Source: Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan Facebook page
Supporters of the Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan watching as a tractor crushes DVD and VHS tapes of Western movies.
Kazakhstan’s pro-government communist party has kicked off its parliamentary election campaign with a stunt designed to galvanize anti-Western sentiments.
The youth wing of the Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan (KNPK) drove a tractor over a pile of foreign movies in an antic directed against “western lack of culture,” the party said on its Facebook page.
Photographs published on the page showed a crowd of several dozen people gathered in Almaty on February 21 to watch a red tractor drive over films that the party insisted “symbolized the destructive culture of the western movie industry.” One spectator was mustachioed KNPK central committee secretary Zhambyl Akhmetbekov, who could be seen in pictures clasping his hands and beaming with undisguised glee.
“The western culture of violence, which exerts a negative effect on the consciousness of the younger generation, destroys our traditional principles such as respect for elders, tolerance, patriotism and aspiration for improvement, which have been shaped over centuries,” the KNPK said in its statement.
“Traditionally communists have always spoken out, and will continue to speak out, against the politics of degrading true values that is implanted by western ideologists.”
Of course, Akhmetbekov hasn’t always been opposed to western culture or violence. When he was running for parliament in 2012, his party produced a video of Akhmetbekov rehearsing a variety of martial arts moves to the musical accompaniment of a Russian cover version of the Carl Douglas classic “Kung Fu Fighting.”
The editor of a newspaper in Kyrgyzstan was assaulted outside his home last week in an ominous throwback to the kind of attacks that became commonplace under former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.
Turat Akimov, who edits the newspaper Dengi i Vlast, said he was unable to identify his assailant.
“A tall, athletic man in a baseball cap was hiding behind the fence. He hit me twice with an iron rod. Once on my head and then my hand. After I hit him back, he dropped the rod and fled,” Akimov told Russian news agency Sputnik, recalling the attack in Bishkek on February 19.
The reporter said he required medical treatment after the assault and went to the hospital to have his arm put in plaster and stitches in a head wound.
Akimov explicitly identifies as an opposition journalist and said that he believes the attack was motivated by his reporting.
It should be noted, however, that his newspaper no longer has its own website, is extremely low profile and appears to specialize primarily in editorializing and loosely researched muck-raking.
In a 2014 interview to Kyrgyz language newspaper Maidan.kg, Akimov explains how he was subjected to a gagging order to prevent him publishing extracts from a book claiming that 300 inmates died during the tenure of a director of prisons under President Askar Akayev, who was overthrown in 2005. In the book, it is claimed the same official sold the bodies of dead inmates to German anatomist Gunther Von Hagens, who achieved notoriety in the 1990s with his public exhibitions of human remains preserved in plastic.
Less than a month after Tajikistan’s top government-sanctioned Islamic cleric condemned Iran as a haven for terrorists, Dushanbe has turned to Tehran with its desperate pleas for money.
Tajik media reported on February 18 that the head of the National Bank of Tajikistan met with the Iranian ambassador this week to discuss cooperation in banking and prospects for a renewed wave of inward investment.
Dushanbe appears to believe the lifting of sanctions on Iran have presented it with a timely opportunity. Iran’s banking system is yet to come out fully from under the rubble of the sanctions regime, and setting up shop in Tajikistan could be a way to get things moving again in their financial system.
Reality is a tough master, however, and there will be a lot of bad air to clear before anything materializes.
Relations between the two countries have historically veered erratically between warmth and antipathy. They are brought closer by linguistic and historic kinship. But Tajikistan also holds fast to resentments over what they say was Iran’s support of the armed opposition in the civil war of the 1990s.
And yet, Iran was the first country to establish diplomatic ties with Tajikistan’s after the collapse of the Soviet Union. And Tehran was one of the guarantors of the now-shredded postwar 1997 peace agreement, which assured a portion of government jobs to the opposition.
The Sangtuda-2 hydropower plant, which began operating in 2011, was constructed in part with $180 million of Iranian money. Iran also built, if that’s the word, the comically appalling Istiqlol tunnel, which links the center and north of Tajikistan.
Authorities in Kyrgyzstan are hunting for an excuse not to pay back a Russian state energy company the $40 million or so it spent on building a hydroelectric power plant that never got completed.
That inevitably means that they will find one.
Last week, a commission led by member of parliament and former justice minister Almanbet Shykmamatov toured the abandoned complex serving the Upper Naryn hydro plants that Kyrgyzstan and Russia agreed to build in 2012.
