ideology to signal a change from his predecessor’s rules, but is he serious 
about changing the status quo?  By IWPR staff in Central Asia  

contain the same harmful chemical identified in Chinese dairy product scandal.  
By Gulzat Nadyrova in Bishkek 

KYRGYZ PLAN NEW MODEL ARMY  Plan for professional army jeopardised by funding 
and coordination issues, say analysts.  By ?syl Osmonalieva in Bishkek 


KAZAK PUBLIC RESIGNED TO BRIBE CULTURE  Paying out money to officials has 
become the normal way of accessing free public services.  By Olga Shevchenko in 


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Turkmen leader wants new ideology to signal a change from his predecessor’s 
rules, but is he serious about changing the status quo? 

By IWPR staff in Central Asia  

The authorities in Turkmenistan have launched a determined effort to cast off 
the country’s old image as a closed, repressive state and rebrand it as a 
modern democracy. The trouble is, say analysts, that too little has changed 
under the surface to make this effort convincing. 

President Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov, elected in February 2007 following the 
death of Saparmurat Niazov, began talking about the need for a new ideological 
direction at the start of 2008. This, he said, was a different historical era 
called “Taze Galkynysh” – New Revival, and the central slogan was “The state is 
for the people”. 

The announcement was the first major sign that the Berdymuhammedov 
administration planned to move away from the old regime’s institutional 
ideology, which revolved around the Ruhnama, a set of writings penned by Niazov 
which covered everything from Turkmen history to moral precepts, and which was 
required reading in the schools and the workplace. (See Turkmen “Sacred Text” 
Heads for Oblivion, RCA No. 529, 31-Jan-08.) 

Since January, the new political line has become a campaign issue, cited in all 
major speeches and at government meetings. In case anyone was not listening, 
the president instructed officials in August to improve the flow of public 
information so that people would get an “objective” picture of the changes 
under way in Turkmenistan. (See Turkmenistan Launches Image Campaign, 

Berdymuhammedov elaborated on the content of the new ideology at a September 29 
meeting in the Balkan region in the west of the country. He listed a set of 
aspirational aims for the Turkmen state – to become a democratic secular 
society governed by the rule of law, its citizens enjoying civil rights and 
liberties and taking part in a free market economy. 

“All this will make it possible to create the preconditions needed for the 
country to achieve steady forward progress,” Berdymuhammedov told the meeting. 

It is far from certain whether the authorities are serious about building 
anything resembling a democracy – after all, that might involve them being 
voted out of power. However, most commentators believe Berdymuhammedov is 
determined to draw a line under Niazov’s somewhat erratic rule. 

“Within the state structure of the new Turkmenistan there’s a sense that the 
old ideology is being squeezed out,” said a journalist who works on one of the 
state newspapers. “That ideology drove everyone so crazy – including people in 
the president’s immediate entourage – that its eradication has met with some 
satisfaction in society.” 

Among commentators in Turkmenistan interviewed by IWPR, opinion on what the new 
ideology might bring ranges from mild to extreme pessimism. 

An activist with a non-government group specialising in youth issues said it 
was clear the Berdymuhammedov administration was applying a new set of 
principles, for example by opening up greater access to the internet and by 
banning the use of child labour to gather cotton. This, he said, was clear 
progress in a country that had gone through years of isolation from the outside 

At the same time, he warned that broader changes might take many years to come 
to fruition. 

“The results of the new ideology will become evident only in ten year’s time, 
particularly in the spheres of cultural, spiritual and moral values,” he said. 

Other commentators focused on the present rather than the future, and said 
Berdymuhammedov’s time in office had been long on slogans and short on action. 

While the Turkmen leader has instituted changes in areas such as education, 
healthcare and social policy – reversing some of the drastic cutbacks imposed 
by his predecessor – he has yet to live up to the pledges he has made to build 
a more open, democratic society. 

Commentators were also concerned that the period since Niazov’s death has seen 
the continuation of the same kind of abuses that characterised his rule, such 
as the arbitrary imprisonment of dissenters. 

