As President Nursultan Nazarbayev took to the podium September 3 to address parliament, observers sat back ready to hear what he had to say about the troubles that have plagued Kazakhstan over the last year, from terrorism and deadly unrest to two mysterious mass murders this summer.
Instead, what they got was a diatribe against graffiti and garbage: Nazarbayev used his speech to rail against anti-social behavior, including cussing and public drunkenness. (This is not a new fixation: In April the president instructed police in the capital, Astana, to arrest people who leave chewing gum at street crossings.)
Nazarbayev also urged parliament to adopt laws to promote economic growth and improve ordinary people’s lives -- quite sensibly, since the investigation into the turmoil in Zhanaozen on Independence Day last December that left 15 dead acknowledged social grievances as a contributing factor.
The president noted that “at my instruction, last year, by the 20th anniversary of independence, every town and village was to have become a model of comfort and orderliness” -- though his message had obviously not reached Zhanaozen, if the official investigation findings are to be believed. Nazarbayev did not mention the violence or its aftermath.
For some observers, his speech was long on style -- buzzwords included “social modernization” and “green economy” -- and short on substance.
“Evidently, the president simply has nothing to say,” opposition leader Bolat Abilov told the Guljan website, accusing Nazarbayev of ignoring “serious topics.”
“In the president’s opinion, everything has been quiet and calm in the country, and yet suddenly we are confronting obvious manifestations of extremism and terrorism, and probably Nazarbayev has decided not to draw the attention of the country and the world to these problems, so as not to destroy his own ideal of a stable Kazakhstan,” Abilov added.
Among the challenges Nazarbayev might have raised is terrorism. (Terrorist-related incidents have left at least 50 people -- mainly members of the security forces and suspected militants -- dead since May 2011.) He might also have tackled two mysterious mass slaughters in southern Kazakhstan this summer that remain largely unexplained, one at a military unit to which a conscript confessed but later recanted, and one in a national park for which a forest ranger was arrested on September 3.
Against this backdrop, the sight of the Leader of the Nation railing against graffiti might bring to critics’ minds the image of Nero fiddling while Rome burned.