KAZAK BUDGET CUTS COULD BACKFIRE  Government’s belt-tightening exercise could 
trigger recession, according to some economists.  By Natalya Napolskaya in 

KAZAK YOUTH URGE ABORTION CRACKDOWN  A pro-government youth group insists the 
high rate of terminations encourages moral decay. But experts fear a ban would 
create a dangerous new back-street industry.  By Natalya Napolskaya in Almaty

FEARS OF GM CROP INVASION IN KYRGYZSTAN  Unregulated imports of genetically 
modified seeds and foods raise concerns about public health and biodiversity.  
By Asyl Osmonalieva in Bishkek

KYRGYZ GREENS WARN OF DEFORESTATION RISKS  Ecologists warn that if logging 
continues unabated in Kyrgyzstan, the whole of Central Asia will face dire 
consequences.  By Parvina Hamidova in Bishkek


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Government’s belt-tightening exercise could trigger recession, according to 
some economists.

By Natalya Napolskaya in Almaty

Plans by the Kazak government to slash government spending have raised fears of 
mass unemployment and recession. 

In his annual state-of-the-nation address last month, President Nursultan 
Nazarbaev said “temporary” but swingeing cuts in government spending were 
needed to cool galloping inflation rates, which in December hit 18.8 per cent 
year on year. 

“Everything that can wait, everything that we can do without for one or two 
years must be suspended,” said Nazarbaev, suggesting roads and construction 
projects as prime areas for cutbacks. 

Growth predictions for 2008 have been revised downwards from 8.7 per cent to 
five per cent, reflecting a slowdown which Prime Minister Karim Masimov has 
blamed on the recent instability on world financial markets. (See Kazakstan: 
Projected Slowdown Could Sow Instability, RCA No. 527, 18-Jan-08.) 

Many economists are dubious about the effects of this austerity programme. 

Leading economist Peter Svoik told IWPR he doubted cuts in spending would solve 
Kazakstan’s economic difficulties. 

“The problem is not a lack of money inside the country,’ he said, referring to 
the revenues the Central Asian state earns from oil and gas exports. 

“A few days ago, the [parliamentary] budget commission revealed that money 
budgeted for last year didn’t even get spent.” 

The real aim, Svoik went on, should not be to cut overall expenditure levels, 
but rather to target the spending more wisely instead of allowing funds to be 
eaten up by the bureaucratic machinery of government. 

“The current top-down [state] administration isn’t terribly efficient, to put 
it mildly. But it has a habit of taking and consuming everything it can get,” 
he said. 

Svoik said cuts in state-funded on construction could have a particularly 
unhelpful effect on the employment situation. 

Last year’s global financial crisis hit the Kazak construction industry 
particularly hard, as much of the housing boom had until then been driven by 
mortgages bankrolled by cheap borrowing on international markets. 

“A large proportion of the population have already lost their jobs due to the 
suspension of construction projects,” noted Svoik. 

With the economic outlook uncertain, fears of a shortage of cash to repay 
Kazakstan’s foreign debts and purchase imports, and more and more building 
projects being halted, Svoik says “there’s a danger that huge numbers of people 
could lose their jobs”. 

Employment has fallen in Kazakstan in recent years as oil profits were ploughed 
into ambitious government construction schemes. According to the ministry of 
labour and welfare, the unemployment rate dropped from 12.8 per cent in 2000 to 
7.8 per cent in 2006. 

Gulnur Rahmatullina, head of the economics department at the presidential 
Institute of Strategic Studies, defends the government’s broad approach as 
broadly the right one. 

“A fight to the death against inflation has got to be a top priority of 
government economic policy,” she said. 

She argued that cutting state-funded construction projects would have only a 
limited effect on the industry and its employees, as the private sector is 
increasingly taking on responsibility for assets that used to be managed by the 

Government building projects ground to a halt in Kazakstan towards the end of 
last year, leaving thousands of people out on the street. Many are still on 
involuntary holiday without pay, and waiting anxiously for their employers to 
pay them the past wages they are due. 

Kanat, an engineer in a big construction company in Almaty, was earning about 
2,000 US dollars a month before he was laid off. 

