"[The film] has left a negative stain on our country, and our students abroad are hurting in their hearts and they are opposed to the fact that their country is shown in a bad light -- I ask that measures be taken."
That was a clear reference to news last month of a Kazakhstani citizen in the United Kingdom getting into trouble. He thrashed the living daylights out of some fellow students for impugning his national pride by derisively referring to his fictional countryman.
The 20-year-old Exeter University student Almat Samirov's sustained assault will have done nothing to improve his country's international image, but it may do more than Tleukhan could hope for to discourage people from ever bringing up the name of Borat in front of a Kazakh. As local British media reported:
According to a fresh trickle of news from WikiLeaks, Maxim Bakiyev told a US diplomat that Washington had him to thank for keeping open the Manas air base in Kyrgyzstan after his father, then-President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, declared he would close it.
The cable -- allegedly sent a day after the announcement that the base would be renamed a “transit center” -- details a dinner date between the former US Charge d’Affaires, Lee Litzenberger, ex-Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Kadyrbek Sarbayev and Maxim in July 2009.
Litzenberger notes that the “slightly spoiled” Maxim is a casual dresser, unshaven, slightly overweight and balding, with a penchant for personalized cigars and scotch.
At the dinner, held in an “almost tastefully decorated” annex to a plush Bishkek restaurant, Sarbayev reportedly told Litzenberger that Maxim had used his influence to convince Bakiyev Snr to keep the base open after he promised Moscow he would close it in return for a wad of cash.
We journalists working in the countries of the former Soviet Union confront a constant menace: the risk of annoying repressive governments and subsequent deportation. But worse than deportation from a single state is the threat of being blacklisted -- or PNG’d -- from them all.
A new report by the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, “Persona Non Grata: The CIS ban system for human rights defenders and journalists,” catalogues the practice of at least six Commonwealth of Independent States countries (Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan), which have an agreement “where individuals who are denied entry to one of the six member states automatically are denied entry to the others.”
The topic has received little international attention in the past.
Paradoxically comparing the system to Europe’s Schengen visa agreement -- whereby an entry visa to one country facilitates cross-border travel in all -- the report describes how the six states share their “blacklists” of human rights activists and journalists. “Such decisions are usually made by the security services of the country in question, and those who are barred in this manner are neither provided with a reason for the ban, nor given any means of appeal,” the report says.
The fad for dismantling Lenin statues across Central Asia is continuing apace.
Privately owned Kazakh television station KTK reported this week that authorities in the central town of Karaganda have begun work on "overthrowing" the hulking 270-ton granite leader, the largest monument of its kind in the country.
Removing Vladimir Ilyich is proving as hard as expunging the legacy of his ideologies, however. Ironically, it is from Switzerland, Lenin's home-in-exile in the years ahead of the Russian Revolution, that Karaganda authorities have turned to buy the equipment needed to cut the 12-meter statue into more easily transportable sections.
Lenin will be re-erected just a few streets away from his current location -- on Lenin Street, fittingly enough. Attempts to remove these enduring reminders of Central Asia's Soviet past invariably meet resistance from the old guard of adherents, such as retiree Gani Isakakova, who charged in decidedly seditious tones in an interview with KTK that "what we learned from Lenin was: 'Learn, learn, learn,' and all you learn today is to steal."
RFE/RL's Kazakh-language service Azattyk offers details of even more concerted efforts to halt the perceived desecration. According to local journalist Ainur Aldanysheva:
"A group of Communists shouted 'Hands Off Lenin' and painted the slogan 'Do Not Destroy History' on the metal fence erected around the monument. They were taken to a police station for disrupting the peace."
Following in the footsteps of other prominent world leaders, Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev has hit the lecture circuit. It would a noble development for the “Leader of the Nation, but for the fact that his foray into academic instruction was performed at the immodestly named Nazarbayev University in Astana.
In a display of somewhat touching denial, Nazarbayev is pushing the argument that the largely inconclusive OSCE summit held in the Kazakh capital last week was nothing short of a epoch-defining moment.
State-run Kazinform news agency cites Nazarbayev as saying that the Astana summit was a landmark event not only for Kazakhstan, but the international community as a whole. The summit, which will be remembered at best as an anticlimactic disappointment, will henceforth be brandished by the country's leadership as evidence of Kazakhstan's undisputed role in global diplomacy.
Adopting the mantle of a latter-day Woodrow Wilson, Nazarbayev explains to eagerly listening students that Kazakhstan has "always" been a cradle of initiatives aimed at boosting integration, convergence, friendship and brotherhood among all the nations of the world. Warming to his theme, Nazarbayev maintains that the adoption of the Astana Declaration may come to constitute "the formation of a single undivided community of Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian security," even though there is nothing in the language of the document that signals any distinctive departure from things as they currently stand -- dysfunction as the norm.