If the commission is to be believed, there was plenty of funny business involved in tenders for the failed project, which was led by troubled energy giant RusHydro. Parliament in Kyrgyzstan last month voted to scrap the $727 million deal in addition to an even bigger deal for a separate hydro plant built by Moscow's Inter RAO company, citing lack of progress.
One nugget Shykmamatov’s commission has unearthed is that a company that performed the $250,000 environmental audit for the power plant — Chui Ecological Laboratory — was registered to the wife of an employee of the state environmental agency at the time it won the tender.
The company had been re-registered in her name days after the tender was announced, according to the commission, while four other local companies that won tenders worth between $1.5-2 million (adjusting for rate changes) were set up during the same period.
Two of those have since vanished without account, having made off 14 million soms (currently worth around $200,000).
When Russian gas giant Gazprom bought up Kyrgyzstan’s natural gas distribution system in 2014, some grumbled about loss of sovereignty, while others were relieved the purchase meant gas cut-offs could become a thing of the past.
So there will be some dismay if Gazprom-Kyrgyzstan, as the local affiliate is called, follows through on threats to suspend gas supplies in the country.
News website Zanoza.kg on February 18 reported that Olga Lavrova, Gazprom-Kyrgyzstan’s deputy general director for finances, said the danger of a cut-off has been precipitated by a dispute over debt with German-owned plate glass manufacturer Interglass.
“Because of the debts owed by Interglass, the whole of Kyrgyzstan could end up without gas,” Lavrova was quoted as saying.
Gazprom-Kyrgyzstan has since its incorporation been engaged in an uphill battle to force its customers to pay for the fuel that they use. Interglass is by far the largest delinquent debtor with 698 million som in unpaid bills and another 419 million som in interest outstanding on those debts, according to the gas supplier. As of February 1, that puts Interglass’ total debt to Gazprom at a whopping $15 million at the current rate.
Lavrova said Interglass continues to use 1.2 million som worth of gas daily, while only usually paying 2-3 million som per month.
Failure by the glass producer to pay its bills has caused Gazprom-Kyrgyzstan in turn to accumulate debts to its suppliers of $12.5 million, Lavrova was quoted as saying.
As should probably have been expected, a countersuit filed by journalist Dayirbek Orunbekov against the president of Kyrgyzstan has fallen at the first hurdle.
Pervomaisky district court’s ruling on February 15 was clear — Almazbek Atambayev did not insult the editor of Kyrgyz-language news website Maalymat.kg.
Orunbekov has already said he will appeal the decision within the month at a city court in the capital, Bishkek.
The dispute dates back to late 2014, when Orunbekov ran a story accusing Atambayev of being implicated in the 2010 ethnic clashes in Osh between Uzbek and Kyrgyz communities that left several hundred dead. Atambayev only assumed the presidency after winning an election in 2011, but he was serving in the interim government that took power after the bloody overthrow of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in April 2010.
The General Prosecutor’s Office responded to the piece by filing a defamation lawsuit in April 2015 against Orunbekov.
Orunbekov lost the case and was ordered to pay $26,000 in damages to Atambaev.
Media advocacy groups were unimpressed.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s media rights watchdog Dunja Mijatovic in December urged Kyrgyzstan to desist from slapping onerous penalties on journalists for civil defamation.
“Excessive fines imposed on journalists and media outlets as a means of protecting the head of a state can lead to self-censorship,” Mijatovic said at the time. “Disproportionate and high fines are detrimental to freedom of the media.”
These rebukes tend to fall on deaf ears in the region, so Orunbekov took matters into his own hands by filing a countersuit in retaliation for Atambayev accusing him of being a slanderer-for-hire. The president leveled his accusation during the annual end-of-year press conference in December.
Ethnic tensions are bubbling in southern Kazakhstan, where local authorities have stepped in to restore calm following the murder of a child by a member of an ethnic minority.
Worryingly for Astana, this is the second time in a year that the south of the country has witnessed a local dispute splitting along ethnic lines and breaking out into scenes of unrest, albeit small in scale.
A mob took to the streets in the village of Buryl in Zhambyl Region following the murder of a six-year-old child to demand the ejection from the village of the family of the murder suspect, the NewTimes.kz website reported.
The ethnic element to the dispute emerged because the child, an ethnic Kazakh, was allegedly stabbed to death by an ethnic Turk from the village during a robbery on February 15.
