WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 592, October 20, 2009 UNITING KAZAKSTANS OPPOSITION Joining forces seen as step in right direction, but may not be enough to make opposition electable. By Sanat Urnaliev in Almaty
PATRIOTIC MOVE HITS WRONG NOTE IN KYRGYZSTAN Kyrgyz public unimpressed by new law to make singing national anthem compulsory. By Anara Yusupova in Bishkek TAJIK MUDSLIDE REFUGEES OUT IN THE COLD With not enough money to rebuild homes, disaster victims face a winter under canvas. By Sayrahmon Nazriev in Khuroson distrct, southern Tajikistan **** NEW ************************************************************************************ NEW VACANCIES AVAILABLE http://iwpr.net/vacancies CENTRAL ASIA HUMAN RIGHTS REPORTING PROJECT http://iwpr.net/centralasiahumanrights **** IWPR RESOURCES ****************************************************************** CENTRAL ASIA RADIO: http://iwpr.net/centralasiaradio CENTRAL ASIA PROGRAMME HOME: http://iwpr.net/centralasia IWPR COMMENT: http://iwpr.net/comment SAHAR JOURNALISTS ASSISTANCE FUND: http://iwpr.net/sahar BECOME A FAN OF IWPR ON FACEBOOK http://facebook.com/InstituteforWarandPeaceReporting FOLLOW US ON TWITTER http://twitter.com/iwpr **** www.iwpr.net ******************************************************************** REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA RSS: http://www.iwpr.net/en/rca/rss.xml RECEIVE FROM IWPR: Readers are urged to subscribe to IWPR's full range of free electronic publications at: http://iwpr.net/subscribe GIVE TO IWPR: IWPR is wholly dependent upon grants and donations. For more information about how you can support IWPR go to: http://iwpr.net/donate **** www.iwpr.net ******************************************************************** UNITING KAZAKSTANS OPPOSITION Joining forces seen as step in right direction, but may not be enough to make opposition electable. By Sanat Urnaliev in Almaty A long-awaited merger between two leading opposition parties in Kazakstan has given rise to hopes of a more balanced and pluralist political system than now, when one pro-government group holds all the seats in parliament. At the same time, some observers doubt that unification will be enough to create a force capable of ousting President Nursultan Nazarbaevs Nur Otan party from power. The merger between the Azat Party and the National Social Democratic Party, NSDP, was announced on October 13 by the two leaders, respectively Bulat Abilov and Jarmakhan Tuyakbay. The new group will be called NSDP-Azat once the deal has been formalised at a party congress on October 24. Officials say the new party will have a combined membership of 400,000 people an impressive figure, but only about half that claimed by Nur Otan. Speaking at a press conference in the countrys commercial centre Almaty, Abilov insisted that the move was inspired by a desire to bring about real change, allowing the opposition to become more effective in addressing issues that Kazakstans current leaders had failed to deal with. Abilov said NSDP-Azat was prepared to take on Nur Otan, and called on people to join his party in bringing about change before we descend completely into totalitarianism. Azats deputy chairman, Petr Svoik, said the new force was meant to offer a credible democratic alternative in the next election, adding, The current system has outlived its time in political, economic and above all moral terms, and now it represents a threat to the countrys future. We need to give the country the opportunity of developing. The next parliamentary election is scheduled for 2012, the same year that a presidential contest is due to be held. But there has been speculation for some time now that the government will announce an early election, possibly next year when Kazakstan holds the rotating chairmanship of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE. Some analysts believe the authorities are keen to create a two-party legislature to avoid embarrassment as chair of an organisation that supports democracy. However, many believe the president would prefer to see some tame, non-confrontational political force take up seats in parliament alongside Nur Otan members, rather than anything resembling real opposition. In the past the authorities have blocked attempts to set up new opposition groups by delaying and obstructing the process under which they must apply for registration with the justice ministry. The plan is to get round that requirement by having Azat members join the NSDP, and use the latters existing registration as the legal foundation for the new group. Tuyakbay said the leadership question might be resolved by having two joint chairmen. This is only the latest in a long line of attempts to build a stronger opposition. Most recently, Azat and the NSDP came close to forming a united bloc with the Communist Party of Kazakstan and the Alga Peoples Party in April, but nothing came of it. Ahead of the 2007 legislative polls, the NSDP and Naghyz Ak Jol (Azats previous name) merged briefly for tactical reasons, but failed to surmount the threshold needed to gain seats. This time round, however, things could conceivably be different, if a substantial opposition force could capitalise on public discontent resulting from the impact of the economic crisis on Kazakstan. Almaty-based political scientist Nikolay Kuzmin was optimistic, saying the new party would be able to compete with Nur Otan because there was a general desire for a change. If other political organisations are unable to propose a clear alternative to [government] policy, then naturally all hopes will be attached to NSDP-Azat alone, he said. Kuzmin predicted that Nur Otan would receive around 50 per cent of the vote in an election, and the rest would be split among other parties, so NSDP-Azat could count on 20 or 30 per cent. Dosym Satpaev, the director of the Risk Assessment Group, agreed that the mood was against the current administration. Theres a growing number of people who are dissatisfied with the authorities policies, he said. He said a unified party stood a better chance of capitalising on public sentiment. In his words, a clenched fist is stronger than an open hand. Even though Satpaev suggested NSDP-Azat could potentially capture 30 or 40 per cent of the vote in an election, he did not believe that would guarantee it seats in parliament. Of course the president talks of the need for a two-party parliament, he said. But it would be possible to create a two-party parliament without bringing in the opposition. The merger was received coldly by another opposition leader, Vladimir Kozlov of the Alga party. For more than four years, his party has been trying to register, but has been turned down repeatedly on minor technicalities. The opposition field has become smaller by one party, he said. And when the number of players gets smaller, it is bad. Yermuhamet Yertysbaev, an adviser to President Nazarbaev on political affairs, expressed doubt that the merger would strengthen the opposition overall. Recalling previous failed attempts at coalition-building, Yertysbaev said it might be better if all four main opposition parties united. If, say, the unregistered Alga Party and the Communist Party with all its resources were to join this alliance, it would be a real force that could win up to 20 per cent [of the vote], he said. At the same time, Yertysbaev said people in Kazakstan had a history of having strong political leadership, which gave the incumbent president and his Nur Otan party an advantage. Ultimately, he said, NSDP-Azats chances of getting into parliament would depend solely on its own performance. We cant do it for them, he added. Sanat Urnaliev is an independent journalist in Kazakstan. PATRIOTIC MOVE HITS WRONG NOTE IN KYRGYZSTAN Kyrgyz public unimpressed by new law to make singing national anthem compulsory. By Anara Yusupova in Bishkek New legislation initiative making it compulsory for Kyrgyz citizens to stand and sing the national anthem whenever it is played has received an unenthusiastic response from the public. While the legislators who drafted the bill insist that the measure will increase patriotic feeling within the Central Asian republic, civil society leaders have dismissed it as a ridiculous gesture and a waste of parliamentary time. On October 1, parliament passed amendments to the law on national symbols, making it compulsory for all citizens to sing along to the anthem. Failure to comply will lead to as yet unspecified penalties, which could fines, official warnings or even short periods of detention. The law has also been changed so that private broadcasters are obliged to play the anthem when they come on air and at closedown, as is already the case for state-run TV and radio. This is just the latest in a series of changes to the law on state symbols; previous ones made it compulsory to stand when the national anthem is played, stipulated floodlighting for the flag when flown above government buildings, and banned drivers from drilling through the Kyrgyz flag depicted on their number plate to attach it to the car. Our parliamentarians are real characters they wont allow holes in the flag on car number plates, and they make people put their hands on their hearts and sing the anthem, political analyst Mars Sariyev told IWPR. I believe that patriotism begins with other things, and that this is a cosmetic measure that wont produce patriotism . These laws show that our MPs are out of touch with reality or else that theyre incompetent. However, the Ak Jol party which dominates the Kyrgyz parliament was united on the benefits of singing the anthem. The national anthem was created to be sung, said Ziyaidin Jamaldinov, the Ak Jol parliamentarian who came up with the idea. This amendment is a demonstration of respect towards a national symbol. Every citizen should know the anthem off by heart. If the law is ignored, then there will be a penalty. Avtandil Arabayev, another Ak Jol member and deputy head of the parliamentary committee for constitutional law, legal compliance and human rights, told IWPR that the idea was to get people into the way of respecting their national symbols. In the long run, citizens will sing the anthem voluntarily, out of patriotic feeling. But right now, when that hasnt yet become a tradition, we are trying to revive patriotism by introducing this legal standard. During the debate on the bill, a note of dissent was sounded by Social Democratic Party member Irina Karamushkina, who said people should be encouraged to sing the anthem out of genuine feeling, rather than fear of punishment. Citizens of Kyrgyzstan undoubtedly love and work for their country, she said. A sense of patriotism must be nurtured from childhood and imbibed with your mothers milk. But forcing adults to display their patriotism is naïve and is to an extent a sign of authoritarianism. This drew an angry response from Ak Jol member Beyshenbek Abdyrasakov, and he told Karamushkina, who is of Russian origin, I want to say officially and publicly that you are an enemy of the Kyrgyz people. It now only remains for the draft amendment to be signed into law by President Kurmanbek Bakiev. Many ordinary people feel the new law will not have much effect, and that parliament should instead be focusing on the economic and social challenges that directly impact on their lives. Bishkek resident Yevgenia Loginova, 35, said, I regard it as coercion. For me, love of the motherland is a personal thing, and I do not want to put it on show by singing the anthem in the company of others . Nobody can force anyone to sing it or not sing it, or to put my hand on my heart or not. Maksat Amanov, 30, said he saw some logic in the new rules as I dont know the words of the anthem myself, and Ill never learn it unless Im forced to. At the same time, he said, Children need to be taught to sing the anthem at school, whereas its pointless forcing adults, since the USSR anthem was their national anthem for many decades. Dinara Oshurakhunova, who heads the non-government Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society said nobody could be forced to acquire patriotic fervour. People wont love their motherland any more if theyre made to sing the anthem, she said. Patriotism is not displayed through singing the anthem thats a ridiculous idea. You cannot make people love their motherland by this method when the majority of the population lives below the poverty line. Oshurakhunova pointed to previous attempts by parliament to patent Kyrgyz national cuisine, and ban the wearing of shorts bearing the image of the Kyrgyz flag. It seems that parliamentarians have nothing better to do, she said. They ought show more concern about things like whether theres electricity in the house of every Kyrgyz citizen. Then everyone would love and cherish the motherland. Anara Yusupova is a pseudonym for a journalist in Kyrgyzstan. TAJIK MUDSLIDE REFUGEES OUT IN THE COLD With not enough money to rebuild homes, disaster victims face a winter under canvas. By Sayrahmon Nazriev in Khuroson distrct, southern Tajikistan Saidbek Nazarov sighed sadly as he pointing at the tent he occupies with his wife and five children. This has been their home since their house in the village of Shohrokh was destroyed in the mudslides that hit southern Tajikistan this spring. Saidbek and his wife are deaf, so another villager, Saifiddin Sobirov, told their story. Its hard living in a tent, said Sobirov, pointing out that the countrys extreme temperatures made things worse. In summer its hot and the heat of the sun is unbearable. Water has to be fetched from far away, he said. And now at night its already getting really cold and children are falling ill. They [Nazarovs] are one of the poorest in our village, Sobirov said, noting that they have no means to build their own house. More than 100 families in Khuroson district are still living in tents, months after their homes were damaged or destroyed by torrents of mud. They complain that the financial assistance the government has provided is not enough to put a roof over their heads, and that some residents have lost out through mismanagement. This springs mud flows, landslides and flooding followed abnormally heavy rainfall in 40 districts across Tajikistan, which left 26 people dead and over 3,000 displaced. Khuroson was one of the areas worst hit, suffering mudslides on April 21-22 and again on May 14, and Tajikistans United Nations office says 477 families in this district were displaced. (See Tajiks Struggle to Cope With Flood Damage, RCA No. 580, 12-Jun-09.) Unfortunately, some families have been unable to start building houses because there wasnt the money, said Asadullo Muminov, a representative of the Khuroson district administration. Muminov said that although people wanted to go back to the village, government geologists had decided the area was too dangerous. The authorities have persuaded 136 families to start construction work in a new settlement where they have been allocated land. But Muminov was not hopeful that they had the resources to complete the work before the cold weather set in. At present, 40 families have started building houses and I have to admit that their financial situation is very difficult indeed, he said. Nazarov claimed that in deciding how to allocate compensation, the authorities wrongly classified his family as only partially affected by the disaster. His brother was receded as having had his home completely destroyed, even though they had both shared the same house together with their families before the disaster. So while Nazarovs brother moved into a new home built by the authorities, he himself was given a plot of land, some building materials and the equivalent of several hundred US dollars to build the house himself. The cash was only enough to pay for the foundations. Muminov agreed that Nazarov had been assessed incorrectly, but he said the local council had recently signed an agreement with an international relief organisation to fund several poor families to complete their houses. We will make sure the Nazarovs are among these families, Muminov said. In this impoverished part of Tajikistan there is little work available apart from growing and processing cotton. The majority of families survive due to members working abroad as labour migrants, usually in Russia or Kazakstan. Like Nazarov, his neighbour Sobirov is having to rebuild his old home. Our houses were partially damaged, he said. I and my children, with four families between us, were each given a plot of land, six cubic metres of timber, six tons of cement, roof tiles and 3,000 somonis [680 dollars], he said. The funds, however, were not enough to pay builders to complete the work, so the family is doing much of it themselves. With a truckload of rock for the foundations costing up to 90 dollars and similar amount of sand priced at 35 dollars, money is tight. I dont know whether we can complete our house or our childrens until the end of autumn, he said. Sobirov and other villagers are still grateful for aid from international agencies and the Tajik government. But there is an underlying feeling of bitterness at the way the help was distributed. I think there was some nepotism in the way the assessments and distribution were done, said a man who gave his first name as Sherali, who says his ruined home was categorised as partially damaged, unlike that of a neighbour who got full compensation in the shape of a new home. A prosecution service official in Khuroson told IWPR that a criminal case had been launched against a local official accused of listing two families as eligible for government help, despite the fact they came from a village unaffected by the disaster. While the official is being investigated, his superior has been dismissed, the source said. As for the Nazarovs, worries about whether they can secure roof above the head before winter comes have led them to consider sending their daughter to Russia to find work. Despite fears for her safety, they feel they have no other choice at the moment. 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