“My family had got used to a good standard of living, so it’s been really 
difficult for all of us,” he said. “The firm still owes me about 5,000 dollars 
but I don’t know if I’ll ever get the money.” Peter Svoik believes cutting 
road-building projects is particularly self-defeating as a strategy. 

“Roads are a necessity for Kazakstan in every respect, economically and 
socially,” he said. “This is not an area where we should be making economies. 
Just the reverse, we should be increasing our investment.” 

Many businessmen and traders agree, saying that unless communications improve 
markedly in this vast country, free enterprise will never take off. 

Almas, a wholesale market trader for the last seven years, says his business is 
currently flourishing. But he sees clouds on the horizon if Kazakstan’s rickety 
transport infrastructure does not continue to improve and new projects are 
abandoned in the name of savings. 

“We always have problems with transporting our goods because of the state of 
the roads,” he said. “If this is allowed to continue, it could become 
impossible to run my business, which feeds my wife, children, and myself.” Some 
analysts say the government is going in entirely the wrong direction and should 
be looking at ways of spending its way out of recession instead of tightening 
the purse-strings and thereby potentially triggering a bigger slump. 

Political commentator Oleg Sidorov argues that Kazakstan should draw on the 
experience of the United States in the Depression of the 1930s, when President 
Franklin Roosevelt dumped the belt-tightening strategy of his predecessors and 
tackled unemployment and inflation through the New Deal. 

“They tried to get money flowing into the economy by every possible means,” 
said Sidorov. “They started by building new transport routes, and then the 
economy began to pick up.” 

What Kazakstan needs, Sidorov believes, is similar state investment in creating 
jobs and in stimulating growth. 

Without bolder, growth-orientated policies, some economists believe businesses 
will react to rising inflation by shedding more and more workers. 

The behaviour of Violeta Pak, who runs a small confectionery business, appears 
to bear this experience out - she has already cut her workforce by half. 

“I used to have 23 people working for me and now I have only ten,” she said. “I 
can’t raise wages, as the cost of my raw materials has doubled, as have 

The only alternative to slimming the company down, she said, was to close it 

Natalya Napolskaya is an IWPR contributor in Almaty. 


A pro-government youth group insists the high rate of terminations encourages 
moral decay. But experts fear a ban would create a dangerous new back-street 

By Natalya Napolskaya in Almaty

A leading youth organisation in Kazakstan is demanding a crackdown on 
abortions, claiming the rate of terminations is far too high.

Bolashak (“Future”) a pro-government group with 35,000 members, on February 19 
called for a ban on induced abortions, saying the high rate was a reflection of 
the decline in moral values.

More than 170,000 abortions take place each year in Kazakstan, a country bigger 
than Western Europe but with a population of only 15 million. 

The government is pursuing a demographic policy aimed at boosting the birth 
rate, which has declined since the Nineties.

Farhad Kasenov, the chairman of Bolashak, insists that abortions are a sign of 
moral decline in society.

“We aim to make society view abortion as unacceptable,” he told IWPR. “We want 
to recover our old moral code, developed over the course of centuries.”

A 2006 survey by Komkon–2 Eurasia, a market research company, revealed mixed 
attitudes among the population towards abortion. 

About 62 per cent those surveyed in Almaty, the country’s largest city, 
expressed a negative attitude towards abortions. At the same time, a narrow 
majority, 52 per cent, opposed a ban.

Many experts are against restrictions, warning that this would merely drive 
abortionists underground.

“A ban will only lead to an increase in criminal abortions and the maternal 
mortality rate will increase,” said Bulat Dospaev, a gynaecological medical 
consultant in Almaty.

“Women will seek others ways to get an abortions, by going abroad or turning to 

Back-street operations, he said, result in “bleeding, genital injury and 
dysfunctional reproductive systems leading to infertility”.

The doctor noted that abortion played an important role in Kazakstan, 
permitting women to escape from pregnancies that would bring shame on their 

“If a woman in Russia becomes pregnant as a result of extramarital relations, 
psychologically it’s easier for her to give a birth in that situation, but here 
the [Muslim] faith and mentality mean it is a shame and a disgrace,” explained 
Dr Dospaev.

