WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 606, March 19, 2010 ARGUMENTS OVER NATIONHOOD IN KAZAKSTAN Compromise sought between American-style melting pot and monoethnic Kazak state. By Daulet Kanagatuly in Almaty
KAZAK AUTHORITIES PROBE FLOOD TRAGEDY Prosecutors investigating possible case of negligence after dam burst swamps village, killing 40. By Yana Bachevskaya in Taldykorgan, Daulet Kanagatuly and Nikolai Tsoy in Almaty KYRGYZ GOVERNMENT BACKS MICROCREDITS FOR FARMERS Attempts to boost agriculture funding are welcome, but not enough, say experts. 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For more information about how you can support IWPR go to: http://iwpr.net/donate **** www.iwpr.net ******************************************************************** ARGUMENTS OVER NATIONHOOD IN KAZAKSTAN Compromise sought between American-style melting pot and monoethnic Kazak state. By Daulet Kanagatuly in Almaty The ongoing battle over a national vision for Kazakstan has highlighted the divide between those who want ethnic Kazaks to be the pre-eminent nation and others including the government who back an inclusive state in which all communities are equal. The issue goes to the heart of how Kazakstan sees itself. In the years since the creation of an independent republic in 1991, President Nursultan Nazarbaev has sought to build a state with its own identity, where Kazak identity and language is promoted without trying to undermine and alienate other groups, most notably the large Slavic community. The Doctrine of National Unity was unveiled last October by President Nursultan Nazarbaev, who said the country had developed to a point where it was time for peoples identity to be based solely on their citizenship of Kazakstan. Passports in Kazakstan, as in other states of the former Soviet Union, continue to validate two different levels of identity. They show citizenship of the Republic of Kazakstan, but also contain an entry called nationality which gives the individuals ethnic background as Kazak, Russian or any one of more than 100 groups. Nazarbaevs proposal would bring his country into line with standard practice in much of the world, and also fits with his own policy of building an all-embracing state. He presented the doctrine at a meeting of the Assembly of Peoples, an advisory body that brings together representatives of Kazakstans many ethnic groups. The Assembly approved it and published it as its own proposal, but given Nazarbaevs sponsorship of the document, it can be seen as the official view. In his speech to the Assembly, Nazarbaev cited the case of the United States and Brazil as countries which had managed to incorporate people from many backgrounds within a common identity. We must go down this path, he said. But it will take time, We mustnt rush. However, there has been a backlash from Kazak nationalists who want their titular nation to enjoy special recognition. The campaign has been led by the national patriots, a loose grouping of nationalist groups and parties whose leading light is Mukhtar Shakhanov, a well-known poet and promoter of the Kazak language. In a statement in November, Shakhanov criticised the official vision of a nation forged, like the United States, out of a melting-pot of ethnicities, which he said was not applicable to Kazakstan and showed a lack of respect for its unique history. In particular, he focused on the Kazak language, which he argued was losing out against Russian, and these days English as well. In his October speech, the president had specifically emphasised the importance of promoting the use of Kazak, a project which he said in no way implied discrimination or a diminution of the role of Russian. Slavs and other groups in Kazakstan, and some urban Kazaks as well, speak Russian as their mother tongue, and it is in common use as a lingua franca. In January, the national patriots and the opposition party Azat came out with their own rival document, entitled Concept for National Policy, which stressed the place of the Kazaks as the state-forming indigenous nation and discarded the idea of a Kazakstan identity altogether. The document argued that Kazaks now accounted for more than two-thirds of the population, and that, consequently, the Kazak country must be regarded as a mono-ethnic state. This is a radical departure from Nazarbaevs vision of the state. Yet the Kazak-centric view appears to enjoy sufficient support for his administration not to have rejected it out of hand. Instead, it has launched an attempt to merge the two apparently polar-opposite documents into one. To draft this compromise document, a joint commission bringing together key players on either side of the argument is now at work. The commission is reportedly in the final stages of what by all accounts has been a difficult drafting process. In mid-February, a think-tank called the Institute for Political Solutions produced a set of recommendations intended to help bridge the gap. It argued that by promoting Kazakstan identity, the Doctrine of National Unity overlooked the concerns of ethnic Kazaks. Analysts interviewed by IWPR welcomed the authorities attempt to build consensus through debate, although some felt this became necessary because of a failure to anticipate the public impact the national doctrine would have. According to Anton Morozov, head of the sociopolitical research department at the Kazakstan Institute for Strategic Studies, which has ties to the presidents office, said the original doctrine was drafted by a small group of individuals who neither consulted the public nor considered the implications. Nor, he said, did the authorities foresee that the alternative document would trigger such a storm. The national patriots are a group that is ever-present among the electorate, and this