TOUGH TIMES FOR KAZAK MEDIA FREEDOM  More restrictive legislation on
the way, experts warn.  By Almaz Rysaliev

indicators look good, but broader picture is less appealing.  By Pyotr

veteran leaders leave the stage is greatest risk factor for region's
stability, leading American expert says.  By Dina Tokbaeva


KYRGYZSTAN'S NEW LEADER SWORN IN   President Atambaev shares
inauguration ceremony stage with his predecessor as head of state – a
first for Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia generally.  By Timur Toktonaliev

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More restrictive legislation on the way, experts warn.

By Almaz Rysaliev

The coming year will see a downward spiral for media freedom in
Kazakstan, with a bill allowing greater state control of broadcasting
and a restrictive information security law, a prominent media rights
campaigner says,

Tamara Kaleeva, who heads Kazakstan’s leading media rights group Adil
Soz, warns that the two bills reinforce an official drive to exert
tighter control over various parts of the media; an efforts that has
been going on for some years.

In Kaleeva’s words, 2012 will be a “black year” for freedom of expression.

The broadcasting law is currently before parliament and is expected to
be approved by the end of this year. The information bill – ostensibly
part of efforts to curb religious extremism – is being considered by
the government and is likely to be passed next year.

Kaleeva was speaking to IWPR during a media forum held to discuss the
problems facing journalists in Kazakstan, on December 5-6 in country’s
second largest city, Almaty.

The event was organised by the opposition newspaper Respublika with
the support of the Soros Foundation-Kazakstan and the OSCE Centre in
Astana. Other partners included including Adil Soz, IWPR, Freedom
House-Kazakstan and MediaNet.

Kaleeva said the government has spent 2011 preparing the ground for a
renewed onslaught on free expression. Last year, its hands were tied
because Kazakstan was chair of the Organisation for Security and
Coooperation in Europe, and as such was under more international

The broadcast bill envisages a monopoly operator taking charge of all
radio and TV frequencies. The role has been earmarked for the state
broadcaster Kazakteleradio.

Broadcasters and media rights groups warn that the result will be a
sector completely monopolised by the state, and that this will place
new limitations on media freedom as well as stifling enterprise,
undermining competition, and leaving consumers with less choice than

Officials say the bill seeks to support locally-made television and
radio programming, promote Kazak-language material, shield children
from adult-content media, and introduce sign-language output.

In 2009, Kazakstan’s media law was changed to make internet content
subject to the same controls that apply to conventional print and
broadcast media.

The information security bill is a response to the threat of
terrorism, according to Kaleeva.

On November 12, a shooting spree by a suspected Islamic militant took
place in southern Kazakstan. The assailant killed seven people and
finally blew himself up.

The incident was the latest in a series of attacks in Kazakstan over
the last six months. In late October, two explosions hit the western
city of Atyrau when a local man blew himself up, and a second blast
occurred in a rubbish container. No one else was hurt.

In mid-May, a 25-year old man blew himself up at the security
service’s headquarters in the city of Aktobe, also in western
Kazakstan. It has been described as Kazakstan’s first suicide bombing.

In Kaleeva’s view, the government’s failure to counter the threat has
led it to fall back on the tried-and-tested method of slapping a blank
ban on anything that could be a conduit for extremist ideology.

“First and foremost, that means the media,” she added.

One particularly controversial section of the bill suggests that
“information that prompts a negative public reaction” amounts to
“undermining national security”.

On this point, Kaleeva said, “If this wording of this provision –
which refers any kind of critical information, even to statistics
presented in a critical way – is adopted in its current form, it will
finally bury media freedom, probably for many years to come.”

Other media analysts say the authorities have been steadily tightening
their control over the media since Kazakstan became independent, apart
from the first few years when private media flourished and independent
outlets proliferated.

“The government’s persecution of private media and of journalists who
criticise it, and the obstructions to circulating such newspapers go
back ten or 15 years,” well-known journalist Sergei Duvanov said.

He noted that Respublika newspaper is currently under the same kind of
pressure. At the insistence of the authorities, no printing house in
Kazakstan is willing to touch it, so copies are printed in Russia and
transported to Kazakstan.

Duvanov said internet freedom, too, has been gradually eroded in
similar fashion since 2000, with any site critical of the authorities
blocked in Kazakstan. These days, the government is armed with
draconian laws allowing it to use legal means to block hundreds of
websites, he added.

