23 january 2018
Central Asia news
In 2017, from Kazakhstan, there was little news about outbursts of extremist or terrorist activity. Data on the number of people who were charged and imprisoned for committing crimes "against the peace and security of mankind" (under this heading all "extremist" and "terrorist" charges are grouped in the Criminal Code of Kazakhstan), is not yet available.
Political Science is usually quite good at figuring out the main power players and relevant structures in the political systems of most countries. Those of us who are interested in Central Asia, however, will encounter an utterly incredible mess in the analysis of the political processes in the region. Mostly, the confusion centers around the term “clan” – a term that is so overused that it has been deprived of any clear meaning. This has led to a certain mystification of Central Asian politics around such poorly defined structures with little regard for the differences between clans, tribes and regional elites. So, this week, let us look at what clans really are, what their role is and if they are so special after all.
Kazakhstan ignores one of the main world trends - intolerance of sexual harassment in the workplace. As if in contrast to the events taking place in the West, where the careers of passionate celebrities collapse one by one, Kazakhstani victims of harassment remain practically unprotected. No one can turn the tide even if the individual has been recognised as a victim of harassment at the international level.
In Western Kazakhstan, religious parents are suing the Ministry of Education: their daughters are not allowed to attend schools because they wear headscarves. Officials, representing a secular state, admit the possibility of a cross-claim - the failure to comply with parental responsibilities. Why is it important at all, do the girls wear headscarves in school or not, and what do parents and teachers think - Fergana News tells.
Exactly ten years ago, the financial world first in Kazakhstan, and then in Italy, actively discussed a somewhat unusual transaction for those times. Strange, however, more likely for Kazakhstan - for the first time a big western company with a worldwide reputation acquired a private commercial bank in Kazakhstan. The Kazakh press optimistically referred this transaction to "Deal No. 1 for the entire banking sector of a young country," expressed confidence that it is "an indicator of the maturity of the Kazakh banking system and its attractiveness to the world market," and also promised a comfortable future to other local second-tier banks. After all, the precedent is created, and it is quite possible that, if desired, another buyer, as generous as the Italians, would appear. It seemed like an idyllic picture: create a bank and then sell it at a higher price to Western partners...
Emotions, tirades, passion, sharp gestures, stomping, hot fever! I would add “flamenco”, but it is not Catalonia striving for independence from Madrid. Another week rich with symbolic events in Central Asia is over, yet the picture remains obscure. The leadership of this region is reluctant to express its real emotions and feelings, but decisions show who they truly are, paraphrasing a popular fiction writer.
Central Asia is surely East - culturally or geographically. But, how much politically? Legally speaking countries of the regions are not khanates or empires, but republics established by the Soviets. And, yes, being a part of communist Russia they used to be "East Europe". Newly sovereign leaders declared their adherence to international obligations, while despotism is still a dominating option of state ruling in the region. Probably, it is their totalitarian communist heritage that resists learning new tricks.
For the first time, the priest of the Orthodox parish is in the court charged with the violation of the law “On Religious Activities and Religious Associations.” In the village of Merke (Zhambyl region of Kazakhstan) on 14 August, Vladimir Vorontsov, the rector of the parish of the Nativity of the Most Holy Mother of God Church, stood the first trial. An anonymous tip-off reported police that he, along with children from the Orthodox group of the weekend (Sunday school) and several parents conducted prayer meetings in the mountains.
The 19th Central Asia media conference named “Open Journalism in Central Asia” organised by the office of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media will be held in Tashkent on 18-19 October 2017. It is expected that participants, “including journalists, representatives from governments, civil society organisations and academia from Central Asia and Mongolia along with international experts will discuss current challenges to media freedom in Central Asia and Mongolia” including “current trends in news media distribution and challenges related to the digital and increasingly mobile environment, and how to better safeguard media freedom whilst combatting hate speech,” as well as “the latest media freedom developments and best practices,” the OSCE website informs.
This May brought remarkable events, which will develop during summer vacations and will define how autumn will develop further. Surely, these are activities around presidential elections in Kyrgyzstan clearing and modifying political and media space for the pro-presidential candidate, or Uzbekistan summing its attempts to revive the economy through investment and improving its foreign image. How would Kazakhstan reconsider its economic policy and change its attitude towards rule of law to outrun its main economic rival - Uzbekistan? Whether xenophobia in Russia will die out. How Tajikistan and Turkmenistan will cope with doubts of its public about anti-corruption campaigns in both countries? These questions were raised in May and I will outline them for you.
The recent terror act in the St. Petersburg metro on 3 April, in the organisation of which Russian special services suspect people from Central Asia, exacerbated issues related to migration processes from the countries of this region to Russia. Last week in Moscow, the Sakharov Center jointly with the Yegor Gaidar Foundation organised a discussion during which experts discussed whether there is any ground to say that it is among the migrants that recruitment of terrorists takes place, and if so, what causes migrants to join the ranks of radical Islamists, what role is played by large-scale corruption, typical of most Central Asian countries, and whether it is possible to oppose it.
In Kazakhstan, most of the media owners are hiding behind their formal founders. But, as they say, if the secret is known to three – then everyone knows this. Having talked with experts Fergana News Agency made its own list of the true owners of the Kazakh media.
Problems with the conservation of saiga (or saiga antelope - the saiga antelope) in Uzbekistan have increased, while attention from the state has decreased. About this tells an open letter from the public representatives of the country to the chairman of the State Committee for Nature Protection (‘Goskompriroda’, since 21 April 2017 - State Committee for Ecology and Environmental Protection) sent on 11 April 2017. There is no answer yet.
The ‘Immortal Regiment’ action, which relatives and descendants of those killed at the fronts of the Great Patriotic War had been planning to organise and hold on 9 May 2017 in Tajikistan, was prohibited. One of the official reasons is that ‘according to Islamic traditions, it is inadmissible to go out into the streets and avenues with portraits of the deceased.’ The other is a tense situation and clashes in neighbouring Afghanistan. Fergana correspondent spoke with Dushanbe residents, who call these arguments absurd and far-fetched accusing the authorities of double standards and hypocrisy. In fact, the government is simply afraid of any manifestations of civil activity, they believe.
On 22 April 2017, active users of social networks in Kazakhstan noticed a slow down access to the internet in the evening. Naturally, versions of what is happening appeared immediately. Some internet users have suggested that the problem with access originated from network overload: they say, there are many people at once in the internet and the traffic falls periodically. Others began to blame on viruses-Trojans attacking different social networks. Still others suspected that all these oddities with access to the World Wide Web linked with the announcement of the former owner of BTA Bank Mukhtar Ablyazov about his own live interview on Facebook and Instagram social networks, which no one publicly desired to watch.