needs to be taken into account, he said. In January 2009, the government showed similar flexibility in the face of pressure from the Kazak nationalist lobby. New-style biometric passports were already being printed when a number of members of parliament complained that the document did not have an entry for nationality as opposed to citizenship. Kazak identity would be downgraded if it was not formally recognised in the document, they argued. Although the justice ministry had insisted that the ethnicity category, a holdover from Soviet times retained in pre-2009 passports, was redundant in an international document, the government changed its mind and ordered the passports to be changed to provide space for specifying ethnic origin. (See Kazakstan's New Passports to Show Ethnicity, RCA No. 568, 02-Mar-09.) Among analysts and people interviewed in the street, IWPR found supporters of both viewpoints, some backing the official vision of an all-embracing nationhood, and others insisting that a Kazak nation state would be a good thing and did not imply a chauvinist attitude towards minorities. Some commentators argue that the whole debate is a storm in a teacup, and that there are far more pressing issues that need to be dealt with. It seems to me that the debate surrounding the two doctrines has received attention that it didnt merit, said political analyst Eduard Poletaev. First of all, the doctrine itself is a document that outlines a framework for the development of society, and doesnt carry legislative or any other kind of force, And second, large swathes of the population arent aware of the debate and havent participated in it. Sociologist Gaziz Nasyrov, who personally favours the authorities doctrine, suspects the furore has been stirred up for publicity reasons. A small section of society with an interest in politics has had an opportunity to make its voice heard, let off steam and distract attention from more important matters, he said. Daulet Kanagatuly is an IWPR-trained journalist in Kazakstan. KAZAK AUTHORITIES PROBE FLOOD TRAGEDY Prosecutors investigating possible case of negligence after dam burst swamps village, killing 40. By Yana Bachevskaya in Taldykorgan, Daulet Kanagatuly and Nikolai Tsoy in Almaty The authorities in Kazakstan are investigating local officials on possible charges of allowing a dam to burst and failing to evacuate people living downstream when there was a serious risk of flooding. Eyewitnesses said they saw a wall of water rising three metres high as it rushed down a river in the eastern district of Aqsu, smashing into the village of Kyzylagash just after ten in the evening of March 11 and leaving massive devastation in its wake. An IWPR journalist who visited the scene soon afterwards saw homes in ruins, cars wrecked and trees uprooted by the force of the floodwaters. When this report was published, officials were saying 40 people were known to have died and several dozen more were unaccounted for. Local people interviewed by IWPR believed the death toll was significantly higher, with one Kyzylagash resident saying she visited a morgue to identify a dead relative and saw around 100 bodies there. Police prevented an IWPR reporter entering the morgue to check the claim, saying they had been instructed not to let anyone in. However, an official from the Almaty provincial government told IWPR that more people had died than had been confirmed to date. Local people say around 4,000 people were living there, and 1,119 were evacuated. So where are the rest? said the official, who did not want to be named. Where are the passengers from the bus going from Oskemen to Almaty who were having dinner in a roadside cafe? The bus itself has been found, swept downstream by the floodwaters, he added. Other sources give a lower figure for the number of people recorded as living in Kyzylagash the ministry for emergencies said there were around 3,000 residents, while the official news agency KazTAG cited 2,240. Almaty region, where the village is located, held a day of mourning on March 15. Southern and eastern parts of Kazakstan experienced unusually heavy snow over the winter, and as temperatures rise, flooding and mudslides have become widespread. In this case, however, the government clearly suspects that human error aggravated the risks created by nature. At a cabinet meeting on March 13, interrupted by a minutes silence to remember the victims, President Nursultan Nazarbaev said anyone found to have contributed to the tragedy would face penalties. The president ordered a special government commission to deal with the aftermath of the devastation, headed by Deputy Prime Minister Aset Isekeshev. According to a press release which the Kazak interior ministry issued on March 15, the authorities have taken five men into custody the head of Kyzylagashs village council, the deputy head of the Almaty regional department for emergencies and his counterpart in Aqsu district, and the directors of two private companies, one of which owns the reservoir while the other controls water distribution in the area. The prosecution service in Almaty region has opened a criminal case in which two offences have been cited negligence and failure to act. IWPR was only able to reach one of the lawyers for the accused, who denied any wrongdoing on the part of his client one of the company officials in detention with regard to the way the reservoir and dam were managed prior to the accident. The structure has been in private hands for more than a decade. People have been working to supply several villages with water. If it hadnt been for the accident it would have carried on that way, said the lawyer, who refuse to give either his own name or that of his client, for fear of being accused of prejudicing the case. I have copies of documents relating