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POLITICAL "SHARCO SHOWERS"

Dosym Satpayev

The President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, as a precautionary measure likes to arrange, on a defined regime, political “Sharco showers” for the brotherhood of functionaries and the local oligarchs.

The country, for the past month and a half, has experienced a triple shock, beginning with the revelation of the extremely high wages of some of our top managers [in state-owned companies]. This was followed by the tragic deaths of 41 miners [at Mittal Steel Timertau]. And, at last, ended with the realization of ever more children infected with [tainted blood containing] HIV in South-Kazakhstan Oblast (SKO). This last event ultimately resulted in the resignation of the Health Minister and the Akim (governor) of SKO. Through their negligence, these two caused serious damage to the reputation of the authorities. Some individuals within which became fussy, and started publicly blaming each other [for the tragedy], without any attempt to try to persuade the community that the problem was well in hand. To all appearances, this once again convinced Mr. Nazarbayev that reforming the state apparatus is quite crucial. Another question is that measures taken in punishing four officials [in this last incident], by removing them from their positions is, frankly speaking, incomparably disproportionate to the disaster that occurred. Again, there is a suspicion that the system is ready to forgive anyone, as long as the individual in question is not in opposition to it [the system]. In considering the wages for top managers in national companies, I do not think that the numbers revealed turned out to be much of a revelation to anyone, especially those in the country’s government. The fact that now everyone has started to announce this information publicly is not merely fortuitous, especially in such a bureaucratic world. Some representatives of the elite, it is quite possible, decided to set up the others in the struggle for such excellent positions. On the other hand, all of this can be fit into the framework of the trend related to strengthening control over the activities of state-operated companies. The first step was the creation of Samruk Holding Company, for the management of state assets. Now, the populace is obviously being shown, through the example of the covetous nature of the leaders of these companies, why Samruk was formed. Yet, these state managers will most likely be spared from suffering too much as a result of this. Eventually, the fact that they have been holding senior positions in national companies for quite some time proves that they have rather powerful patrons in the presidential circle, who could always toss a lifeline to their “clients”. However, from the point of view of the state’s interests, the more efficient outcome in the struggle with these national companies and their shark’s appetite would simply be the creation of a truly competitive environment in Kazakhstan within the spheres in which these companies have been decaying in the finest monopolistic style. However, only a limited number of Kazakhstanis, as it turns out, were living the life of Riley. These people, being monopolists, were trying to earn money by the sweat of their brow, first for themselves, and only then for the state, while others were dying for KZT 30,000-40,000 [per month]. 2006 has turned out to be disturbingly fruitful for various outbursts regarding social dissatisfaction, which sharply contrasts with the constantly declared [official] statement on stability and nationwide economic growth. A conflict occurred in the Shanyrak district [bordering on Almaty], civil disorder in Aktau, and the recent miner strike in Karaganda. Despite the differing reasons, as well as the participants, all these events evidence a great number of defects existing in Kazakhstan, which at the time could not be resolved, even if the will to do so had been available. Currently, all of the neglected issues are starting to break through, but in a more dangerous form. Taking into account the protests of the miners, we can say that the conditions they have set are quite fair for such a country, which ostensibly intends to enter the list of the fifty most competitive countries worldwide. Thousands of people working in other enterprises would agree with those demands. People want a decent salary equal to the level of their hard work and personal risk. Moreover, they bring a greater contribution to the growth of the nation’s GDP than those leaders of state-owned companies who have recently been disgraced by the salary scandal, having received remuneration that could feed [those workers of] at least one entire mine. The miners are correct in demanding that pension legislation should be changed, as it seems to have been developed by someone who never considered the mining industry. As a result of this, miners and all those working in hazardous conditions have been placed on the same footing as the rest of the citizens of the country as regards retirement age. All this has been stated before, usually following some fatal tragedy. Yet, this time the issue has become quite uncontrollable, forcing the owners of enterprises and the authorities to consider the possibility that this boiling kettle might explode. What the miners, and indeed the entire proletariat in the service of foreign investors, require is actually the result of two serious problems that remain unresolved, and whether or not they will indeed be worked out remains unclear. In the first case, the trade unions of all these enterprises remain quite weak. They formally exist in the role of an appendix, which could be cut out at any time. The government is proud of the volume of foreign investment attract to the country, and the number of foreign investors themselves. Yet, one can hardly say the same about the working conditions formed in those same oil & gas, mining, and other companies operating in the natural resource sector, which have been formally recognized as the flagships of Kazakhstani industry. In the second instance, there is a strange, selective approach by the authorities toward investors, who limit the options of some companies via application of innumerable ecological penalties, and strict adherence to labor conditions. Other companies are protected from the nation, which in the case of miners, causes them to die in droves for Mittal. But, that company will, sooner or later, go away, and the nation itself will remain. That