Kazakhstan’s famous alpine skating rink outside Almaty turned into a love-fest for President Nursultan Nazarbayev this weekend, as skaters were bombarded with pearls of wisdom from his recent state-of-the-nation address.
Hundreds of students from Almaty universities were bussed up to the Medeu complex on January 18 amid an attempt to break the world record for mass alpine skating, with at least 500 people gathering on the ice in the presence of an official from Guinness World Records, the body which will assess the record-breaking bid.
But the event was soon hijacked to remind the young people whom they have to thank for all their fun – Nazarbayev, who goes by the title of Leader of the Nation. The giant screen that usually plays pop videos as skaters circle the ice was given over to excerpts from his state-of-the-nation address, which was delivered on January 17 and contained the usual dry statements about improving the economy and boosting social well-being.
Critics have long claimed that 73-year-old Nazarbayev – who, in power for over two decades, is one of the world’s longest serving rulers – is the subject of a thriving cult of personality in Kazakhstan, where he brooks no opposition to his autocratic rule but also enjoys genuine public popularity for bringing stability and relative economic prosperity.
Kazakhstan’s parliament is to discuss the possibility of introducing legal sanctions against “lesbianism,” a member of the lower house revealed on January 14 in remarks that will alarm Kazakhstan’s low-profile lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.
Parliamentarians are to raise the question of “bringing to book” for “lesbianism and other aspects of the sexual and gender sphere,” deputy Nurlan Abdirov told a session of the lower house’s legal affairs committee in vaguely worded remarks quoted by Tengri News. Deputies plan to hold “special themed sessions and round tables” on the topic, he said, without offering further details.
So far no bill has been drawn up and the type of discussions Abdirov is proposing would not carry legal force. Nevertheless, the remarks are alarming for the embattled LGBT community, which was shaken by a spate of homophobic outbursts in parliament last year.
MP Kairbek Suleymenov was the first to speak out, demanding “mechanisms” to counteract gay marriage as “alien” to national traditions, in response to a symbolic lesbian wedding held last April in Karaganda. But no legal mechanism for gay marriage exists or is planned in Kazakhstan.
Fugitive Kazakhstani oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov should be extradited to Russia or Ukraine to face charges of fraud and embezzlement, a French court ruled on January 9, effectively rejecting his argument that long-standing corruption charges are politically motivated.
The ruling deals a major blow to the flamboyant former banker. The court dismissed arguments from Ablyazov’s lawyers that sending him to Russia or Ukraine (both close allies of Kazakhstan) would endanger him and expose him to onward extradition to Kazakhstan, where they believe he would not face a fair trial.
The court ruled that Russia should be given priority for extradition over Ukraine, ITAR-TASS news agency reported. (Kazakhstan has also lodged an extradition bid for Ablyazov but has no extradition treaty with France.) Ablyazov’s lawyer immediately said he would appeal the ruling.
In the last five years Ablyazov has turned from successful billionaire businessman to fugitive, pursued across Europe by private detectives and arrested in a dramatic raid on a luxury mansion on the French Riviera last July.
The corruption charges against Ablyazov center on his management of BTA Bank, which he headed and – as he told EurasiaNet.org in a 2009 interview – owned through an undeclared stake. He fled Kazakhstan when the government forcibly nationalized the bank at the height of the global financial crisis. He denies wrongdoing.
Sex and drugs are not often publicly discussed in Uzbekistan, where the state casts itself as a guardian of traditional values. But even in such a tightly controlled environment, one can occasionally come across an oasis of free expression.
The Barakholka market in Almaty has been hit by four fires in the last three months, kindling suspicion that one of Central Asia’s largest bazaars is falling victim to turf wars.
A sprawling market in Kazakhstan’s commercial capital, Almaty, has caught fire for the fourth time in just three months. The blazes are kindling suspicion that the lucrative trade at one of Central Asia’s largest bazaars is falling victim to turf wars.
The fire at Barakholka – where an estimated 180,000 people work in 74 adjacent markets – started early on December 12, Tengri News quoted the Emergencies Ministry as saying.
This blaze follows a fire in September and two in November. They were preceded by another fire at a nearby market, Ushkonyr-7, in August. No one has died in the conflagrations, though several people have been injured.
A Gazprom filling station in northern Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyzstan's parliament has approved the sale of the nation's debt-ridden gas monopoly to the Russian state-run energy giant for $1.
Kyrgyzstan’s parliament voted to pass a controversial deal to sell the national gas company to Russian giant Gazprom for the knockdown price of $1 on December 11, local media reported.