Local authorities held a public meeting to calm tensions on February 17, the day after a mob of 100 mainly Kazakh villagers besieged the house of the family of the suspect, who is under arrest.
Video of a meeting held in the village and attended by elders, posted by NewTimes.kz, showed elders and officials appealing to a rowdy crowd and a heavy police presence.
There were no reports of serious damage or injuries, unlike during a riot last year in the village of Yntymak in southern Kazakhstan following the murder of a Kazakh man by an ethnic Tajik neighbour.
When it comes to finding ways of squeezing money out of people, Tajikistan’s government is second to none in the innovation stakes.
Russian business daily Kommersant reported on February 16 that a plan is in the works for the National Bank of Tajikistan to create a single clearing house for all the remittances being sent home by migrant laborers.
Tajikistan is a major market in the cash-transferring business in Russia and represents the second-largest destination for money wired overseas, according to Kommersant.
The proposal being enacted by the National Bank will require all transfers to go through its system, which will accordingly earn healthy commissions.
The details are hazy so far, but Kommersant’s unnamed sources in the financial sector say that proponents of the new arrangement are toying with the idea of imposing a 1 percent commission on all transfers.
Market leaders at the moment charge between 0.3 percent and 0.6 percent.
It is presumed that wire companies and the banks paying out the cash at the other end will come to some arrangement with the National Bank on how to distribute the earnings.
The model will completely invalidate any avenue for competition since clients will find themselves having to pay that 1 percent (or more) commission come what may. And it should probably be safely assumed that the National Bank will retain a healthy proportion of the fees for itself.
Critics of the government will be quick point out that the deputy head of the National Bank is none other than President Emomali Rahmon’s son-in-law, Jamoliddin Nuraliyev, and that given the opaque nature of Tajikistan’s financial system, there can be no certainty about the ultimate destination of the revenues earned through commissions on transfers.
The time for showers of gold is over, President Nursultan Nazarbayev warned his countrymen on February 16 in his latest attempt to inculcate a popular spirit of parsimony.
Instead, the people of Kazakhstan should exploit the opportunity of a crisis caused in part by low oil prices to transform the country into a more innovative and dynamic economic performer.
“We should not expect to be showered with gold,” he said in remarks quoted by the Nur news agency.
Those remarks appear much in the same mold as recent exhortations by Nazarbayev for the people of Kazakhstan not to indulge in luxuries such as lemons.
“Every crisis is a stage ahead of new development,” which, he said, means weaning the economy off its current dependence on oil and gas.
One way the government intends to that is by raiding the state pension pot, which Nazarbayev ordered last week as part of measures to stimulate growth.
The economy is in desperate need of help. Some economists are forecasting that the economy will shrink this year for the first time in almost two decades.
In line with Nazarbayev’s order, issued on February 10, 1.5 trillion tenge ($4 billion) worth of assets will be withdrawn from the state pension fund — a quarter of its total holdings of nearly 6 trillion tenge — to help plug holes in the budget deficit and support small businesses and infrastructure projects.
Police in Tajikistan have reportedly arrested Salafist leader Muhammadi Rahmatullo in what appears on first sight to be an extension of the extensive crackdown against the country’s devout Muslims.
Some aspects of Rahmatullo’s activities, however, hint at a slightly less straightforward story.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Tajik service, Ozodi, reported on February 11 that Rahmatullo, who is better known as Mullah Muhammadi, faces three charges, including one for allegedly inciting religious tensions.
Not much is known about Rahmatullo.
In January 2015, local media cited his relatives as saying that he had been detained by police, but the Interior Ministry later denied the report.
Some time later, weekly newspaper Faraj published an article under Rahmatullo’s byline in which the writer condemned the opposition Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), which has since been banned and designated a terrorist organization.
In the piece, Rahmatullo claimed that the IRPT was financed by “foreign governments” and argued that Tajikistan had no need for such parties.
He further stated that the IRPT was to blame for the devastating civil war of the 1990s and said the party had links to Iran. He suggested that the IRPT should be disbanded.
Despite being a member of a group also designated as an extremist organization, Rahmatullo had his piece published in several other publications, including ones owned by the government, as well as on the site of the ruling National Democratic Party of Tajikistan.
Another Salafist, Eshoni Sirojiddin, was also enlisted to smear the IRPT. Sirojiddin was jailed in 2009 along with his son, but was later released in an amnesty. He is still believed to be out of prison.