Others agreed a ban would be a poor solution and suggested instead that there 
should be better sex education for young people and advice on contraception.

An organiser of a recent drive to familiarise young people in the countryside 
with contraceptive methods pointed out the difficulties with this strategy, 

“We travelled to remote villages and talked to people about unwanted 
pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, and ways to avoid them,” 
recalled the activist, who did not want to be named.

“But the people treated us as the bearers of amoral, perverted ideas,” he went 
on. “In one remote aul [village], the local elders wouldn’t let us in but 
shouted and cursed, calling us emissaries of the devil.”

Saule, 25, knows all about the consequences an amateur abortion. 

A few years ago, when she was 18, an affair with a married man left her 

Marriage was out of the question. Ashamed to tell her parents about her 
condition, she did not go to hospital and turned instead to a local healer, who 
performed the abortion at home.

Since then she has married, but has never become pregnant. She is undergoing 
treatment for suspected infertility.

“Now I would like a baby but the doctors say my chances are slim,” lamented 

Meanwhile, Rozlana Taukina, a human rights activist, thinks the proposal to ban 
abortions is retrograde and pointless.

She dismissed Bolashak’s campaign as “a one-day wonder which will not gain much 

“A woman has a right to choose,” she said. “It is a woman’s prerogative… to 
decide whether she wants to give birth and bring up a baby or not.” 

Tautkina said a ban would be akin to “a return to feudalism” and would harm 
people’s health.

“Bolashak would do better to campaign for a healthy nation, which means not 
smoking or drinking and looking after one’s health,” she said. “As a result, 
young people would also look after themselves when it comes to sexual matters.”

Marina, a gynaecologist with 30 years’ experience, practices abortions on the 

She says the number of pregnant women seeking out her services, especially from 
rural areas, grows each year. 

“To go to a clinic, they have to give information about themselves – where 
they’re studying or working, their home address – whereas I don’t ask,” she 

“But I have a medical education, so although I don’t have special premises, 
it’s still safer than turning to old women who used vodka for an anaesthetic 
and knitting needles instead of gynaecological instruments.”

Despite criticism from the medical establishment, members of Bolashak are 
pressing ahead with their initiative. 

In late in January, the girls’ wing of the youth movement started a separate 
drive against pre-marital sex, which Kasenov described as “already a big 

“Of course, we cannot solve these issues within one or two years,” he admitted. 

“But we will repeat our message every hour through the media, through the 
school system and other public organisations, saying we must end the present 
situation and start bringing up young people with a healthy moral outlook.”

Natalya Napolskaya is an IWPR contributor in Almaty.


Unregulated imports of genetically modified seeds and foods raise concerns 
about public health and biodiversity.

By Asyl Osmonalieva in Bishkek

Kyrgyz environmentalists are worried by the unrestricted import of genetically 
modified products and are urging the government to come up with robust policies.

They say that while the rest of the world hotly debates the benefits and risks 
of genetically modified, GM, crops, the Kyrgyz authorities have said and done 

The authorities did in fact address the issue in the summer of 2006, when the 
government produced a draft law on biodiversity which was intended to address 
the import and production of GM products.

But when the draft went to parliament, deputies returned it in January 2007, 
saying it needed improvement.

Gennady Vorobyev, a genetic engineering expert who was one of those who drafted 
the bill, said the failure to pass it left a legal black hole. 

“All the provisions needed to regulate the import of goods containing GM 
components were detailed in our draft law,” he said. “Since parliament has 
returned it for revision, there is now no legislative foundation and 
consequently no systematic state control over genetically modified imports.”

Genetic modification began being widely used in agriculture in the 
mid-Nineties, and ever since then scientists have argued passionately over its 
merits and pitfalls. 

Supporters argue that the creation of disease- or bug-resistant crop varieties 
can greatly increase harvests, potentially cutting poverty and hunger in some 
of the world’s poorest countries. 

They also insist the new GM food varieties are totally harmless to humans.

Their opponents disagree vehemently, fearing that GM strains could disrupt 
human immune systems and create allergic reactions and other disorders. 

In addition, they worry that GM strains will harm the environment through a 
kind of “genetic pollution” effect. 

