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Chatham House on Kazakhstan's OSCE Chairmanship

Участники круглого стола включали представителей госорганов и гражданского общества, но не все сессии были одинаково представительны. Некоторые из сессий были слабовато продуманы и промодерированы, поскольку не хватало проблематики как таковой, способной дать импульс к дискуссии.

Первый раунд был между послом МИД по особым поручениям Мадиной Джарбусыновой и главой жовтисовского Бюро по правам человека Розой Акылбековой. Дискуссии не вышло, но обе сильные дамы хорошенько друг друга потрепали.

Во второй были я и Тамара Калеева из «Адил соз». Я сразу оговорился, что состав панели не предполагает разнообразия и призвал чиновников, включавших казахстанских дипломатов за рубежом и советника Ертысбаева, принять активное участие.

Эта сессия была самой живой и острой, с резкими комментариями, каверзными вопросами, нервозными замечаниями и финальной репликой 'Adil for president'. Смешно, что после этого в комментариях на YV прозвучало то же предложение — есть повод задуматься на будущее =)

Третья и четвертая сессия были довольно вялыми и расслабленными. Перечитав снова свои записи по моей сессии и правила Чатэма по тому мероприятию, я понял, что не могу раскрыть чьи-либо вопросы и мои ответы на них. Но право публикации собственного выступления остается за мной, поэтому ниже — оно.

Chatham House - December 17, 2010

In the beginning, I would like to review a couple of commonly accepted myths.

Myth One. “Kazakhstan is a transition country”, meaning it is in a transition to democracy.

Truth: There is one popular modernization paradigm in transition studies. It implies a model of strong state-centered matrix, which takes on responsibility for gradual democratization and civil involvement. By the end of the 1990s it became clear that this model failed in Kazakhstan.

Many newly independent states, including Kazakhstan, were long mistakenly regarded as the transition countries. In reality they have stayed in a so-called grey zone, not heading towards democracy, not being purely dictatorial either.

Myth Two. “Kazakhstan has never had democracy. What is happening now is the problem of growth”. This one is often supplemented by the following “It took 200 years for the Western countries to build a democracy as we know it – so what do your expect from a young country like Kazakhstan”.

I don’t want to comment on this sentiment to save time of the distinguished people in this hall, who don’t need a primitive lecture about the basics of political studies.

It is obvious that civil culture is shaped much faster in the countries, which have an appropriate political will, and that it is less developed in places where it meets limitations.

But I must remind that during Perestroika and for the first 5 years of independence Kazakhstan had been experiencing a boom of citizen activism and political participation. It had guaranteed freedoms of assembly and speech and a genuinely pluralist parliament. Adviser Yertysbayev must well remember that time, when he was an opposition leader and member of the parliament.

Since 1995, the scope of rights and freedoms has been getting restricted by various types of preconditions, with the repressive apparatus becoming more instrumental and the parliament getting less members of opposition, ultimately resulting in the current one-party Legislature.

You can easily judge about the vector of transition. People did not even realize how quickly we grew from an emerging democracy to a country, in which there have been 2 officially admitted coup attempts over the past 3 years.

Myth Three is for the internal use. It is expressed in two propagandist clichés: “Stability is above liberty” and “Economy first, politics later”. Both serve the idea of Kazakhstan’s “Special way of development”. The way the government is antagonizing reforms and stability is shocking – but it works in Kazakhstan.

The alleged priority of economic development is doubtful too. Without sustainable institutions and transparent procedures, the government has failed to implement nearly a dozen of various industrialization and infrastructure development programs over the past ten years.

The slogan “Economy first” has brought no qualitative shift in the vulnerable structure of oil-driven domestic economy, and no qualitative development of human capital – healthcare and education.

Thus, the Kazakhstan’s special way is actually a manipulative retention of reforms, showcasing the attributes of democracy (like state-funded quazi-NGOs or disfunctional satellite parties) and replacing democratic procedures with fraudulent rituals.

Now about the prospects for democracy and human rights.
The optimist scenario presumes that economic liberalization and relative openness to the West’s culture shall lead to freer environment under the next president, whose personal authority would be less than the one of the incumbent, thus giving the successor less legitimacy for tough rule.

The pessimist scenario states that the succession would not be smooth, because elite factions are too irreconcilable. All of them bear no ideology or values – thus, their struggle for power would not be regarded as legitimate by the society and the people won’t involve in the elites clashes. At this point, the rise of populist nationalism may take place with unpredictable consequences.

Factors to keep in mind when weighing these (and interim) scenarios.
1. Prevalent leadership pattern, inherited from the Soviet tradition, is not tolerant to dissent and not ready for institutionalized political dialogue. Besides, because all elections are rigged there is no “normal” public politics in Kazakhstan and no sense in the existence of political parties.

2. The level of civil consciousness is low. Predominantly latent protests usually burst out when it comes up to personal economic interests. Labor movement is weak. Relative material well-being at the expense of abstinence from civil activism remains a model behavior for the majority.

Inability of the citizens to protect their interests makes them underestimate civil rights and resort to post-Soviet paternalism and growing traditionalism. Propaganda effectively uses the people’s ‘fear of change’. while the authorities are skillfully balancing between the law-enforcement tools to control the dissent and the economic resource to buy out the protest potential.

Besides, there are several external factors.
Kazakhstan remains vulnerable to the influence of autocratic world powers, Russia and China. China actively expands in the economies of Central Asian states via purchase and development of the sub-soil resources, infrastructure-building concessions and providing loans to the governments.

Russia straightforwardly regards Kazakhstan and Central Asia as a zone of its strategic interests and overwhelmingly dominates on the information field via the pro-Kremlin TV channels.

The West has lost the region to Russia and China when it overestimated security and energy issues, sacrificing the reforms and human rights agenda to geopolitical considerations. Thus, the sense of self-importance of the Central Asia’s leaders was overly inflated.

There is another factor that is latently brewing and often overlooked – a combination of primitive traditionalism mixed with non-conventional Islam. The further crackdown on secular opposition and deeper splits within the elites increase the stakes of nationalists to receive wider support and, therefore, increase potential security risks.

What the West can do.
Learn more to change the present false perception of the whole region. Delusions come from stereotypes – like, ‘they are all post-Soviet, Muslim and weird’. All Stans are very different and Kazakhstan is the most different from the rest. Ignorance leads to political errors, like the emasculated EU-Central Asia Strategy, or the U.S. State Department’s moving of Kazakhstan from the Europe and Eurasia to the South Asia office.

Kazakhstan is closer to Europe than to Asia in many respects – economically (the level of business sophistication), geographically (a large portion of its territory lays in Europe), culturally (education, culture, science). Therefore, it should have better examples and be compared with the Eastern Europe countries to promote further improvement. When the government can say it is freer than post-conflict Tajikistan, notorious Turkmenistan, or war-torn Afghanistan, it leaves little space for argumentation.

Next. The West has been employing doubtful and inefficient approaches in the foreign policy towards Kazakhstan. Those were mostly determined by a phobia to upset the “strategic partner”, geopolitical, energy and security interests. The principle of the “soft power” became too soft and less powerful in Kazakhstan. Meaning, it got too supportive.

Even more browbeaten approach emerged in the wake of Kazakhstan’s chairmanship in the OSCE. Its manifesto was the German non-paper “Why to support the Kazakh bid” in 2006. The backing of the Kazakh government was substantiated by a fear that if rejected, Astana would “estrange” itself from the West, and by a hope that Astana would refrain from being too tough at least before and during the chairmanship.

When the West realized how deceived it was, it resorted to the third approach, which I would describe as utilitarian. The EU leaders almost fully stopped talking about politics in Kazakhstan, focusing only on economic partnerships. Perhaps, they made themselves believe that the political system in Kazakhstan is quite stable – but then we have to admit that the delusion syndrome in the West’s foreign politics is aggravating.

One of the recommendations is to return to the values in setting up the agenda of modern international relations. This doesn’t mean you should be blaming anyone. Condemnation doesn’t work, especially in a resource-rich country like Kazakhstan. But – similarly – the backing of the regime works in nobody’s interests, including yours. In simple terms, you support the process, you object stagnation, and beware not to overestimate minor changes in the legislation that don’t change the whole picture.

At least, every time your leader visits Kazakhstan, he/she should insist on a meeting with the critics and established opposition – or your successors may well be meeting warlords controlling various parts of the country ten years later. And, of course, whatever Kazakh government or your analysts tell you about the risks, it is ridiculous to think that Astana would squeeze your oil companies out or suddenly turn into North Korea, if the EU or the US dares to opine on the political situation in Kazakhstan.

The problem of the OSCE is that it had been too easy to get in it and to be a member with no particular obligations. Its consensus-based decision-making process, when those “lost in transition” can blackmail the others, now runs counter to the authority that the OSCE - especially ODIHR - has managed to gain,. Most likely, OSCE will be unable to upgrade to an organization with clear goals, where commitments precise and mandatory.

There are other mechanisms that are more demanding – but still attractive for Astana, due to its lust for international recognition. You can effectively use the vanity of the Kazakh government through prospective accession to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, or through the European Neighborhood Policy and its analogs.

Concrete procedures and official memoranda – instead of facultative commitments and lip-service or non-papers – would do much more use both for Kazakhstan and the West.

4 января 2011, 11:21
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