A businessman in the capital Ashgabat said that despite the talk of a free 
market, the authorities continued to hamper independent enterprise, which they 
perceived as a form of competition. 

“Right now Ashgabat is suffering periodic shortages of certain foodstuffs, for 
instance eggs,” he said, by way of example. “So where have they got to? Well, 
it turns out that one reason is that a big poultry farm has closed down after 
its owner got arrested. That’s how it is everywhere.” 

According to critics of Berdymuhammedov’s record, it is the nature of the 
regime itself – hierarchical, inflexible and oppressive – that makes change 
impossible. Turkmen citizens enjoy none of the freedoms they would in a 
democracy; the security services continue to exercise surveillance over them; 
the state continues to lock up anyone who might oppose it; there are no 
independent media and foreign reporters are barred from the country. 

A lawyer working with one of the few non-government organisations that still 
exist on the margins said there was little evidence that Turkmenistan was 
evolving into the humane and just society described in the new state ideology. 

“If that’s the case, why doesn’t he [Berdymuhammedov] release the people who 
ought not to be in prison, instead of pardoning thieves, murderers, rapists and 
drug addicts who get long sentences but are let out under an amnesty a month 

Another commentator highlighted the gulf between words and actions. The 
president has said the December 14 parliamentary election offers the nation an 
opportunity to elect true representatives to office. Yet the man in charge, 
Central Electoral Commission chairman Murad Karryev, made it clear in a recent 
televised speech that only people “devoted to the president” would be allowed 
to participate in running the election, 

“After statements like that… it isn’t hard to guess what kind of ideology the 
authorities are pushing,” said a local NGO activist. 

Some analysts say the new ideology is not primarily for domestic consumption; 
instead, the aim is to improve Turkmenistan’s image in the international 
community and demonstrate that it is a respectable country to do business with, 
rather than the bizarrely despotic state that Niazov presided over. 

According to a Turkmen student currently studying in the Kyrgyzstan capital 
Bishkek, the president is aware of the need to present a more open face to the 
outside world. 

“He realises that it’s difficult to compete in the marketplace if everything is 
closed,” he said. “If you have large [energy] resources, you need a liberal 
system and to open up your economic frontiers to pursue major projects.” 

The Turkmen authorities have made it clear they will talk to anyone who is 
interested in developing their energy industry and buying their gas. That 
includes western and Chinese investors as well as traditional partner Russia. 

By any estimates, Turkmenistan possesses huge reserves of natural gas. Until 
recently, international estimates suggested that the country had total 
confirmed reserves of 2.86 trillion cubic metres of gas. However, on October 
13, the British company Gaffney, Cline & Associates announced that an audit of 
two fields in eastern Turkmenistan indicated that just one of them, South 
Yolotan-Osman, contained between four and 14 trillion cu m – placing it among 
the top five world fields – while the other, Yashlar, might have up to 1.5 
trillion cu m. 

The head of the state exploration firm Turkmengeologia, Odek Odekov, added that 
the two fields accounted for only a quarter of Turkmenistan’s actual reserves. 

Within Turkmenistan, questions remain about whether Berdymuhammedov is 
committed to deliver even gradual reforms. 

A journalist from the northern province of Dashoguz said all the talk of a 
fresh start reminded him of the early years after the break-up of the Soviet 
Union, when Niazov embarked on a nation-building project for the newly 
independent Turkmen state. 

As part of this process, the Communist Party of Soviet Turkmenistan underwent a 
rapid transformation. 

“They took it and renamed it the Democratic Party. Communists instantaneously 
became democrats. But the essence remained the same,” he said. “It’s quite 
possible the same will happen with this ideology.” 

A local journalist added a similar note of caution, “Just as he half-opens the 
door, he [Berdymuhammedov] has put his foot against it. After all, for him as a 
protégé of the old regime, adopting new ideological principles are like trying 
on someone else’s clothes.” 

(The names of interviewees have been withheld out of concern for their 


Imported flour thought to contain the same harmful chemical identified in 
Chinese dairy product scandal.

By Gulzat Nadyrova in Bishkek 

A scare involving imports of Chinese flour has raised concerns about the rigour 
with which the Kyrgyz government enforces food safety standards. 

While the authorities have claimed they reacted as soon as they became aware 
there was a problem, the discovery of contaminated flour has highlighted 
defects in the way imported food is checked.

Reports that melamine, a potential harmful chemical, had been found in a 
consignment of flour imported from China surfaced on a Kyrgyz news website on 
October 23. The report also alleged that the flour was infested with khapra 
beetle, a pest that originates from southeast Asia and is seen as a major 
threat to foodstuffs. 

Both claims were confirmed the following day. At a press conference in Bishkek, 
Jolon Omkeev, who heads the Kyrgyz agriculture ministry’s grain testing office, 
said a substance believed to be melamine had been found in grain samples.

Omkeev said his laboratory was awaiting the results of tests done on samples 
sent to Russia, which he explained was necessary before a formal complaint 
could be lodged against the importer. He added that Kyrgyzstan did not have the 
facilities to test accurately for the presence of melamine.

Melamine is a man-made substance that, when added to food products, makes it 
appear that they have greater protein content. It is harmful to human health, 
and is the chemical that contaminated dairy products in the recent scandal in 
China, where four children died and more than 50,000 fell ill after consuming 
tainted baby milk powder. 

A government statement also issued on October 24 said larvae, probably of the 
khrapra beetle, had been found in 112 tons of Chinese flour that arrived in 
Kyrgyzstan on September 30. That consignment was impounded upon inspection, 
said the statement. 

The same day, the Chinese embassy in Bishkek issued a press release stating 
that it had received full documentation from testing carried out in Kyrgyzstan 
and Kazakstan, confirming that the imported flour was safe and of good quality.

The flour was part of the last batch of a total of 5,000 tons imported from 
China by the state agency Kyrgyzresursy over the last year. The first shipment 
was delivered last December, and the final consignment arrived on October 7. 

The flour formed part of a Kyrgyz government policy to purchase grain to top up 
national reserves and provide poor families with subsidised flour. The measure 
was approved last year after the authorities were forced to draw on strategic 
grain reserves to offset rapid rises in bread prices. 

In the rush to secure adequate food supplies, the government may have failed to 
look closely enough at some safety issues. 

Taalaybek Dyusheev, deputy director of the National Institute for Standards and 
Metrology, said Kyrgyzstan’s membership of the World Trade Organisation, WTO, 
had required it to lift all barriers to free trade, as well as import tariffs. 

“Following Kyrgyzstan’s entry into the WTO, we abolished quality requirements 
[for imported products], leaving only the requirement for safety,” he said. 

There are now question-marks over whether the earlier deliveries of flour from 
China were checked thoroughly enough. 

“The first consignment went to the mill at Balykchi and was distributed to 
low-income families and pensioners,” said Larisa Saikina, who heads a 
grain-testing laboratory. “We didn’t find any pests that would have required a 
quarantine order. Although the flour wasn’t up to standard according to many of 
the benchmarks set out in the [accompanying] certificate, it was basically OK.”

One of the more alarming aspects of this case is that although the government 
says the consignment that arrived on September 30 was impounded immediately 
after it was inspected, flour delivered on or after that date appears to have 
made its way to its destination unimpeded. 

Staff at a mill in Karabalta say they took delivery of two freight cars full of 
flour on October 10. 

“The wagons arrived at night, [some] sacks burst and the flour spilled out – it 
had a distinctly unusual smell,” said one eyewitness, a mill worker who asked 
not to be named.

“A week later, another consignment arrived and the management refused to accept 
it,” he said. “There was a terrible hoo-ha. High-ranking officials came to see 
us, and there was a Chinese representative there too. He and one of the 
officials demanded that the sacks be unloaded, but the head of the quarantine 
service and our own bosses categorically refused. 

“One of them shouted at our people that they’d be forced to accept the goods 
and they’d have to pay penalties for the hold-up.”

This source said the last batch of Chinese flour was now sitting at the 
Karabalta plant – but a seal had been placed on it signifying that it was not 
to be touched. 

Aside from the government’s policies on food safety, many of the observers 
interviewed by IWPR agreed there were problems at the point of entry to 
Kyrgyzstan. Lax inspections are compounded by corruption.

According to Saikina, “The problem isn’t that they dropped quality standards; 
it’s that there is an awful lot of corruption in this country. Custom officials 
set own their tariffs [for bribes], and any businessman who pays up can import 
any product, even of the most dubious quality.”

Saikina added that the private companies that are licensed to issue product 
quality certificates often hand over the papers without testing the item in 
question, in return for a bribe.

An anonymous member of the financial police noted that officials as well as 
businessmen take a cut when goods are approved for import without going through 
the proper checks.

Commenting on the contaminated flour, he said, “There’s a danger that the whole 
affair will be placed on the back burner. But I’m hoping that after the 
publicity it’s had, the culprits will be punished.”

Nikolai Bailo, a member of Kyrgyzstan’s parliament, told IWPR it was time to 
introduce additional checking mechanisms. 

“Imported products have been through a first stage of quality control in their 
country of origin, and we will shortly be seeking to require that a second 
round of tests take place in our country,” he said.

Gulzat Nadyrova is an IWPR contributor in Bishkek.


Plan for professional army jeopardised by funding and coordination issues, say 

By ?syl Osmonalieva in Bishkek 

A major overhaul of the Kyrgyzstan military has been broadly welcomed as long 
overdue, although some defence experts say lack of funding could hamper its 

Defence Minister Bakytbek Kalyev announced a set of sweeping reforms at a press 
conference on October 27. Under the plan, the military is to be transformed 
from a conscript force into a largely professional force. As Kalyev put it, 
real military strength depends not on the sheer numbers of troops but on their 

Defence ministry staff numbers are to be cut, and a new arm of service 
introduced – the Mobile Forces – together with a counter-terrorism and 
counter-insurgency centre. Overall, the new army will have fewer generals, 
fewer commissioned officers, and only a fifth of the rank-and-file will be 
conscripted, with the rest taken on as volunteer professionals, known here as 
“contract soldiers”.

The reforms will take place in three stages, the first of which will be 
completed by June 2009, the second by the end of that year, with the final work 
to be done by 2012.

The need for change stems from a watershed event in Kyrgyzstan’s recent 
history. In 1999 and 2000, the southern region of Batken was the scene of 
incursions by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, an armed guerrilla movement 
whose raids showed up the limitations of a Soviet-style conscript army, trained 
only for conventional warfare and unable to respond flexibly as every move 
depended on instructions sent down the chain of command.

Although the insurgents were eventually driven out, the army’s sluggish 
performance and poor state of readiness sparked significant debate and 
criticism in Kyrgyzstan. 

The Kyrgyz authorities took the lessons from Batken on board, and increased 
defence spending and began training troops in counter-insurgency techniques and 
mountain warfare. 

When he announcing the reform, Defence Minister Kalyev referred explicitly to 
the Batken experience. 

“Events in Batken [in 1999], when 50 militants infiltrated the south of the 
country and 5,000 troops were sent to fight them, illustrated clearly that we 
needed a mobile and professional army,” he said.

As a retired general, Abdygany Chotbaev praises the defence ministry’s plans 
and agrees that the Batken conflict demonstrated that “it is better to have a 
well-trained mobile army than gunfodder”.

However, he adds a note of caution, “The transition to contract service has 
been talked about for more than ten years but no concrete steps have been taken 
to achieve it.”

Chotbaev questions whether the government will have the funds to pay for what 
is going to be a costly process. 

“To be effective, contract soldiers need to be provided with housing, their 
children need to go to kindergartens and schools, and the soldiers need to be 
paid a decent wage,” he said. “All that is going to need major expenditure.”