Professor Yrysbek Abdurasulov, an agricultural specialist, is among those who 
are deeply concerned.

He complains that significant numbers of GM seeds have been imported from the 
United States, Holland, Germany, China and elsewhere without any monitoring of 
their effects. They include varieties of watermelon, cabbage, tomato, pepper, 
cucumber, potato and sugar beet. 

Kalia Moldogazieva, who heads the non-government group Tree of Life, is equally 
disturbed at the trend. 

“As an ecologist, I oppose the import of GM products into Kyrgystan, in 
particular those that can affect agriculture and hence the ecology of the whole 
country,” she said. “We have our own traditional, ecologically safe methods of 
crop selection and reproduction which can and should be used.”

Sceptics say there has been insufficient study of the long-term consequences 
and potential impact of new, artificially manipulated varieties.

Topping the list of concerns is the possible emergence of mutant organisms 
containing unpredictable features, and of more dangerous virus strains. 

Genetic modification is big business. The biggest producers are the US, Japan, 
Germany, France, China and India. According to some estimates, annual sales of 
GM products are worth 20 billion US dollars a year.

However, production volumes are still relatively small, accounting for only one 
per cent of total food products consumed worldwide every year.

But the rate at which the GM industry is accelerating, coupled with the failure 
of Kyrgyz officials to respond in the face of pressure to import more, alarms 
local environmentalists.

Vorobyev insists bill developed by his group would have addressed almost all 
the concerns about how to ensure such products are imported only if it is safe 
to do so.

“As Kyrgyzstan is a member of the World Trade Organisation, it cannot ban 
imports of items, including those containing GM-components. If it did, it would 
face fines running into the billions,” said Vorobyev.

“So we developed mechanisms where the only GM products that could be imported 
would be those that could not be reproduced. Kyrgyzstan would have been able to 
ban self-reproducing products such as seeds and seedlings on the grounds that 
they threatened the country’s biological diversity.”

Kyrgyzstan should also be able to restrict certain GM imports under the 2003 
Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which it has signed. This agreement entitles 
developing economies like Kyrgyzstan, in the absence of domestic regulatory 
frameworks, to make any decisions on GM imports subject to an assessment of the 

However, environmentalists in Kyrgyzstan complain that this mechanism is lying 
dormant as no one in government has explored its possibilities.

Official neglect of the GM issue has fuelled popular fears about the threats 
people might face from GM products.

Some farmers also fear that an unrestricted invasion of cheaper GM foodstuffs 
will price them out of the market. They say their old-fashioned varieties of 
fruit and vegetables will not be able to compete against blemish-free, 
longer-lasting GM imports.

Kyrgyzstan remains a rural country in which about 60 per cent of the population 
of five million still makes a livelihood from agriculture.

Akim Moldokulov, a farmer with a medium-sized landholding, says mass import of 
genetically modified apples from China has hit local producers hard.

“Our apples cost less than the imported ones and are ecologically pure, but the 
Chinese apples look better to the consumer,” he explained. “Most people don’t 
know anything about GM and they buy those imported apples even though they’re 
more expensive.” 

The manager of a food shop said that as matters stood, they could nothing to 
protect local producers from this competition, as there was no law restricting 
sales of items containing GM components.

“When it comes to agricultural goods, suppliers only have to provide us with a 
quality certificate, not one identifying the presence of GM elements,” he noted.

The government’s standards agency confirmed that it tests food imports only for 
quality, and does not look at whether they contain GM products.

Vorobyev says this needs to change. “If we want to secure our public health and 
our environment, we need to design and pass an effective law regulating all the 
standards and mechanisms for safe imports of GM products,” he said. 

“The absence of any control over GM imports could spell catastrophe for 

Asyl Osmonalieva is an IWPR contributor in Bishkek.


Ecologists warn that if logging continues unabated in Kyrgyzstan, the whole of 
Central Asia will face dire consequences.

By Parvina Hamidova in Bishkek

Environmentalists in Kyrgyzstan are raising the alarm over the speed with which 
this Central Asian country is losing its forests.

In the last 50 years, the former Soviet republic has lost more than half its 
forests, and experts are warning that if logging continues at the current rate, 
the whole Central Asian region will suffer from a scarcity of water, health 
problems and more frequent natural disasters.