The authorities say some regulation of the internet is essential to
prevent people accessing pornography and extremist propaganda. Their
critics argue that the legislation is a tool for political censorship
of the web.

Duvanov says the administration is single-minded about its aim –
maintaining the rule of President Nursultan Nazarbaev, who has run
Kazakstan for more than two decades.

“What does one need to do to achieve that? Make sure the public knows
as little of the truth as possible,” Duvanov said.

Kaleeva agreed that the authorities have successfully achieved the aim
of keeping the number of troublesome media outlets to the media, and
making them subject to restrictions that prevent them from reaching a
wider audience.

As Kaleeva concluded, the legacy of 20 years since Kazakstan became
independent is that “realistically, the number of truly independent,
courageous media outlets is very small.”

Almaz Rysaliev is IWPR editor in Kazakstan.


Top-line economic indicators look good, but broader picture is less appealing.

By Pyotr Svoik

In the 20 years since Kazakstan became a sovereign state, exploitation
of its massive oil reserves have been crucial to turning it from a
Soviet republic into a country that has embraced the market economy
and attracted significant foreign investment.

However, the government’s failure to diversify the economy over this
period has left Kazakstan dependent on the vagaries of global
commodity markets.

As the world economy looks set to dip into further recession following
the failure to recover from the recent financial crisis, the prospects
for an oil-dependent Kazakstan over the next five to ten years do not
look good.

The rise in oil prices over the last decade has brought Kazakstan rich
export revenues, but the downside has been that this has allowed
policymakers to sit back and enjoy the income without turning their
minds to economic structural imbalances.

If a global economic slowdown reduces demand for oil and thus the
price, Kazakstan will suffer a cut in the revenues on which its entire
economic, financial and social system is built.

As Kazakstan’s independence day approaches on December 16, the
authorities are keen to stress the country’s achievements to date,
particularly on the economy.

In his annual address at the beginning of this year, President
Nursultan Nazarbaev cited the growth of gross domestic product, GDP,
per capita – seen as an indicator of a country’s standard of living –
as a sign of how things had improved since independence. Per capita
GDP now exceeded 9,000 US dollars, he said.

While the arithmetic is undoubtedly accurate, other yardsticks for
living standards – health and education spending and economic
disparities – as well as the composition of GDP itself are less

The World Health Organisation recommends that government spending on
health should be equivalent to at least five or six per cent of GDP.
In Kazakstan, the figure is 3.7 per cent, a third of what high-income
countries like Germany spend, and less than some other former Soviet
states. Russia, for example, spends the equivalent of 5.4 per cent of
GDP on healthcare.

Spending on education is similarly meagre at the equivalent of 3.6 per
cent of GDP.

Another standard-of-living measure on which Kazakstan sits far behind
the more advanced economies is the ratio of wages to GDP. In
Kazakstan, it is about a sixth of GDP whereas in a prosperous country
one would expect it to be 50 per cent or more.

In most developed economies, more than three-quarters of GDP is
generated by human and technological capital, with natural resources
accounting for the rest. The composition of Kazakstan’s GDP is more or
less exactly the reverse, with crude oil and metal extraction
accounting for the bulk of it. Some 70 billion out of a total GDP
figure of 150 billion dollars is generated by oil and metals; add to
that the construction and transport inputs for those sectors, and you
are close to a situation where three-quarters of GDP is attributable
to extractive industries alone.

The dynamics of imports and exports are also those of a less developed
economy. Around three-quarters of what Kazakstan produces is not for
domestic consumption, and the country imports almost half of the items
it does consume.

If commodity prices continue their upward trend, the trade balance
will continue to favour Kazakstan. But that cannot be taken as a
given. There will always be demand for oil and metals, but a downward
adjustment in prices will be a blow to Kazakstan, and also to the
government’s ability to spend its way out of crisis. That could pose a
risk to social and political as well as economic and financial

In the last 20 years, Kazakstan has joined the ranks of the top 20 oil
producing nations. But the oil money has not trickled down to ordinary
people, and other economic sectors have not developed in parallel. The
current structure of GDP and government expenditure suggests a failure
to make the most of Kazakstan’s resource wealth and build a solid
foundation for the future.

Pyotr Svoik sits on the governing board of the National Social
Democratic Party of Kazakstan, and head of the non-government Anti-
Monopoly Commission for Almaty.


Managing succession when veteran leaders leave the stage is greatest
risk factor for region's stability, leading American expert says.

By Dina Tokbaeva

John Schoeberlein is currently a visiting professor at the Eurasian
National University in the Kazak capital Astana, on a year's leave
from his position as lecturer in the Department of Anthropology at
Harvard University.

IWPR interviewed Schoeberlein while he was in Kyrgyzstan speaking at a
conference called “Twenty Years of Central Asian Independence: Shared
Past, Separate Paths?”, organised by the American University in
Central Asia in Bishkek.

Schoeberlein is a long-time observer of post-independence Central
Asia, researching national identity, the role of Islam, and other

IWPR: How different are the Central Asian republics now from the way
they were 20 years ago?

John Schoeberlein: At the time they gained independence, the countries
in the region were almost at the same starting point. It is striking
how many differences there are now; how the paths they took altered
and diverged.

People often speak of a process of convergence – a turn towards
authoritarianism in all countries in the region. I think that in some
ways that’s true, but still the differences are remarkable. Even if
there are leaders who aspire to authoritarianism, the opportunities
for this vary from country to country.

In Turkmenistan, there’s never been any effective opposition, and that
makes for a rather different picture even compared with Uzbekistan.
And that leaves a legacy, in terms of how the government behaves.

If we take the case of Kyrgyzstan, where because of a variety of
circumstances you’ve had a much more open system, a much more diverse
set of political actors participating in a real competition for
positions and so on – that affects the way the country will develop in
future, no matter what orientation any given leader might have.

It also really affects the climate for development, not just
politically but in many senses. So for example, the academic
environment is much more open in Kyrgyzstan than in any other Central
Asian country.

Kazakstan has been blessed with resources that have allowed it to
develop, but which also have some other effects that aren’t always
positive. In the case of Kazakstan, there’s been a consistent effort
by the state to exert control over many spheres of life. That has
constrained the development of journalism, the political process, and
even academia.

Tajikistan’s capacity was severely destroyed by the [1992-97] civil
war experience. For a while the state did not intervene in many
spheres, but it gradually increased its ability to intervene.

IWPR: What external political and economic influences dominate Central
Asia today? Are the links still with Russia, or is it China these

Schoeberlein: That’s difficult to say. China looms large in the
region, and its economic power makes it a force to be reckoned with.
But I don’t believe China is oriented towards projecting tremendous
political influence in this region, except to the extent needed for
its own economic and security concerns. So its ambitions will be much
more limited than those of Russia.

Russia will continue to play a role because of its proximity to
Central Asia. It has much more capacity to influence things here. And
we shouldn’t forget that Central Asians remain very oriented towards
Russia in a variety of senses, above all labour migration. The way
people in Central Asia think about the world is very much connected
with the view coming out of Russia, whose media have a huge impact.

IWPR: What about the growing role of Islam in Central Asia?

Schoeberlein: All across the region we see an increasing orientation
towards Islam among wide parts of the population. It’s not oriented
towards political goals, but more focused on social, moral and
personal issues.

Here I am not talking about what we tend to call radical Islam. I
don’t see those things as being connected. The radicalisation which is
going on is much more connected with the problem of those governments
and the sense of unjust distribution of resources among the people.

The problem comes when Islam is seen as the only avenue for political
expression. The situation only grows worse when a state acts against
Islam, limits activity related to Islam, and creates confrontation
between the state and those people who would like to become committed
to Islam.

IWPR: Do you see differences between the ways that Central Asian
governments are handling Islam?

In this regard, there is much less difference between them than one
might expect. And the reason is that leaderships of all Central Asian
states have very strong – I would say Soviet – instincts on the issue
of religion and society. They view religion, especially Islamic
religion, as being very dangerous.

On one hand, they want to embrace Islam as the national heritage and
they’re happy to celebrate the anniversary of important Islamic
figures who came from their territory. But at the same time, they view
Islam as a difficult-to-control social force that ordinary people
might be mobilised around. They see it as very dangerous and

So there is a symbolic embrace, but in practical terms, there is no
vision for what an Islamic role should be.

In part, this problem will die away. The people who maintain power at
the present time are the people who were formed under the Soviet
system, in which religion was viewed as very dangerous and very
backward. And their attitudes and instincts remain very powerful
today. But it will change with time, as a new generation comes to the
forefront of societies, a generation which will be much more
comfortable with Islam, or with some forms of Islamic expression.

IWPR: What about levels of official tolerance of people expressing
their religious beliefs?

