Kazakhstan: quo vadis?

Before moving to the ‘quo’ part, one should understand what happened in Kazakhstan on 2 – 13 January 2022 and may be still unfolding.

A convenient explanation to many could be qualifying of the events in Kazakhstan as a war among the groups of influence to win the throne. However, this line of thinking omits one crucial element, which is the sentiment of a nation, the inclusion of which into our equation would lead us into a totally different outcome of a nationwide protest to change the ones in power. 

This thinking could be supported by another observation that at the very beginning there was a tendency to separate the protest in Almaty from the rest of Kazakhstan, suggesting that the events in Almaty basically were uncontrollable and in chaos, while the regions had many local conflicts, even by admitting that they were in fact all peaceful. However, as we noticed later after the internet was restored, the protest Almaty had the comparable demography and agenda as in remaining towns and regions of Kazakhstan.

This leads to a conclusion that the protest was nationwide, shared a common agenda and may have been angry, but peaceful, as was the national sentiment in the country (see: Kazakhstan: The Foggy Revolution) . Some could argue that in the capital of Astana this was not the case. This exception for others may rather explain the rule, as the capital of Kazakhstan some argue may have been moved to Astana in 1997 exactly for the reason to keep a safe distance from culturally rich and socially diverse Almaty.

As a result, the national sentiment in Kazakhstan has quickly generated the political agenda which spontaneously emerged within a growing civil society with the following demands: (a) an immediate resignation of the ruling elite, (b) release of all political prisoners and detained civil activists, (c) convening of a round table to start a dialogue for the future of the country and to agree on (d) holding of free democratic elections.

The protesters have spoken as the nation, which explains why they were quickly met with sightlessly made killings, torture and intimidation inflicted by the regime upon the ordinary people. For the regime it was a race against the time, which also explains a very quick deployment in Kazakhstan of the Russian-led foreign military units from the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO). This suggests it was a classic people-against-regime stand-off.

The suppressive scenario which unfolded days after may have been quickly coordinated with Russia and China, as both countries have their strong views about the street painted in colours of freedom. These views may add up to many other reasons, which may be political, economic, historical or ethnic.

To sum up, the regime in Kazakhstan is challenged and its weaknesses have been revealed, and this may have also surprised the neighbours and not only them. Therefore, the continuation of repressions would be only exasperating the situation, which is not in the interest of the ones in power or their partners. 

Today the international community has a chance to learn the lesson of decades-long passive policy to appease Lukashenko in Belarus, and consequently to become a much more supportive for the unfolding changes in Kazakhstan. 

The time will show what will be next steps to address the Kazakhstan question by the global players, be it the EU, G7 Group or the UN. Perhaps this question will be addressed in the next Democracy Summit and become a part of new global agenda to promote human rights and democracy worldwide. And perhaps it will picked up in the creation of new instruments for an international investigation of crimes against humanity or the fight against the cross-border corruption and money laundering. In both cases, the EU has a chance to show the leadership and to bring the democracy agenda forward, including in Kazakhstan.

Photo: Bagdat Asylbekuly

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