The stark warnings come from the Kyrgyz government’s own Agency for 
Environmental Protection and Forestry, in data published in early February.

Ecologists say forests in Kyrgyzstan play a key role in the ecosystem of 
Central Asia. 

Among other things, they help cleanse the atmosphere of carbonic acid, one of 
the principal factors triggering the so-called greenhouse effect. 

They also prevent soil erosion and are vital in helping to retain water in a 
generally arid part of the world.

As forests shrinks, the rate at which glaciers melt - the main source of water 
in Central Asia – appears to be accelerating.

The environmental agency says only 4.3 per cent of the mountainous country’s 
territory is now forested - between half and two-thirds of the area 50 years 
ago, when the agency believes between six and eight per cent of Kyrgyzstan was 
covered in trees. 

The figure from half a century ago is only approximate, because no precise 
surveys were done back then.

The agency’s director, Arstanbek Davletkeldiev, said a new project was starting 
this year to compile more accurate information. With international help, the 
agency is conducting an inventory of all plantations in the country, including 
natural forests, city parks and the like.

“After this, we will know for sure how many forests we still have,” 
Davletkeldiev told IWPR.

Experts say the rate of deforestation was worst in the 1940s and 1950s, when 
people cut down timber for heating and cooking to cope with the bleak 
conditions during and after the Second World War.

But over the last 15 years, deforestation has increased as a result of the 
economic crisis and fall in living standards that followed the collapse of the 
Soviet Union in 1991.

“Although we have never had a commercial logging industry, the forests have 
been badly damaged since independence,” noted Davletkeldiev.

The agency director said poor legislation and corruption had hindered the 
agency in its battle to save what remained.

In recent years, the agency has brought more than 200 lawsuits against illegal 
loggers but only one case has actually reached the courts.

“It’s difficult to wean people off stealing,” complained Davletkeldiev. 
“Everyone is involved, from local government officials to our own specialists, 
the police, the traffic cops who escort lorries carrying illicit timber, and 
sometimes other law-enforcement officers.”.

Moreover, with only 800 foresters, the agency is short of staff, and does not 
have nearly enough vehicles to patrol in what are often remote locations. 

According to official figures, 50,000 to 55,000 cubic metres of timber were 
felled annually prior to 2006, and illegal deforestation was estimated to 
account for roughly the same volume.

Since 2006, when a three-year moratorium was imposed on cutting down valuable 
tree species in virgin forest, legal logging has been reduced to 15,000 cu m a 

Encouragingly, illegal deforestation has also declined since then, 
Davletkeldiev said, raising hopes for the survival of the country’s remaining 

His agency is investing more in nurseries, which means more saplings can be 
planted out to replace the lost trees. 

But in spite of these rays of hope, green groups say the deforestation problem 
remains acute.

According to Ilya Domashov, deputy chairman of the Biom environmental movement, 
the surviving forests are deteriorating due to poor management.

“Many of the forests in our country are in such a bad state that they are 
unable to perform their ecological functions,” said the activist. “Forests are 
degrading from the inside”.

The loss of forested areas increases the danger of a range of natural 
disasters, such as floods, landslides and droughts. 

At the same time, the disappearance of trees means a reduction in biological 
diversity as flora and fauna begin dying out. This, too, can have a knock-on 
effect on the health of the surrounding human population.

Tatyana Volkova, an ecological expert, sees little future for forests as long 
as people remain so poor that they have to rely on timber for heating and 

She said she was “horrified” by what she had seen in the southern Jalalabad 
region, where deep gashes in hillsides caused by logging “could at any moment 
become landslides threatening human settlements”.

Experts say the government is not doing enough to preserve the forests. They 
want tougher laws, a greater focus on environmental matters, and efforts to 
uphold standards set out in the environmental conventions to which Kyrgyzstan 
is a signatory.

Other recommendations include an expansion in the area of land designated as 
nature reserves, and more work to explain to local communities why preserving 
the forests is in their own interests.

“People have to start understanding that destroying forests is like cutting 
down the branch they are sitting on,” said Volkova.

Parvina Hamidova is an IWPR contributor in Bishkek.

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