to a site inspection by officials from the emergencies department and the hygiene and epidemiological service. Everything was in order and there were no irregularities, technical or sanitary. He concluded, Once again, people are being accused because they are in the firing line, not because of something they have done, he said. Water engineer Yury Zemlyanov said the dam was fitted with an emergency sluice system that if activated, could have prevented it rupturing. This did not happen, and residents of Kyzylagash say they did not receive a flood warning when the water behind the dam was rising to dangerous levels. Local teacher Sayra Asylbaeva said she left the village a few hours before the dam broke, after hearing worrying rumours about the reservoir. We were ashamed to be leaving others behind, but we did warn people whom we knew that the water might be coming, she said. Those who werent aware stayed at home with their families. Now theyre dead. Another villager, Zina Kalieva, said her family escaped only because their neighbours received a call from Taldykorgan, the administrative centre of Almaty province, warning them that the dam was about to burst. It was only when it was night, after wed been up to our waists in water, and calling out to each other in the darkness, that we managed to get to the highway with great difficulty, she said. A local man who would not give his name said villagers had been asking for some time for water to be released through the dam sluices to relieve the pressure. A month ago, local residents were saying they should let the water out. But they didnt do that, and now the village has been swept away, he said. Like several other villagers interviewed by IWPR, this man said that shortly before the dam burst, local officials were telling people not to panic as everything was under control. Many of those who obeyed and stayed behind are dead, he said. However, the defence lawyer interviewed by IWPR said he had meteorological office data that showed rainfall levels had been unusually high. This, he argued, could have meant that water levels in the reservoir rose so rapidly that the defendants now being accused of negligence would have had no time to take preventive measures. Officials say 146 houses in Kyzylagash were completely destroyed and another 251 damaged, although the Almaty provincial official to whom IWPR spoke said this figure did not include buildings that people had put up without obtaining planning permission. Around one-third of Kyzylagashs residents are ethnic Kazaks who have moved to the country from neighbouring Central Asian states, Mongolia and China, under a government-sponsored resettlement programme. The official said it tended to be members of this group who did not go through the process of registering new buildings with the authorities. The deputy governor of Almaty region, Amanandyk Batalov, said in a statement released on March 14 that families were returning to the village, where they would stay in the local school for the moment. Other evacuated families were being provided with temporary shelter either nearby or in Taldykorgan. Batalov said households were receiving a cash payment worth around 3,400 US dollars, plus drinking water, fuel and fodder for their livestock. Meanwhile, teams of workers are clearing rubble so that work on new homes can get under way, and are also repairing the main road which connects Kazakstans financial capital Almaty with the city of Oskemen (Ust-Kamenogorsk). A temporary detour for the road has been created. Yana Bachevskaya, Daulet Kanagatuly and Nikolai Tsoy are IWPR-trained journalists in Kazakstan. KYRGYZ GOVERNMENT BACKS MICROCREDITS FOR FARMERS Attempts to boost agriculture funding are welcome, but not enough, say experts. By Asyl Osmonalieva in Bishkek A new Kyrgyz government-backed microcredit organisation lending to small-scale subsistence farmers has been welcomed as an attempt to boost the countrys flagging agriculture, but some critics say its interest rates are too high and more needs to be done to turn the industry around. The microcredit company AUB-Agro, a joint venture between a state agency and a private bank, will channel government resources into a fund to issue affordable loans. AUB-Agro started operations on February 15, timed for the start of the sowing season. It is granting loans of up to 120,000 soms (2,700 US dollars) at a maximum annual interest rate of 23 per cent and for periods between four and 24 months, officials say. And the decision to issue a loan is quick - within a week of receiving the application. The director of AUB-Agro, Rifat Utyushev, said the interest rate is lower than that offered by other microcredit lenders, whose rates start from 25-30 per cent. He said AUB-Agros actual lending rate would come down to 20 per cent with bonuses for timely repayment. No collateral is needed, as is the case with some other lenders, but farmers must give a guarantee provided by a relative or a third party. In an interview posted on the website of Open Kyrgyzstan, a media project funded by the Soros Foundation, Utyushev said, We wanted to finance the poorest group. A majority of our farmers have plots of no more than one or two hectares. They work the land with the help of family members without hiring labour, just to be able to provide for themselves. Seventy per cent of all loans provided by AUB-Agro are earmarked for this category of farmers. The funding is for their immediate needs during the sowing season, such as seed and fertiliser purchases and labour costs that can be repaid within one season. The remaining 30 per cent of AUB-Agro lending is in loans above 120,000 soms. These will be offered at a rate less than 20 per cent but will require collateral. The chief executive of the Development Fund of Kyrgyzstan, former