The defence ministry has proposed one method of funding the professional army – 
the large number of young men who will no longer be conscripted will be 
regarded as performing alternative service, and will have to hand part of their 
civilian wages over to support the defence budget. 

Chotbaev says the numbers just do not add up. “You only have to look at the 
high unemployment in this country to realise that any money paid by those on 
alternative service isn’t going to be enough to support the contract soldiers,” 
he explained.

A serving member of the military, who asked to remain anonymous, told IWPR that 
while it was desirable to have a professional army, it was not going to be easy 
to recruit enough men. 

“Even as things stand, only half the contract soldier positions are filled. No 
one wants to join a service that pays 3,000 soms [80 US dollars a month]. 
Introducing [near-universal] contract service may prove to be too big a burden 
for the government budget.”

This source also asked why only the regular armed forces controlled by the 
defence ministry were going to be restructured, thus excluding the many other 
agencies that have their own troops or paramilitary forces – the interior 
ministry, the National Security Service, the border troops, the National Guard 
and the ministry for emergencies. 

There was, he said, too much duplication of functions among these various 
forces. He said that when a government commission had recommended bringing all 
of them under one general staff, the idea met with strong resistance. 

“All the agencies and ministries remain as fragmented as before, duplicating 
each other in some areas and competing in others,” he said. “I wouldn’t call 
this a reform – it looks more like a shake-up within one agency.”

?syl Osmonalieva is an IWPR-trained journalist in Bishkek.



Paying out money to officials has become the normal way of accessing free 
public services.

By Olga Shevchenko in Almaty 

Following a survey suggesting that corruption in Kazakstan remains as 
widespread as ever, IWPR has gathered anecdotal evidence revealing that people 
feel so helpless in the face of constant demands for bribes that they simply 
pay up without complaint. 

In the survey, the latest in a series conducted by the Almaty-based Association 
of Political Scientists and Sociologists, almost 70 per cent of respondents 
among the 3,000 people polled across the country believed it is was easier to 
submit to demands for illicit payments rather than try to fight the system and 
potentially lose out on benefits.

The poll was commissioned by Kazakstan’s governing party Nur Otan and published 
on the Respublica.kz website on October 13. In a sign that the authorities are 
keen to be seen to be addressing the all-pervasive problem of corruption, the 
work was funded by the ministry for information and culture. 

Kazakstan consistently scores poorly in the Corruption Perceptions Index 
compiled by the watchdog group Transparency International. In this year’s 
rating, the country was at 145th place out of 180. Although this is a poor 
ranking in a list that goes in descending order, Kazakstan still gets better 
marks than the other four Central Asian states, Russia and Azerbaijan. 

Corruption in Kazakstan affects all areas of public life, including business 
and politics. The local survey, however, focused on the impact of bribe-taking 
on people’s daily lives, in the shape of the cash payments that are required to 
get just about anything done.

At this level, the survey group said they believed the worst offenders for 
taking bribes were doctors, traffic police and teachers – all professions that 
are normally expected to serve the public to a high ethical standard.

Bribes come in various forms – the inducement paid to an official to win some 
particular favour or to escape a penalty; and the illicit “fee” that is 
demanded for a nominally free public service like medicine. Bribery is now so 
commonplace in daily life that instead of fulfilling the function of gaining 
some additional advantage, it operates as a kind of blackmail, where a routine 
service or official document is denied to an applicant unless an illicit 
payment is forthcoming. 

For private businesses that need to file paperwork with state institutions and 
apply for permits and other documents, bribery is an inevitable part of the 

“You have to pay for every document, and pay different bureaucrats,” one 
disgruntled businessman told IWPR. “It’s impossible to submit documents without 
spending money.”

“Unless a bribe is paid, state bureaucrats will find thousands of reasons to 
delay their reply, or not to grant permission. The moment you pay up, 
everything gets done within a day.”

Members of the public interviewed by IWPR, as well as experts on the subject, 
were pessimistic about the prospects for change.


