In many post-Soviet countries, and Kazakhstan is no exception, stories abound of students forced to bribe their professors to pass final exams. At last, Kazakhstan has an official figure: On average, students pay 50,000 tenge ($275) in unofficial fees at the end of each semester
Deputy Minister of Education and Science Takir Balykbaev told a meeting of the country's university heads in Almaty on April 29 that higher education is among the three most corrupt industries in the country. The sector’s shadow economy is worth about $100 million per year, Balykbaev said.
Endemic corruption in education has long been acknowledged in Kazakhstan, but actual figures are rare. Freedom House said in its 2013 report on Kazakhstan that “corruption in the education system is widespread, and students frequently bribe professors for passing grades.”
Salaries in Kazakhstan's universities are low, with the exception of Astana's Nazarbayev University and Almaty's KIMEP University, encouraging professors to supplement their incomes by soliciting bribes.
Balykbaev said that in the near future his ministry would establish a council on anti-corruption policy to coordinate the fight against graft in universities.
As leaders across the former Soviet Union watch another predominantly Russian-speaking region of Ukraine demand independence this week, Astana is mulling legislation that would jail anyone who calls for separatism in Kazakhstan.
Under a proposed amendment to the criminal code, Kazakhstanis could get 10 years in prison for making "illegal and unconstitutional calls for changes to the territorial integrity of the Republic of Kazakhstan,” Arman Ayaganov of Kazakhstan's Prosecutor General's office told journalists April 8, Tengrinews reports.
"The article refers to serious [offenses] and the first part provides a maximum penalty of imprisonment for up to seven years. If these same actions would be performed by a person using his official position, up to 10 years," Ayaganov added.
The amendment would cover calls for separatism or independence made in the media, including the Internet – and thus, it seems, on social media platforms like Facebook.
In February, Russian nationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky sparked outrage in Astana by suggesting Russia should reabsorb Central Asia.
As voting took place in the breakaway Crimean region's controversial referendum on March 16, Tavriya Simferopol was forced to play its home match against Dinamo Kiev in Ukraine's capital city. On April 5, Tavriya returned to its home base in Crimea for the first time since November 2013. It lost 2-0 to FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk leaving it at the bottom of Ukraine's15-team Premier League, having accumulated just nine points from 21 games played.
FC Sevastopol fared better on its return home on April 4, beating FC Vorskla Poltava 1-0. The Sevastopol-based team is in a better position than its Crimean neighbor with 22 points from 20 games played.
It might be too late for Tavriya, whose funding has dried up after the indictment of billionaire-owner Dmitry Firtash on bribery and corruption charges in the United States earlier this month, leaving the future of the club on the line.
Amid the cut and thrust of the sporting competition in Sochi, Kazakhstan's Olympic officials have been busy schmoozing to build support for Almaty’s bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympic Games.
The Kazakh Olympic Committee has opened a hospitality center in the heart of Sochi’s Olympic Park, offering visitors the chance to try delicacies such as kazy (dried horsemeat sausage), karta (made from the animal’s large intestine) and kurt (a dried curd snack), and watch some video presentations detailing Almaty's bid.
One notable visitor was Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, who told Kazinform he is confident Almaty is a strong contender and praised Kazakhstan's athletes—although they have not performed as well as some expected, with figure skater Denis Ten's bronze thus far Kazakhstan's only medal.
Kazakhs officials played down fears of excessive costs after spending on Sochi 2014 broke record after record. “It will not be a big budget,” Andrey Kryukov, an executive board member of the Kazakh Olympic Committee told reporters in Sochi on February 20, eager to demonstrate Kazakhstan’s frugality, which Sochi has made fashionable.
Early estimates from Kazakhstan's Olympic Committee put the costs of hosting the 2022 Games at around $5 billion, a modest sum compared with Sochi 2014, which President Vladimir Putin pitched at $12 billion but ended up costing an embarrassing $51 billion—the most expensive Olympics in history and more expensive than all previous Winter Games combined.