Under the deal Gazprom snaps up the company and its property and gains rent-free use of land any facilities stand on. In exchange it takes on Kyrgyzgaz’s estimated $38 million debt and pledges some $600 million to improve Kyrgyzstan’s crumbling gas grid. That could in the long-term help streamline energy supplies and ease the dire power shortages the country experiences every winter.
Some parliamentarians had opposed the deal, agreed in July, seeing it as tantamount to handing a strategic national asset over to former colonial master Russia for a song, but Kyrgyzgaz CEO Turgunbek Kulmurzayev said there was “no other choice” than to sell to Gazprom, since the company is effectively “bankrupt.”
Kyrgyzstan is in any case doomed to gas dependence: It meets just 2 percent of its gas needs from domestic output and relies on imports from neighbors Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, leverage that Tashkent sometimes uses to bully Bishkek by cutting off supplies.
When banker Darkhan Botabayev tried to book a flight on Kazakhstan’s national airline last September, what started as a routine transaction turned into an assault that shocked the nation: Botabayev lost his temper and punched the young female ticket clerk in the face.
Two parties with their roots in Kyrgyzstan's troubled south have announced a political alliance that could create a headache for Bishkek as it struggles to stamp its authority over southern regions.
The Unity of Peoples party led by Melis Myrzakmatov, the combative former mayor of Kyrgyzstan's second largest city, Osh, joined forces with the Progress party of Bakyt Torobayev, whose political stronghold is in the neighboring Jalal-Abad Region, on December 7, Kloop reported.
This political marriage of convenience unites two bastions of regional opposition to the central government and to President Almazbek Atambayev. The central government fired Myrzakmatov as mayor of Osh December 5 amid maneuvering over forthcoming mayoral elections in which Bishkek hopes to stamp its authority over Osh by wresting control of it from Myrzakmatov, who has said he will stand for mayor again. Torobayev hails from Jalal-Abad, the heartland of former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who was violently overthrown in 2010 to the chagrin of his many supporters in Kyrgyzstan's south.
Together the two leaders wield considerable power in their respective strongholds: Myrzakmatov's party controls the Osh city council; Torobayev's controls the Jalal-Abad city council.
Astana spends millions of dollars a year on media subsidies, with the lion’s share used to promote the administration’s messages through powerful state media outlets. Much of the subsidized coverage is aimed at generating a “feel-good factor” among Kazakhstan’s public, a new study has found.
State media subsidies have shot up in recent years, the research by the Legal Media-Center, an NGO, found, almost tripling from 8.8 billion tenge (some $57 million) in 2005 to 22.7 billion tenge ($147 million) in 2012. This year state subsidies will reach 35 billion tenge ($233 million) nationally, with a further 2 billion tenge ($13 million) allocated in the regions.
A total of 98 media outlets benefited from state subsidies in 2012, yet they were spread thin. Over half (51 percent) went to just three outlets: the two main state-owned national newspapers, the Kazakh-language Yegemen Kazakhstan (360 million tenge, or $2.3 million) and its sister publication, Russian-language Kazakhstankaya Pravda (290 million tenge, or $1.8 million). News agency Kazinform received 245 million tenge ($1.6 million).
The research, based on an analysis of official information received from ministries, found that much funding went on communicating information about the work of the state: 39 percent was spent on publishing material such as texts of laws and decrees and job vacancies, and another 37 percent on material covering domestic government policy and the work of the president, cabinet, and law-enforcement agencies.
The oral epic Manas so beloved in Kyrgyzstan has been included on the United Nations cultural heritage list.
The poem, which many Kyrgyz boast is the longest in the world, “expresses the historical memory of the Kyrgyz people and survives thanks to a community of epic tellers, both women and men, of all ages,” UNESCO, the UN’s cultural affairs body, said, announcing the decision to include Manas on the List of the Intangible Heritage of Humanity on December 4. “Narrators accept their calling after experiencing a prophetic dream, understood to be a sign from the heroes of the epic.”
Manas, which describes the unification of disparate tribes into a single nation and can take up to 13 hours to recite, is viewed in Kyrgyzstan as a bedrock of the Kyrgyz nation’s cultural heritage. Its inclusion on the UNESCO list is a diplomatic triumph for the government, which was outraged when China beat Kyrgyzstan to have Manas included on the UNESCO list in 2009 on behalf of its Kyrgyz minority population.
Manas is so central to Kyrgyz culture that streets in many towns in the country are named after it, as are public facilities – including the airport where the US airbase is hosted.