tokayev sought support from the Collective Security Treaty Organization that was created to ensure the so-called collective security in the post-Soviet states. He invited peacekeepers of this organization to stabilize the situation in Kazakhstan. However, under the organization’s statutes, such interventions are possible only in case of external aggression. Yesterday, the Chinese Premier said the situation Kazakhstan is internal and cannot be considered an external one that undermines the sovereignty of Kazakhstan.

According to expert in national and international security Viorel Cibotaru, director of the European Institute for Political Studies, former minister of defense, the liberalization of prices was formally the reason for the people’s dissatisfaction. “Earlier these prices were set manually by the government, but the production of liquefied petroleum gas amid the energy crisis in the Eurasian space started to be counterproductive and the prices were simply liberalized, leading to a double rise. Experts speak about the accidental occurrence of this economic phenomenon, but others say the tense situation in Kazakhstan is due to the crises experienced by Kazakhstan, including the power replacement crisis. Political dissatisfaction also accumulated, not only economic one,” stated Viorel Cibotaru.

He noted that the peaceful protests that erupted on January 2 degenerated into violence at the second phase as those organized groups created ad-hoc used the peaceful protests for their own goals. These groups primarily appeared as a result of the reactions of representatives of Nursultan Nazarbayev’s clan who were dismissed, of members of the government, of representatives of the law. The name of Nazarbayev’s grandson, who was the first deputy head of Kazakhstan’s National Security Committee, who allegedly controlled groups of Kazak citizens with a criminal record, detective organizations and sports clubs that controlled criminal groups and that destabilized the situation in an attempt to restore their positions, appeared at the forefront. Despite Nursultan Nazarbayev’s attempt to isolate himself from the direct influence of the Russian Federation, the latter never lost information control and had agents in many institutions in Kazakhstan.

Expert in international relations and security Valeriu Ostalep, ex-deputy minister of foreign affairs, said Kazakhstani, as most of the countries of the ex-Soviet area, is an amalgam of unsolved problems. “Even if Kazakhstan in the recent past had been considered an “island of stability”, we can now see the price and quality of this stability. It is a very large and very rich country with a very high percentage of young population, aged under 30, which does not have jobs and which migrates primarily to the Russian Federation. There are hundreds of economic and social problems there and any of these problems can be a reason for revolt,” he stated.

Valeriu Ostalep noted that in Kazakhstan, as in any other ex-Soviet country, there are a lot of reasons for such uprisings. This “stability” in Kazakhstan during many years had had an artificial form amid many economic, social problems and contradictions between religious clans that were joined by key elements. The protests had a real goal and weren’t desperate and there were rather serious forces that prepared beforehand and used the occasion to upset the protests for their purposes.

There were also geopolitical factors. “We are experiencing turbulent events related to European security that affect everyone and the events in Kazakhstan contribute to this,” said Valeriu Ostalep.

The public debater “Situation in Kazakhstan: Echoes up to Moldova” is the 221st installment of the series “Developing Political Culture through Public Debates”. IPN’s project is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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