is, if it survives. While one group tried to rival Bill Gate’s salary, another fought for its own survival, while for the remainder one of the oddest elections in the history of Kazakhstan was organized. Perhaps, many of the venerable citizens of Kazakhstan failed to notice, but in the country the elections for local akims (mayors) occurred at the very lowest levels. According to our Central Election Committee (CEC), in the nation “there has been an active election campaign,” which, judging by the available evidence, was only noticed by members of the CEC itself. These were really bizarre elections. One could not see the very candidates themselves, hear their election platforms, or speak with them as constituents. Ideally, all of this should not have occurred. Everything went quite according to ceremony and stateliness, as in a well rehearsed spectacle, in which the actors (that is the candidates for the akim positions of districts and cities) were chosen by the director, represented in the form of the oblast akim and the friendly chorus of the local maslikhat (city or district elected council), which, peculiar to them, made a final choice with “independence” and “directness”. The only problem is that the hole was half empty, as many citizens were unaware they were in the process of an election campaign. While those who were part of the event apathetically observed how everything unfolded, recalling the words of Ostap Bender, as addressed to “the father of Russian democracy”, who said that such people are alien to this festival of life. Here, we at once remember the ancient Romans, the real masters of political intrigue, whose maxims are alive and continue to be applied thousands of years later. Paraphrasing the famous writer Pliny the Younger that he who would govern everyone should be drawn from among the populace. However, this was hardly directed to the elections of akims, which could be considered as Kazakhstani “know how” in the area of national government. Really, how much money from the budget should be allocated, not to mention man hours, for such a purpose as thinking up a new form of election for the appointment of candidates in accordance to the principle, “We deliberated, and I decided.” Would it not have been easier to have left everything as it was. At least, that would have been cheaper, and there would not have been any reason for the resulting disappointment. The few who supposed that on the whole starting democracy from the bottom up was not such a bad idea, through which an opportunity for holding elections at the district and city levels could be provided, were unaware that the form could be distorted into something quite opposite. Additionally, that this model has a single party face was made quite clear, given the fact that most of the akims elected came from the Otan party, under the roof of which many of our regional bureaucrats work. On the whole, there was a feeling that the spectacle was held not for the domestic audience, but instead for an outside one. Really, there is a discussion on the candidacy of Kazakhstan for the chairmanship of the OSCE in 2009, but the country does not have too many democratic aces. Therefore, they needed to create the imitation of an active electoral process, in which they tried to feed the wolves, while not killing any sheep. What resulted from this could be seen in the summary of an OSCE session relating to questions of human dimension issues that took place in Poland. The primary task of this session was to consider fulfillment of obligations regarding human dimension implementation in all 56 of the member states of the organization, including Kazakhstan. This meeting was fairly important for our republic due to the abovementioned reasons. Yet, the Kazakhstani delegation, which included the Vice Minister of Culture and Information, who acted as the authorized representative on human rights, as well as experts from the Justice Ministry and Interior Affairs Ministry, went to the meeting well armed. The recent visit of Mr. Nazarbayev to the U.S. has not provided a definite answer to the question of whether or not Kazakhstan enjoys U.S. support in its bid for the chairmanship of the OSCE in 2009. In judging the evidence, many are starting to become inclined to the necessity of delaying Kazakhstan’s application until 2011, and that is only in the case of the republic fulfilling all of its obligations relating to the main principles of human dimension implementation. If a number of these principles included only rapid economic growth and an increase in the export of natural resources, we would have a much better chance. The basic problem is that the majority of the members of the OSCE and we are living in different human dimensions. They are, as always, interested in observing real advances of Kazakhstan in the sphere of political reform. However, we put our traditional accent on political stability within an interethnic and interfaith environment. In addition, this is an aspect about which the majority of other OSCE members cannot boast. Many of them are aware of the most recent amendments made to the law “On mass media”, which invoked a particularly negative outcry by some of the mass media and journalistic organizations of Kazakhstan. In his turn, the Vice Minister of Culture and Information is convincing everybody that such was done simply to fight against the lack of transparency among the mass media outlets, as well as the absence of distinct mechanisms for registration [of media organizations], the latter of which has caused innumerable infringements to active legislation. Judging by the evidence, our functionaries have learned confrontation. Another issue relates to how convincing their reasons are in the eyes of both open and hidden adversaries within the OSCE. As the latter may always criticize not only the political problems of Kazakhstan, but also the relatively low index for societal development, which caused the tragic situation in SKO. Eventually, having different points of view [between Kazakhstan and other OSCE members] makes understanding each other difficult. Misunderstanding is the first step in establishing distrust. We may suppose that in this ambitious, external political initiative of Kazakhstan, the other OSCE members will arrange their own sobering, cold “Sharco showers”. Mainly, this would be done for the benefit of the country. As they say, let them cover us with mud, as [in the end] it will provide us with its curative properties.

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