Nate Schenkkan is the Project Director for Nations in Transit at Freedom House and a veteran host of The Central Asianist Podcast. EurasiaNet is excited to support The Central Asianst, which offers a unique take on developments in Central Asia, featuring top experts and journalists from around the world.
You see banners all across Kazakhstan, strung across government buildings, on airport runways, and on billboards lining the streets of provincial capitals. They all say the same thing: “The primary values of the state are stability and the unity of the people of Kazakhstan. – N. Nazarbayev.”
After Friday prayers ended recently at Atyrau’s Old Mosque, a crowd of men, most of them younger than 30, poured onto the street. Many were wearing the distinctive shortened trousers and long beards with trimmed mustaches of Muslims who are striving to emulate the Prophet Muhammad. Down the street, a camera on a telephone pole recorded everyone who entered and left the mosque.
At the northern edge of the vast Karachaganak gas condensate field sits a small village named Berezovka. Since 2002, residents have sought to be relocated, claiming that emissions from the field’s operations pose a health hazard.
Not far from Kazakhstan’s main seaport on the Caspian Sea lies a district of former dachas, or summer cottages, that were once used by technical specialists who worked in the manufacturing city known as Shevchenko during the late Soviet era.
New copyright legislation has hobbled Kazakhstan’s Internet traffic and angered tens of thousands of recreational users of popular download sites. But the most pernicious effect could be on those who stray from the government line, as the legislation offers a new method for harassing activists and dissidents at a moment of intensifying repression.
The legislation consists of a number of changes to Kazakhstan’s laws on intellectual property, including making punishable by up to one year in prison the illegal use of copyrighted material, and by up to five years the organized distribution of such material. The legislation immediately affected popular torrent sites in the country, which distribute large files across the Internet through peer-to-peer sharing, and are commonly used to download pirated movies and TV shows.
After the law went into effect February 1, the number of torrent-trackers -- servers that coordinate communications among users downloading files -- dropped dramatically as providers withdrew service for fear of criminal liability. This in turn led to a surge in users turning to download sites outside of Kazakhstan, and the Kaznet, as the domestic Internet is called, slowed to a crawl.
As annoying as that may be for Azamat in Shymkent trying to get the latest season of House, Transitions Online points out that the legislation also threatens NGOs and other centers of independent thought in Kazakhstan:
Officials in Kazakhstan are trying to listen to disgruntled residents of Zhanaozen, the scene of violent clashes last December that left at least 17 dead. The problem is, goodwill ambassadors from Astana are not saying the things that seething citizens want to hear.
The music video is all one take. Standing behind a podium bearing the state seal of Kyrgyzstan, wearing a felt kalpak hat and armor like the national epic hero Manas, a masked figure hectors the audience over a bounding beat: