Areas of northern and central Kazakhstan has been hit by intense floods caused by heavy rainfall and overflowing rivers, forcing thousands to flee their homes.
The crisis began unfolding on April 11 with the outbreak of intense downfalls. Rivers bursting their banks have barred roads in several northern regions of the country, including around the capital, Astana.
A detailed account of the crisis has been provided by Sputnik news agency.
Rescue workers have evacuated around 5,000 people to safer locations. Many thousands of heads of livestock have been similarly driven to more secure ground.
The worst situation has been recorded in the town of Atbasar, in the northern Akmola region, around 260 kilometers west of Astana. Over the past weekend, levels of a river coursing past the town rose around six meters because of a combination of rainfall and snowmelt, causing it to spill over into the town. Water rushed into the first floor of numerous apartment blocks.
Those remaining in the town told stories of wailing sirens, helicopters whirring overhead and rescuers going around town in boats. More than 500 people were mobilized into the mammoth task of mitigating the fallout of the flood.
The Interior Ministry said that this year 10 billion tenge ($32 million) were allocated to local governments to help prevent and mitigate similar calamities. Questions are being raised about whether the resources are either enough or have been spent efficiently.
The president of Kazakhstan published an article in a state newspaper on April 12 announcing a switchover to the Latin alphabet by 2025 — a stark change of tack from the vaguer and longer-term objectives set previously.
Nursultan Nazarbayev wrote in Kazakh language newspaper Egemen Kazakhstan that under government plans, all official documents, periodicals and books in Kazakh should be published in Latin letters by that date.
Work is already under way and a timetable for the transition will be ready by the end of the year, he said. That is the timetable being set for experts and the public to agree on a unified standard alphabet.
From 2018, education specialists will be tasked with compiling new textbooks for middle school.
Nazarbayev has advanced the latinization agenda before, but his article indicates a fresh urgency. In December 2012, the changeover of alphabet was included as part of the Kazakhstan-2020 national strategy.
In his piece, Nazarbayev argued that younger people would find no trouble adapting to a new alphabet, since they all now study English. During the adaptation period to the new alphabet, Cyrillic will be used all the same.
The president described the transition as an embrace of pragmatism and he said it was necessary to pursue the path of modernization.
“The state or the nation should not be like rigid metal, they should be living organisms capable of constantly evolving. You need to be able to change to keep up with life. Anybody that fails to understand this will always lag behind,” he wrote.
News that Kazakhstan’s parliamentarians have been given bumper pay rises of up to 50 percent of their salary is causing a stink.
The information leaked out to the media through deputies themselves. Bahytbek Smagul and Yekaterina Nikitinskaya told news outlets that the salary increases had taken effect as of March 1 and that MPs will now be earning around 600-700,000 tenge (around $2,000 to $2,200) per month.
While the amounts are hardly enormous, the outcry illustrates creeping frustration at stagnant improvement to the general economic wellbeing of the population.
The deputy speaker of the lower house of parliament, Vladimir Bozhko, said there was no grounds for clamor.
“We were the last among the civil servants to get a bump in our salary. This decision was taken four years ago. First the ministries [got the pay rise] and now, four years later, it is our turn,” he told reporters.
One MP, Nurlan Zhazylbekov, said he only gets around 500,000 tenge, which he said was not much when compared to the amount made by members of the government or some workers at state companies.
That only added fuel to the fire, since the divide between the average salaries of officials and those of the population at large is indeed not indifferent. According to official figures for 2016, average salaries in Kazakhstan stood at around 150,000 tenge ($480), although many online commentators argued that estimate too might be on the high side.
The recent visit to Kazakhstan by a notoriously provocative and pro-government TV presenter on Russian state television drew howls of indignation from the self-styled national-patriotic camp.
The irritation could be felt even before the arrival of Vladimir Solovyov, who is among others things charged with being a prominent propagator of the chauvinist “Russian World” ideology that underlies much of the aggressive diplomatic, and at times military, posturing by Moscow toward its neighbors. Solovyov has, for example, been an ardent champion of the annexation of Crimea and condemned Ukrainian government attempts to regain control over its separatist-occupied territories in the east.
Unruffled by the criticism, Solovyov described his detractors in Kazakhstan as “lost people suffering from mental illnesses.”
The talk show presenter was ostensibly in Kazakhstan to lead a training seminar for people looking to get ahead in business, deal with tricky opponents and develop leadership techniques.
He was bullish on his return to Russia this week, noting on his Twitter feed that “the seminar went well. I met no ‘outraged citizens.’ That was to be expected. Internet hamsters do not reflect the mood of the population.”
Kazakh-language media in particular has had a field day.
The website Abai.kz ran a story under the headline: “Fire the people that invited Solovyov!”
Politician and commentator Amirzhan Kosanov was quoted as saying that it was absolutely mandatory that “any kind of propagandist should be given no quarter.”
Teachers in Kazakhstan have reportedly complained that their bosses are forcing them to buy tickets for the EXPO-2017 world fair in Astana, raising questions about the extent authorities are going to in trying to make the event a success.
Organizers of the event have said they are concerned by the reports and are taking measures to stamp out such occurrences.