Schoeberlein: In Uzbekistan, we have a very actively intervening
government which tries to prevent various kinds of Islamic activity.
And in parallel with that, in this country we have very strong and
sometimes quite radical forms of Islamic orientation, and people who
are formed in that environment of tension between Islamic observance
and the state.

We see that now Tajikistan is Islamic only in a limited way. It has a
legal Islamic party, but the government has effectively kept its role
very marginal and limited. That party has connections with broader
forces of civil society which has roots in the Civil War period when
there was some institutional development of Islamic institutions and
of leaders with charisma and public followings and so on.

You don’t have that in Kazakstan, where there is no public institution
of Islam that would be accorded popular authority.

In the case of Kyrgyzstan since there is a more open environment for
all kinds of different developments, including that of Islamic
institutions and groups. And the state’s desire to limit it is less

IWPR: Is the brain-drain that has affected all the post-independence
Central Asian states a risk for the future?

Schoeberlein: Yes, it’s a real risk. It’s something Central Asia has
been going through since 1992, when there was a very well-educated
population and a rather flourishing intellectual elite that was
oriented towards the world and trying to understand it better.

Unfortunately, the areas where bright people flourish – for example
higher education – have narrowed and there is little support from the
state, so people don’t get paid very well and the best people don’t
want to be there. It’s difficult to remain – it isn’t that you have to
hide it, but being bright and education-oriented has so few rewards
associated with it.

This is less true of Kyrgyzstan, but in the other Central Asian
countries, educational institutions are themselves quite corrupt, so
the rewards are not for being a good thinker or a good teacher, but
for being a good bribe-taker. Those who have the determination to
prioritise teaching really well and doing serious scholarship get
little reward for this. There are other negative trends as well, for
example in Kyrgyzstan, where the rise of nationalism is very
anti-intellectual and discourages openness to the wider world.

Turkmenistan and Tajikistan both present very negative scenarios. In
the case of Turkmenistan, the state itself acted very systematically
to destroy the intellectual sphere, apparently on the premise that
intellectuals are trouble-makers so it’s better not to have them.

Tajikistan’s civil war had a devastating effect on so many things. As
a result, there is a missing generation of scholars and intellectuals.
Some people went abroad for their education, but local institutions
almost completely lost their intellectual potential. We have an older
generation that was trained in the Soviet conditions, but there isn’t
much to replace them. This affects many things, like the public
discourse that you can have in a society.

If discourses are being driven more by political considerations than
the efforts of thinkers and leading intellectuals, then they can
potentially be quite dangerous for a country. We can see that in the
case of Kyrgyzstan, where the nationalist discourse among
intellectuals has become quite strong. I don’t think it’s going to
provide any solutions, but it’s certainly attractive to a lot of
people, and it’s going to generate greater tensions in the country.

Another part of what is driving people out of intellectual spheres is
the dominance of the previous generation. There is a real tension
between the older generation and those who are open to borrowing from
the West or suggest improvements in the way things are done. Those
people have been heavily discouraged because the senior generation
still has tremendous influence. We’re reaching a point where those
people will inevitably move out of the picture, and depending on which
country we’re talking about, this change will probably come quite

I’d like to believe it will happen sooner in Kazakhstan and
Kyrgyzstan. These countries have been quite open to interaction, there
are lots of people studying abroad, and there is a real flourishing of
a generation that can replace previous ones.

In Turkmenistan, there’s nobody to fill that role – there is no rising
intellectual group. The ground has been completely closed out except
for a few people studying abroad, in other former Soviet countries, in
the United States, or wherever. These people will have difficulty
being accepted and establishing themselves when they come back.

In Uzbekistan there’s been an effective exclusion or isolation of
intellectual movements. Throughout the 1990s, there was relative
openness, which led to higher expectations and some real flourishing
in intellectual spheres. But in the last ten years, we’ve seen a
closing of that space and the exclusion of people who want to play
those roles. That’s a real setback.

It’s hard to say how long it’s going to take for a new intellectual
elite to rise in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, as we don’t know what’s
going to happen next. You can compare them with Myanmar [Burma], a
country that’s been extremely closed and controls its intellectuals
very tightly. But in spite of that you have the emergence of some
influential intellectuals, even though they’ve only been able to play
a very limited role.

We can’t just say that it’s inevitable that intellectuals will
eventually emerge – it could be this will be prevented forever. North
Korea is an example of a country where there’s probably nobody that
represents that trend. But I don’t think Uzbekistan will follow that
path, as it’s too open to the outside world structurally.