To get a first-hand picture of what sustains corruption at a day-to-day level, 
IWPR looked at the experience of one family. 

The Azarbievs – not their real name – are a fairly typical middle-income urban 
family who live in Almaty, Kazakstan’s biggest city and former capital. They 
own the apartment they live in, a car and a dacha or summer house with a little 
land around it that they use to grown vegetables. 

Aslan Azarbiev is a senior engineer who works for a government firm, and his 
wife Gauhar is a manager in a private company. Together they pull in a gross 
income of 1,500 US dollars a month. They support one son, Arman, who is at 
university, teenage daughter Kamila and another son, Yerzhan, who is still in 

Like most people in Kazakstan, the various family members experience different 
facets of corruption. 

For Aslan, the main problem are the traffic police who regularly stop motorists 
for the slightest offence – real or invented - in the knowledge that they will 
pay up rather than face the consequences. 

“I don’t want to pay the legal fine as they will take my driving license away 
after two penalty points,” he said. 

Effectively the traffic cops calculate that drivers are prepared to pay a small 
amount on an all-too-frequent basis rather than face a fine or other penalty, 
which can include being forced to re-sit the driving test. They know that these 
legal processes are merely opportunities to extract much larger bribes. 

“It isn’t difficult to re-sit the test, but they’d fail you nevertheless,” he 
explained. “Someone would come up to you later… and offer to replace your test 
result [with a pass] for 300 dollars.

“So it’s easier to pay 2,000 tenge [17 dollars] on the spot.” 

Gauhar talks about how having a young child makes parents the target of further 
demands for money. For example, she admits paying 250 dollars to the manager of 
a state-funded kindergarten to place her son at the top of the waiting list.

Now that Yerzhan is attending nursery, Gauhar and other parents have to pay out 
of their pockets to sustain the teacher. “Every month we pay 500 tenge [four 
dollars] each to the nursery teacher so that she won’t leave. There is a 
shortage of teachers, and her salary is only 14,000 tenge [120 dollars] a 
month,” said Gauhar. “We can’t afford to hire a nanny so we end up paying the 
official kindergarten fee plus extra money for the staff.”

For Arman, bribery is an inescapable part of university life. He is lucky 
enough to be on a government grant, which he only gets if his academic results 
are good. To pass his exams, he has to slip the lecturers some money. 

“Every single person in my circle has paid a bribe at least once,” he said. 
“The lecturers will always find fault with your exam results. It’s better to 
pay 5,000 tenges to make sure you don’t have problems with the resit.”

Kamila describes a different form of illicit levy – this time imposed by the 
school as a whole rather than by individual teachers. Although public-sector 
education is free of charge, Kamila’s parents have to pay the school a monthly 
fee as a contribution to running costs. They also have to buy textbooks from 
the school even though these should be provided for nothing. 

“If you don’t pay 1,000 tenge [eight dollars] to the school fund, the teacher 
will read out your name on a list of those who failed to pay…. If you don’t buy 
a textbook, you might get told to leave the lesson or get given a low mark. We 
always need schoolbooks and they cost 800 tenge dollars each,” said Kamila.

State healthcare is another area where members of the public have to pay for 
notionally free services, as well as giving sweeteners to individual staff.

With a young child, Gauhar Azarbieva often has to take him to medical 

“Every visit to a health centre or a hospital entails giving gifts and money to 
doctors. Otherwise you won’t get some medical certificate you need, or you 
won’t get any attention,” she said.

Another resident of Almaty, who did not want to be named, recalled her own 
recent hospital experience when she was ignored until she handed over some cash.

“I was admitted to a maternity hospital during a public holiday. For nearly two 
days I was left on my own. As soon as my husband gave money to individual 
doctors and nurses, I got proper care and attention,” she said.

This woman said it was pointless to try to object.

“I don’t think there’s any sense in fighting against corruption,” she said. “It 
will only make your situation worse.”

According to Bigeldy Gabdullin, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Central Asia 
Monitor, corruption is a legacy of the Soviet system, exacerbated by the 
transition to a market economy.