As Nur.kz has reported, tickets can range upward of 4,000 tenge (around $13), which while not huge, is an unwelcome bite out salaries that are anything but generous. According to official figures, teachers in secondary schools averagely make around 109,000 tenge ($350) a month.
EXPO-2017, which opens its doors on June 10 and runs through to September 10, is devoted to the theme of optimizing energy use. Hundreds of nations and dozens of companies are slated to participate. Organizers have optimistically predicted that 2 million people will flock to the exhibition.
But RFE/RL’s Kazakhstan service, Radio Azattyk, has reported that some arm-twisting may be required to hit that target. A teacher at a school in the Zaisansky district in the East Kazakhstan region told the broadcaster that he was required to buy a ticket by his superior. Twenty tickets were brought to his place of work to be sold in a similar fashion, he said.
“E-tickets were sent by the regional administrative center. The school has to buy 20 tickets. A few teachers have bought tickets for 6,000 tenge. But I am not going myself. During the exhibition, it will be time for gathering in the hay,” he said.
The major devaluation of its national currency notwithstanding, Kazakhstan reported a 23.5 percent drop in trade with its partners in the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union in 2016, compared to the year before.
Finprom.kz reported gloomily on March 28 that despite efforts by Kazakhstani producers to slash prices for their goods, the overall value of exports is falling, and falling hard.
The situation is an altogether paradoxical one.
In 2016, the price for finished goods exported within the EEU were 1 percent lower than the year before — the price for raw goods was 8 percent down. Only the cost of semi-finished products was up by 2.8 percent. So in total, Kazakhstan exported $3.9 billion worth of goods to its EEU partners.
Over that same period, the price of goods imported from EEU nations rose across all categories: raw goods by 14.7 percent, semi-finished products by 9.5 percent and finished goods by 14 percent. But overall imports fell by 13.7 percent to $9.7 billion, which still represents a hefty trade imbalance.
Reducing the cost of exports was made possible by the weakening of the national currency, the tenge, which has been in a free-float since August 2015. Proponents of devaluation had argued that the the policy would be a boon to Kazakhstan’s producers and, conversely, dampen demand for cheap imports, particularly from Russia.
Kazakhstan’s government is now turning its attention to what it is grandly dubbing its “Third Modernization,” which implies the prioritization of developing the non-raw material sector. The aim is to double the export of non-raw goods by 2025.
Before then, the EEU may not be bringing much joy to Astana.
The former owner of Kyrgyzstan’s largest newspaper — which has tacked away from its formerly sparky reporting style since a court-ordered takeover in 2015 — is being targeted for arrest.
After nightfall on March 17, a group of officers with the finance police attempted to forcibly detain 70-year old Alexander Kim at his apartment, but their efforts were foiled following a public uproar.
The move comes against the backdrop of mounting intimidation of independent press and attempts by state prosecutors to seek crippling libel damages from critical outlets, such as Zanoza.kg, which is owned by Kim.
The State Service for Combating Economic Crimes has said it is investigating Kim over suspect financial activity when he was the director of the holding company that owned Vecherniy Bishkek newspaper.
Shortly after the arrival of the finance police squadron at Kim’s apartment, civic society and rights activists rushed to the scene. After a standoff lasting several hours, finance police relented but left a summons for Kim to present himself to the authorities on March 22.
Vecherniy Bishkek, a daily newspaper, has had a complicated and troubled past, having changed beneficiaries repeatedly through nebulous means.
Its current owner, Alexander Ryabushkin, previously had a degree of control over the paper, but argued that it was illegally wrested out of his hands. A court in September 2015 ordered that ownership of the newspaper be transferred from Kim to Ryabushkin.
Kim argued that the court decision was politically motivated and engineered by people close to the presidential administration.
Kazakhstan’s government knew what it was getting when Yerlan Sagadiyev was appointed education minister in February 2016.
The US-educated 50 year old, an economist by training, has long been a crusader for the radical modernization of schools in Kazakhstan and, in particular, the need for all the nation’s children to learn English.
Almaty resident Natalia Galiakbarova speaking to Channel 31 about the compensation being offered for the compulsory purchase of her home. (Photo: Channel 31 screengrab)
Barely a week passes in Kazakhstan without the authorities somehow creating a public uproar around land-related issues.
This time it is residents of an area of the business capital, Almaty, that have come out in protest over what they say is the paltry compensation being offered to them for the compulsory purchase of their homes.
Over the weekend, privately owned Channel 31 reported that some residents are being offered as little as 300,000 tenge ($1,000) for their homes and land, which lie on the route of a planned ring road.
Almaty has for many years been plagued by chronic traffic jams, prompting the authorities to embark on several ambitious road building projects to alleviate the problem. Doing so, however, has required them to pursue the demolition of swaths of often ramshackle homes that sprung up around the city limits in the years following independence.
This latest route has been designed “strategically important” and is intended to link to the northern districts of Almaty to the center. The bulk of traffic coming in that direction currently runs along one single road — Seifullina — and invariably cars get horrendously clogged up at peak hours.
Plans for the new road has been on the drawing table for many years, although work is only now going ahead.
After working out valuations for the houses set for removal, the city government sent out sale agreements that in some instances ranged between 300,000 and 700,000 tenge ($1000-$2,200) — an amount that would pay for only a few months of apartment rental costs in the city.