IWPR: Given that some Central Asia leaders have stayed in power since
independence, succession is a problem in the region. To what extent
will this have an impact on stability?

Schoeberlein: I believe that the greatest concern for stability in the
region is precisely associated with the problem of succession. Leaders
have concentrated their efforts on ensuring their personal continuity
in the leadership, as opposed to building institutions that can ensure
a stable transition of power.

The leaders of some of the Central Asian countries are quite old, and
they will have to pass on power to someone in future. The question of
transition to the next leadership could be a painful process in a
place like Uzbekistan, since the political process itself is very
closed. There is no obvious person who has been set up to fill the

In Kazakstan, I would say the succession is likely to be more smooth
and is also very likely to yield to a more enlightened leadership
amenable to a more open political system and greater openness of
information. The values that support a more open society have,
relatively speaking, flourished in Kazakstan, whereas they haven’t
done so in Uzbekistan, as a lot of the people in power are very
skeptical about whether it’s a good idea to have an open society.

Other potentially destabilising factors, such as inter-regional and
ethnic tensions, the gap between the haves and have-nots, Islamist
mobilisation, and foreign powers' efforts to intervene, can very
easily be drawn into the struggle for power among members of the power
elite that is likely to ensue in the moment of succession following
the current leaders’ demise. This problem is present in all of the
Central Asian countries, to one extent or another, inasmuch as they
all have factions within the elite that can mobilise against one
another, tapping into these factors of instability to further their
bid for power.

IWPR: What is the general mood among people in Central Asia today –
what do they think about their own countries?

Schoeberlein: In Kazakstan, there are large segments of the population
who have a sense that the country is generally flourishing. But
there’s another segment of population that has an absolutely different
view and they have no confidence in their government as they believe
it’s very corrupt.

If you take Uzbekistan, throughout the 1990s it was able to present
itself as an up-and-coming country rapidly moving towards a better
kind of modernity. But now, while the economy is in such bad shape,
there are so many of Uzbekistan’s citizens who see there’s no future
for them within their country.

The feeling of uncertainty about the future is especially true in
Kyrgyzstan, because there is a fear that none of those in leadership
is able to provide stability.

On the other hand, people in Central Asia in general are not so
philosophical. They tend to think more about how to earn a living, how
their children can be successfully married. For example, lots of
Kyrgyz people are now travelling to Russia, making good money, and
they’re able to support their families. And this is true in most parts
of the region – while the 1990s were a period of great disruption and
people were barely surviving in many places, now they have worked out
ways to manage in difficult circumstances.

Dina Tokbaeva is IWPR Central Asia editor in Bishkek.



President Atambaev shares inauguration ceremony stage with his
predecessor as head of state – a first for Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia

By Timur Toktonaliev

In the first democratic handover of power in any Central Asian state,
Almazbek Atambaev was sworn in as president of Kyrgyzstan on December

Elected on October 30, Atambaev previously served as prime minister in
the interim administration of 2010-11. In a nod to the political
turbulence, ethnic violence and economic difficulties of the last year
or so, and the challenges lying ahead, he called for unity and
promised that life would get better in three or four years’ time. (See
also New Kyrgyz Leader to Reach Out to Opponents.)

Atambaev takes over from Roza Otunbaeva, the first head of state in
the region to step away from power voluntarily. As acting president
following the ousting of Kurmanbek Bakiev in April last year,
Otunbaeva was not legally entitled to stand in this election – but
then again, most other Central Asian leaders have changed the rules as
they go along to retain their grip on power.

Although Atambaev is seen as close to Moscow, Russian president Dmitry
Medvedev did not come for the inauguration ceremony, and nor did the
man expected to attend in his place, presidential office chief Sergei

The arrival of a lower-level delegation from such a key strategic
partner raised a few eyebrows. Some commentators believe the Russians
stayed away because Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili was present
at the event. Moscow’s relationship with Saakashvili went from cool to
frosty after a brief war in 2008.

Timur Toktonaliev is IWPR editor for Kyrgyzstan.

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REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA provides the international community with a
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The service forms part of IWPR's Central Asia Project based in Almaty,
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IWPR's Reporting Central Asia is supported by the UK Community Fund.
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The opinions expressed in Reporting Central Asia are those of the
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REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA: Editor-in-Chief: Anthony Borden; Senior Editor
and Acting Managing Editor: John MacLeod; Central Asia Programme
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