02/04/2022, 10.06
KAZAKHSTAN
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Kazakhstan one month on from protests

by Vladimir Rozanskij

President Tokaev has centralised power, downsizing his predecessor Nazarbayev. A deep moralising campaign was launched to overcome widespread corruption. The authorities have promised that the rich will pay large sums of money to support the population.

 

 

Moscow (AsiaNews) - A month has passed since the protests in Zhanaozen, Almaty and other cities in Kazakhstan, which caused a political earthquake in the country. President Kasym-Žomart Tokaev has concentrated all his powers on himself, after three years of appearing to be a mere puppet of his predecessor, the eternal Nursultan Nazarbaev.

The initial reason for the protests, rising prices for liquefied gas, was quickly forgotten in the confusion of what followed. The authorities agreed to lower tariffs, so the government resigned en bloc, but these measures did not resolve the situation. Economic slogans were replaced by political ones, and in the former capital Almaty, the country's main city, the whole thing turned into a riot that is still hard to decipher, leaving the streets at the mercy of thugs and petty thieves of all kinds, pushed by foreign mercenaries whose principals are unknown.

In fact, anger has been channelled against Nazarbayev and his caste, to whom all the responsibility for Kazakhstan's ills has been attributed, after 30 years of unchallenged and apparently 'enlightened' power. Administrative buildings were targeted, as well as signs, banners and monuments dedicated to the father of the country ('elbasy'). In the end, the army intervened, with a final toll of 225 victims, including 19 members of the security forces. The call for help by the Csto (Collective Security Treaty Organisation) troops, especially the Russian ones, lasted the space of a weekend, and ended in a parade "without firing a shot".

On 5 January, Tokaev also took over as president of the Security Council from his predecessor, and a dizzying transition of power began. On 27 January, the assembled chambers of parliament cancelled all of Nazarbaev's "lifetime" privileges, guaranteed by laws passed after he resigned as president in 2019. All of the elbasy's relatives and close associates were ousted from various public functions, including in rather dramatic ways, starting with the head of the security services (Knb) Karim Masimov, who was arrested on treason charges. In their place, people closely trusted by the president were appointed.

Tokaev announced a deep moralising campaign to overcome widespread corruption. On 21 January he met with businessmen in Nur-Sultan, the city that in Soviet times was called Tselinograd, in 1992 it was given back its historical name of Akmola, in 1997 it became Astana ("the capital"), in 2019 it was dedicated to Nazarbayev and today it is again generically called "the capital". To businessmen, the president announced in ominous tones the radical change of payment systems in the name of transparency.

At the beginning of the crisis, there were even rumours that Nazarbaev was going to flee to some friendly country in the Middle East, but on 18 January, the former father of the country appeared on television to swear allegiance to his successor, who in turn has repeatedly confirmed his full agreement with the now dismantled elite. The question now remains as to whether the regained social peace is just a pretense to hide the conflicts, or the beginning of a real change in Kazakhstan, both internally and in international relations.

The unrest of a month ago was attributed to 'terrorists' and 'traitors', but the social motivations of the protests were also acknowledged. In addition to the hunt for the perpetrators, which is still under way, Tokaev has promised to set up a 'national fund' (Kazakhstan khalkina), where wealthy people connected with the past will have to pay large sums of money to support the population. The list of 'benefactors' of the fund and the annual sums to be paid in will be decided by the government.

On 1 February, another demonstration was held in front of the General Prosecutor's Office in Almaty, under the strict control of the police, to protest against the detention of innocent people and police violence, and to demand transparent investigations into the deaths of several demonstrators at the beginning of January. This too will tell to what extent a new page will be opened in Kazakhstan, or everything has changed so that everything remains the same.

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