“The disease of corruption is common to all people from the former [Soviet] 
republics both for historical reasons and because these states are going 
through a period of transition,” he said.

Among the analysts interviewed for this report, the consensus was that 
corruption was now so entrenched that it was less the exception than the rule 
where individuals try to avoid established procedures, than a well-oiled 
mechanism for exacting illicit payments in returned for basic entitlements. 

“In my view, in 90 per cent of all bribery cases, it is state institutions that 
deliberately create artificial hurdles so as to force people to pay bribes,” 
said local lawyer Sergei Utkin. “If the state itself of creating conditions 
where it’s best to pay up, then you have little option but to do so.”

Yerbol Kasymov, deputy chairman of the anti-corruption council of the Nur Otan 
party’s Almaty branch, blames dishonest individuals rather than the entire 

“It isn’t as if someone wants to pay bribes; the bureaucrat literally forces 
him to do so,” he said.” 


The Kazak government acknowledges that there is a problem, and adopted a 
programme to counter corruption two years ago. Nor is there any shortage of 
legislation – an anti-corruption law coupled with a decree aimed at dishonest 
state officials. A conviction for taking bribes can lead to a ten-year prison 
sentence, while those who offer illegal inducements can also face prosecution. 

Sergei Zlotnikov, director of the Transparency Kazakstan group, explained, 
paying a bribe of more than ten dollars can result in a two-year jail term and 
the seizure of one’s assets. 

“People who decide to offer a bribe need to realise that they are committing a 
criminal act,” he added.

There are now numerous centres offering legal advice and help to people who 
want to make a complaint, and Almaty and the capital Astana also have phone 
hotlines where people can ring in to report cases.

Kasymov says his council has investigated 400 claims so far. 

“The most important thing is for people not to offer illegal inducements but to 
go higher up the system or to specialised centres to get help,” he said. 

Some commentators hold that the low-level corruption that affects the average 
citizen is inseparable from the nature of the political regime in Kazakstan, 
and argue that the former cannot change unless the latter does, too.

“It’s going to be impossible to root out corruption unless honest leaders with 
clean hands come to power,” said. Asylbek Kojakhmetov, who heads a residents’ 
pressure group called Shanyrak. “The system won’t change as long as the bosses 
of state institutions win approbation from their colleagues by giving them 
expensive gifts of dubious provenance. That corporate ethic among state 
officials forms the basis for corruption.”

Kojakhmetov welcomes the introduction of anti-corruption legislation, although 
he insists that laws must target those at the top rather than the average 
person who has little option but to pay bribes. 

A professor of politics who did not want to be named said the authorities would 
need to show they were serious about dealing with the problem before their 
anti-corruption efforts were seen as credible. 

“They arrest and try a few people – a mere handful of cases – and put this on 
television just for show,” he said, suggesting that bigger fish never get 

According to Viktoria of the Kazakstan Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, 
only a “total purge of the corrupt” will work – and that will only become 
possible “either if there’s a change of political leadership, or if the current 
leadership demonstrates the political will”.


Lawyer Sergei Utkin is confidence that with the right kind of public campaigns, 
people would be encouraged to stand up and be counted. 

“People will be prepared to fight [corruption] if they are offered a specific 
action plan, presented accessibly and in the right way,” he said.

Yet many Kazakstan citizens appear to prefer the path of least resistance. 

“For me, it’s easier to leave things as they are,” said Aslan Azarbiev. “If I 
start lodging complaints and fighting for justice, I might lose my job. They 
don’t like people like that in Kazakstan.”

And there will always be attempts to get round the rules. A student who 
declined to give his name said people would turn to middlemen to escape 

“I don’t know about other universities, but at ours you can pay 300 dollars to 
a particular individual who will negotiate good marks with your teacher. Thanks 
to these people, I will never get caught giving a bribe,” he said.

Olga Shevchenko is an IWPR contributor in Almaty.

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REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA provides the international community with a unique 
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