As we reported yesterday, Kyrgyz authorities have said that two violent incidents this week were the work of Islamic militants. But authorities quickly arrived at this conclusion, without providing evidence, after presenting some odd accounts of the November 29 shootout in Osh and the November 30 bomb explosion in Bishkek. For the record:
Inhale deeply, again. Three days after we breathed a collective sigh of relief that Kyrgyzstan’s squabbling politicians had somehow, after six weeks of backroom dealing, agreed to form a governing coalition, that “coalition” did not gather enough votes – from its own members – to assume power.
During a late, secret vote on December 2, the designated speaker, Omurbek Tekebayev, only received 58 votes, AKIpress reports. Sixty-one of the parliament’s 120 are required. The coalition-that-shall-not-be – comprising Tekebayev’s own Ata-Meken, the Social Democratic Party, and Respublika – holds 67 seats, highlighting dissension in the ranks.
The parliament has gone into crisis mode and Social Democrat leader Almazbek Atambayev, the would-be prime minister, says he intends to ask provisional President Roza Otunbayeva to pass the mandate for forming a coalition onto another party.
Any visitor to Turkmenbashi – Turkmenistan’s derelict port on the Caspian Sea – knows President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov likes his yacht. A poster-size photomontage of him standing before it “sporting a navy blue sailing cap, a French-style white-and-blue striped shirt and binoculars hanging around his neck,” as the U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat purportedly put it, hangs proudly in the lobby of the town’s poshest hotel.
Excerpts from the cable, not yet available on WikiLeaks, but reprinted by The Guardian (with some names redacted):
XXXXXXXXXXXX said in a meeting XXXXXXXXXXXX that this yacht worth 60 million euros was a gift of Russian firm Itera. He added that the president had originally wanted a larger yacht similar to one owned by Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, but that yacht would not fit through the canals leading to the Caspian Sea and thus Berdimuhamedov had to settle for this one.
The company [Itera] undoubtedly really wants a gas exploration contract, especially onshore, and the gift of the yacht is a nice enticement to move the process along. As local businessman XXXXXXXXXXXX said, "The gift of a yacht might be for an onshore gas deal, a chicken farm, or works already in progress. Nothing is free in this country."
Bitter divisions between member states are hampering agreement on the wording of a declaration due to be signed within a few hours as a summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) enters its second and last day in the Kazakh capital.
Host President Nursultan Nazarbayev opened this morning’s proceedings urging delegates not to miss a historic opportunity to reshape the future of the OSCE and to “overcome disagreements and reach consensus.”
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, who is chairing the first session on December 2, said negotiators were still working on the wording of the document. At this late stage, that implies that there are some serious hurdles to overcome before the Astana declaration can be signed – if it is.
Summit proceedings opened December 2 at 10:00 Astana time and are due to close at 12:30, so frantic delegates will have to pull out all the stops behind the scenes to come up with a wording that suits everyone.
Astana has always acknowledged that Russia is its chief foreign policy ally, but it also enjoys warm relations with the United States that were hailed by Hillary Clinton on December 1. Now’s the time for Kazakhstan to put into play its “multi-vector” foreign policy, which is based on forging good relations with all major world players, and demonstrate its vaunted bridge-building role within the OSCE.
Kyrgyzstan watchers have zeroed in on a juicy dispatch from the latest influx of wikileaked diplomatic cables: Ostensibly written by current U.S. Ambassador Tatiana Gfoeller in October 2008, the cable describes an “astonishingly candid” discussion with the United Kingdom’s Prince Andrew and a group of British businessmen in Bishkek.
The leitmotif is corruption, which the businessmen lamented was “appallingly high […] in the Kyrgyz economy.”
The conversation took place during the reign of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, ousted in street riots this April, in part because he and his family were widely believed to be lining their pockets at the expense of the Kyrgyz people.
In an astonishing display of candor in a public hotel where the brunch was taking place, all of the businessmen then chorused that nothing gets done in Kyrgyzstan if President Bakiyev’s son Maxim does not get “his cut.” Prince Andrew took up the topic with gusto, saying that he keeps hearing Maxim’s name “over and over again” whenever he discusses doing business in this country. Emboldened, one businessman said that doing business here is “like doing business in the Yukon” in the nineteenth century, i.e. only those willing to participate in local corrupt practices are able to make any money. His colleagues all heartily agreed, with one pointing out that “nothing ever changes here. Before all you heard was [former President Askar] Akayev’s son’s name. Now it’s Bakiyev’s son’s name.”