A fresh space spat has erupted between Astana and Moscow over the cost of environmental damage from a Russian rocket crash on the territory of Kazakhstan – and who will pay for it.
After totaling the environmental damage from the July crash of a Proton-M rocket after it blasted off from the Baikonur spaceport in central Kazakhstan, Astana sent Moscow a bill for $89 million earlier this month.
At one meeting of the bilateral group investigating the crash, officials from the Russian Federal Space Agency, known as Roskosmos, “declared their readiness to discuss compensation” for any environmental damage, Kazakhstan’s Environment Ministry said on November 22.
After receiving the bill, however, Russia does not look keen to cough up. “We have received the report about the total for the damage,” Russia’s Izvestiya daily quoted Sergey Gorbunov, head of the Roskosmos press service, as saying laconically on November 27. “The space agency will be conducting its own expert evaluation on this subject. Its aim is to assess the correctness of the calculations cited. It can be a question of paying compensation only for proven damage to the environment.”
Participants at an annual gathering of Kazakhstan’s journalist community have called for authorities to ease tight restrictions on freedom of the media.
Opposition leader Amirzhan Kosanov took the floor after a panel discussion in Almaty on November 27 to demand an end to what he described as de facto “censorship” and for dissident voices to be given access to the mainstream media. Kazakhstan’s opposition has long been marginalized from the media, and the situation has deteriorated since the courts last year closed down dozens of independent media outlets in the wake of late 2011's fatal unrest in western Kazakhstan.
The panel discussion at the sixth Media Kuryltay (“council” or “assembly”) pitted a government official against a prominent journalist who survived an assassination attempt that many observers suspect was linked to his outspoken reporting. The kuryltay offers a rare opportunity for an exchange of opinions between journalists reflecting all sides of Kazakhstan’s media spectrum – from strongly pro-government to staunch opposition – and bureaucrats from Astana.
Bolat Kalyanbekov, chairman of the Ministry of Culture’s Information and Archive Committee, offered a spirited defense of state media policy, pointing out that the government channels millions of tenge to the media every year. Lukpan Akhmedyarov of the regional Uralskaya Nedelya newspaper in northwestern Kazakhstan, who was lucky to survive a vicious attempt on his life last year, pointed out that the state might be throwing money at loyal elements of the media but this did not bring about greater media freedom.
Stories of women abandoned by migrating husbands are not hard to find in Tajikistan. It seems every family has a story about a young man who left to earn a living in Russia and never returned. The remittances trickle to a stop; the letters cease. Later the family might hear he’s remarried. Or wonder, forever fearing worse.
In conservative Tajikistan, few are eager to discuss these stories. But every month the Tajik migration service gets about 15 pleas for help from women requesting that Russia deport their sons, brothers or husbands, Radio Ozodi reports, citing an official spokesman. The women have also been appealing directly to Russian authorities.
“I heard from my sister-in-law that he [my husband] got married. [He] doesn’t send money to his kids. They should deport him. Maybe this will influence him to come back to his kids,” Mokhru Kholova, who says her husband Olim left her with their three children five years ago and doesn’t write, told Radio Ozodi.
Tochinisso Khoshimova says her brother Zokirjon has been away for eight years and only once sent their mother $50: “We want him to get kicked out of Russia,” said Khoshimova, adding that her family is simply worried about him. “Mother often cries and doubts if he’s alive.”
The million-plus Tajiks working in Russia are basically the only thing keeping Tajikistan’s economy afloat. Last year, they sent home the equivalent of 47 percent of GDP, making Tajikistan the most remittance-dependent country in the world, according to the World Bank.
A deal that would see Kyrgyzstan’s heavily indebted gas distribution company sold to Russia’s state-run energy behemoth, Gazprom, appears to be in trouble.
A vote in parliament was once considered a formality. But in recent days, parliament’s fractious parties have put the breaks on the transaction. Even members of the ruling coalition have backed away, a major Russian paper reports.
Under a July agreement between the government and Gazprom, Bishkek agreed to sell Kyrgyzgaz, the state-run entity that controls Kyrgyzstan’s gas distribution network, for a symbolic $1. In return, Gazprom agreed to invest approximately $600 million into the aging gas grid and assume Kyrgyzgaz’s debt, which was estimated at about $38 million at the time. But the deal had to be ratified by parliament.