prime minister Igor Chudinov, said the farming is high on the governments agenda, Developing agriculture, creating conditions for higher standards of living in the provinces, and providing food security are priority tasks for the Kyrgyz leadership and for the Development Fund in particular. Agriculture, which employs 65 per cent of Kyrgyzstans population, contributes 22 per cent to the countrys gross domestic product. The Development Fund is managed by a new body set up recently to oversee economic planning, the Central Agency for Development, Investments and Innovations, whose head is President Kurmanbek Bakievs son Maxim. Maxim Bakiev has said other measures to support agriculture will include setting quotas for guaranteed purchases through the state procurement agency Agroprodkorporatsia and introducing a leasing system for farm machinery through a state company. In the southern part of Kyrgyzstan, where the sowing seasons starts earlier than in the rest of the country, AUB-Agro has already made loans of four million soms, the bodys head of marketing for the area, Luiza Mamarasulova, said. Some experts said that although microcredits are a welcome development, the dismal state of Kyrgyzstans farming sector means that the interest rate, said by the government to be the lowest on the market, is still a burden for farmers and puts them at risk of bankruptcy. They also say that wide-ranging reforms including long-term funding, developing a food processing industry and creating larger farms are needed to achieve the stated aim of improving living standards in the countryside and providing food security. The sector has been the victim of long-term neglect and reforms needed to be better thought through, they say. Mirbek Mamatkasym-Uulu, manager of the Osh office of the microcredit company Elet-Kapital, agreed that one thing that makes the AUB-Agro deal different is that no other lender would make loans of the size it offers without collateral. But aside from this point, similar conditions can be obtained from other lenders, he said. He said that although agriculture was not a priority area for Kyrgyzstans 22 commercial banks and 300 microcredit companies, the majority would lend to the agriculture sector and offered different types of loans including loans without collateral. The state-owned Ayil Bank, for example, offered competitive rates which could work out as low as 12 per cent for farmers. In Mamatkasym-Uulus view, farmers will have no prospect of improving their lives unless interest rates go down to the 12-18 per cent range. An official from the agriculture ministry agreed that AUB-Agros rates, although advertised as the lowest on the market, are still high and a different solution is required, What should be taken into account is that the specific nature of agriculture requires long-term financing with lower rates. In an interview with IWPR, economics professor Ayilchy Sarybaev expressed similar views, saying the agriculture sector needs large-scale reforms, state subsidies and long-term loans at low rates. We have around 340,000 small farms with different levels of development and prosperity. We do not have a clear policy or strategy for developing the sector, no reforms and without that, any help for the sector will be like a one-off injection, he said. Sarybaev also noted an increase in the number of microcredit lenders ready to accept guarantees, avoiding the bureaucracy of collateral. Koichubek Chynybaev, deputy head of agriculture in the Jayil district of the northern Chuy region, said the government-backed microcredit would provide much-needed cash, particularly during the sowing season. He said that growers, now that they have access to cash, can buy seed from private farms, whereas previously they were forced to buy from the agriculture ministry at a high price but on credit. Competition between farms [selling seed] will increase and as a result they will be forced to reduce prices, he said. There was a mixed response to the governments microfinance initiative among farmers, depending on whether their businesses were profitable or not. In the town of Karabalta, Nurjan Argymov, aged 32, breeds cattle, and the butcher shop he has opened at the local market is doing well. He took out a three-year-loan from Ayil Bank at an interest rate of 23 per cent and is planning to expand. Having learned about the governments funding programme, he wants to find out more, Next year I am planning to take another loan to increase my livestock and to set up a sausage making unit. But one farmer in Panfilovka in Jayil district, who gave his name as Kanybek, grows sugar beet, which is not a profitable crop, said that some years ago he took a loan and struggled to pay it off. Now his family survives by renting out their plot of land. He has heard about the new microcredits but is not rushing to get a loan and has decided to wait another year to see how things develop. This year [the government] is promising to support beet growers but Im most probably going to rent out again, said Kanybek, adding that the land rent would not bring a profit, merely avoid him going bankrupt. Asyl Osmonalieva is an IWPR-trained journalist in Kyrgyzstan. **** www.iwpr.net ******************************************************************** REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA provides the international community with a unique insiders' perspective on the region. Using our network of local journalists, the service publishes news and analysis from across Central Asia on a weekly basis. The service forms part of IWPR's Central Asia Project based in Almaty, Bishkek, Tashkent and London, which supports media development and encourages better local and international understanding of the region. 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