Much has changed for Central Asia and the South Caucasus since 1980, when Moscow hosted the summer Olympic Games. In this Q&A, EurasiaNet.org takes a look at what the Sochi Winter Olympics mean for the post-Soviet countries of Central Asia and the South Caucasus.
For Kazakhs seeking religious enlightenment, a telephone hotline is now available to guide them toward god. Twenty-four hours a day, a dedicated team of specialists is on call to answer burning questions about the divine – and to ensure authorities are kept abreast.
On the surface the hotline – 114 – serves people with genuine inquiries about religious matters. But, says one of its government backers, it will also be useful for ratting on those who deviate from Kazakhstan's myriad restrictions on religious practice.
“Information about breaches of legislation in the religious sphere and illegal and destructive religious activities […] is forwarded to the law-enforcement bodies and departments for religious affairs of the akimats [local government offices] for investigation,” Yulia Denisenko, head of the Association of Centers for Victims of Destructive Religious Organizations, the government organization behind the hotline, told a media briefing in Astana on November 28.
Kazakhstan experienced its first suicide bombing in May 2011. Since then, terror-related incidents have left at least 67 dead, mostly suspects and law-enforcement officers. This September Astana announced a new state program to fight terrorism and extremism amid fears of growing links between homegrown radicals and international terror groups. Kazakhstan's intelligence services estimate around 100 Kazakh citizens are waging jihad in foreign countries.
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.
Conservationists have pledged to begin coordinating efforts to save the snow leopard, the endangered cat that’s a mascot in some parts of Central Asia.
On October 22, participants at The Global Snow Leopard Conservation Forum, held in Kyrgyzstan’s capital, unveiled the Bishkek Declaration, a seven-year initiative that aims to coordinate conservation efforts in the twelve countries where these big mountain-dwelling felines are found.
Snow leopards, whose numbers are dwindling due to poaching and human encroachment on their habitats, live in the various mountain ranges jutting out from the Himalayas, such as the Tien Shan in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, and the Pamirs in Tajikistan. There are believed to be somewhere between 4,500 and 7,500 left in the wild. Also known as “barys” in Kazakh, the cats loom large in Central Asia. Bishkek and Almaty, in Kazakhstan, both employ imagery of a snow leopard on their emblems. The snow leopard is the mascot of the upcoming Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia (they also live in the Altai Mountains in Siberia).
Delegates at the forum called for increased cross-border cooperation to help protect the threatened mountain ecosystems where the leopards roam and declared October 23 the Day of the Snow Leopard, with 2015 set to be the Year of the Snow Leopard.
The lights went out in more ways than one in Tashkent on September 10 as Uzbekistan was dumped from football's World Cup play-offs. Jordan edged past the home team 9-8 in a penalty shootout to advance to the next stage, after an embarrassing power outage plunged Pakhtakor Stadium into darkness on Tashkent's showcase night.
The marathon game, which lasted three and a half hours, was decided when Uzbekistan's hero of the first half, Anzur Ismailov, missed his penalty shot, shattering Uzbekistan's hopes of going to the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil. The teams took a remarkable 20 penalty kicks to finally break the deadlock.
Uzbekistan came into the game as slight favorites after securing a 1-1 draw in Jordan on September 6. The home team got off to a bright start with Ismailov scoring in the fifth minute before Jordan's Saeed Al Murjan got an equalizer at 42 minutes. After a scoreless second half, the teams were all square at an aggregate score of 2-2, triggering 30 minutes of extra time.
Uzbekistan's creaking energy system was put on display to viewers around the world in the first period of extra time when the floodlights died for 18 minutes. When the match resumed, the teams remained deadlocked, so it was left to a penalty shootout to decide who would advance to a meeting with a South American team for the right to play at the finals.
Back in June, Uzbekistan stood at the top of its qualification group with two matches to play. Then an own goal by Akmal Shorakhmedov condemned the Uzbeks to a 1-0 defeat in South Korea, who took over the top spot.