On November 15, the legislature’s opposition parties rejected the deal.
According to a November 20 report in Russian business daily Kommersant, members of the ruling coalition are attempting to use the vote to topple Prime Minister Jantoro Satybaldiyev’s government. The paper quotes deputy Omurbek Abdrakhmanov complaining that the amount of Kyrgyzgaz’s debt is unclear, meaning the deal could be unfair. A deputy from Ar-Namys, also in the ruling coalition, said Gazprom could take control of a parcel of land and sell it to China, Kommersant reported. (The lawmaker’s statement plays on long-existing fears of Chinese domination.)
The launch of commercial production at Kashagan, Kazakhstan’s supergiant Caspian Sea oilfield, has been delayed again and will not begin until 2014.
Christophe de Margerie, chief executive of France's Total, one of the consortium partners, made the unwelcome announcement that the storied project would miss its latest target of starting commercial production in 2013. He said Kashagan “will not restart before the end of the year” following the suspension of production in October to deal with a gas leak. “It's more than simply repairing pipes,” Reuters quoted him as saying this week.
The North Caspian Operating Company (NCOC) – which also includes Kazakhstan’s state energy firm KazMunayGaz; oil majors ExxonMobil, Shell, and Eni; China’s CNPC; and Japan’s INPEX – has not confirmed that production will not re-start this year, but Hans Wenck, NCOC’s external communications manager, told EurasiaNet.org that “inspections and investigations will take some weeks to conclude.”
“The Kashagan oil and gas production remains shut in until the inspections are completed and results of the expert studies are available, and restart of the facilities can be carried out safely,” he said in an emailed statement on November 12. “Until such investigations are completed it will be too early to discuss any possible remedial actions and time required to implement them.”
Reuters quoted an unidentified industry source on November 11 as saying that Kashagan exports would restart in March “in a best-case scenario.”
In Kyrgyzstan, calculated outrage over sexual-health education is a political pastime: In the late 1990's, a reactionary group organized a public burning of books printed by the government for youth on healthy lifestyles, claiming the section on sexual education was immoral. Now rhetoric is heating up over a series of sex-ed pamphlets printed by the Alliance for Reproductive Health (ARZ), funded by the German development agency, GIZ, and the UN.
In this Q&A, Gulnara Ibraeva, a prominent sociologist and expert on gender and sexuality, formerly of the American University in Central Asia, explains to EurasiaNet.org what Kyrgyzstan’s growing “generation of blank minds” means for the country. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
EurasiaNet.org: The Alliance for Reproductive Health brochures have suddenly caused a stir. Why? And are they necessary?
Gulnara Ibraeva: In the school curriculum this kind of practical education is absent. More than one generation of sexually illiterate people, people who don't understand basic aspects of sex, have been raised. There are many examples of how the absence of this sort of education negatively impacts schoolchildren. People know nothing about their bodies. They don't even understand how they function! They have medieval perceptions about the body, even now in schools – a totally medieval understanding of real adult sexual life.
EN: Is this why there are perceptions about sexual education being shameful? Or somehow antagonistic to the idea of a Kyrgyz identity or Kyrgyzchylyk [sometimes loosely defined as “Kyrgyzness”]?
Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon has sailed to victory again after a poll marked by the absence of competition and other shortcomings, international election observers said today.
With Tajikistan's election officials claiming an 86.6 percent turnout, Rakhmon garnered 83.6 percent of votes, installing him as president for another seven years, to 2020.
Rakhmon faced five placid competitors who the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) said hardly bothered to campaign. The five were widely seen as supportive of the incumbent, running to give the November 6 election a veneer of plurality. Rakhmon’s closest rival, the Communist Party’s Ismoil Talbakov, won five percent of the vote, the state-run Khovar news agency reported early on November 7.
An ODIHR monitoring mission said the elections were peaceful, but noted "serious problems" with ballot box stuffing, authorities interfering in the count, and a count that "often lacked transparency." ODIHR also described “a lack of pluralism and genuine choice.”
“Extensive state media coverage of the official activities of the incumbent provided him with a significant advantage,” ODIHR said in a November 7 statement:
"While quiet and peaceful, this was an election without a real choice," said Gordana Comic, the Special Coordinator who led the short-term OSCE observer mission. "Being in power requires abiding by OSCE commitments, not taking advantage of incumbency, as we saw. Greater genuine political pluralism will be critical for Tajikistan to meet its democratic commitments."
Kazakhstan is not famous as a destination for gourmets, but a few chefs are trying to infuse a bit of excitement into a cuisine often accused of being unremittingly dull.
The country’s first international culinary competition brought together around 100 chefs from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine and Russia last week in Kazakhstan’s commercial capital, Almaty. Alexander Tregubenko, president of the Chefs' Association of Kazakhstan, told Tengri News that the gathering gave emerging local talent a chance to experiment with new ideas from abroad.
This being Kazakhstan, where equine culture is a prominent part of the national identity, of course horse meat featured prominently on the menu. On the last day of competition, October 31, Kazakh chefs competed for the “Best Chef of the Year” title on the condition their main course included horse meat. Almaty-based Khalmurat Nurdinov took the prize with his fried horse meat seeped in a secret marinade.
It's not clear how this innovation will go down with traditionalists. Kazakhstan's national dish is known simply as kazaksha et, or “Kazakh meat.” It is also called beshbarmak -- or five fingers, because it was traditionally eaten by hand.
Officials in Kazakhstan are struggling to understand a wave of suicides that has horrified the country this year. One MP says “alien” western subcultures are to blame.
Galina Baimakhanova, a member of Kazakhstan's lower house of parliament, called the punk and emo movements “alien to our mentality” as she addressed parliament about adolescent issues this week. She blamed the subcultures for targeting emotionally unstable teenagers and said that punks were aggressive and emos preached “depression, withdrawal and general suicidal behavior.”
Defenders of emo – which grew out of the punk movement and is often characterized by expressive and emotive lyrics and writing – dismiss stereotypes that they are overly emotional or angst-ridden just because they sometimes wear black and can express an interest in morbid topics.
The suicide rate is high in Kazakhstan. A 2011 World Health Organization studyranked Kazakhstan third-place globally with 31.06 suicides per 100,000 people in 2008. Baimakhanova proposed setting up a nationwide project to combat the problem of teenage suicides and called for “a special ombudsman to protect the rights of children and teenagers in Kazakhstan.”
Kazakhstan was stunned earlier this year when two teenagers threw themselves off a twelve-story building in the commercial capital Almaty on May 28. Classmates said the couple had planned their double death and were members of online groups that discussed suicide.
Gennady Golovkin, of Kazakhstan, is the world middleweight boxing champion. (Eurasianet photo.)
To get a look at him in street clothes, it wouldn’t seem so scary to encounter Gennady Golovkin in a dark alley late at night. He doesn’t have a particularly formidable frame, or a fearsome mien. In conversation, he’s humble and soft-spoken, often flashing a disarming smile. But make no mistake about it; Golovkin is capable of reducing just about anyone standing to a bloody pulp in a heartbeat.
Golovkin, a native of Karaganda, Kazakhstan, is a boxer who holds the WBA and IBO middleweight titles. And he’s not just any champ. In 27 bouts as a pro, and in countless amateur fights, no opponent has ever landed a blow that sent him to the canvass. That’s right. He’s never been knocked off his feet in the ring. Bryan Graham, a boxing expert writing in the American periodical Sports Illustrated, characterized Golovkin as a “middleweight terror.”
The champ will be defending his title on November 2 at New York’s Madison Square Garden against a high-ranked middleweight Curtis Stevens, who has a record of 25-3, with 18 of his wins by knockout.
Appearing at a news conference held at Kazakhstan’s UN mission in New York, Golovkin portrayed the fight’s venue as a Mecca for boxers. The Garden has hosted a long list of legendary bouts, none more venerated than the “Fight of the Century” between heavyweights Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier back in 1971. “For every boxer, it’s a dream to fight in Madison Square Garden,” said Golovkin.
Despite his history of absolute dominance in the ring, Golovkin avoided any brash talk about the upcoming bout. There were no knockout predictions, no belittling of his opponent. He’s taking nothing for granted, seeing no opponent as a pushover. “We prepared well,” he said simply.