Below Campaign Kazakhstan reprints the recent Moscow News editorial – the original can be seen here
Nazarbayev’s dirty Olympic secret
While Kazakh cyclist Alexander Vinokourov was making headlines in London this weekend by winning an unlikely gold medal, the country’s authoritarian president was also in town, facing an even tougher assignment.
Nursultan Nazarbayev, whose family has become fabulously wealthy from Kazakhstan’s mineral resources, was seeking to clean up his regime’s image with a series of high-level meetings – seven months after his riot police carried out a bloody massacre of at least 70 workers in the oil town of Zhanaozen.
Nazarbayev met with Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister David Cameron. Besides attending the Olympic opening ceremony, Nazarbayev also found time for talks on upcoming IPOs and other deals, meeting with the Lord Mayor of the City of London and leading British investors in Kazakhstan: British Gas, Shell, HSBC and PWC.
On Nazarbayev’s schedule, too, was a meeting with ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is working for him as a consultant for 8 million pounds ($12.7 million) a year to promote investment in Kazakhstan. He even enjoyed a cozy chat with Jonathan Aitken, a disgraced British ex-minister under Margaret Thatcher who recently wrote a flattering biography of Nazarbayev.
The reason for the flurry of PR whitewashing activity is not that hard to fathom. Back in Kazakhstan, 2,000 oil workers in Zhanaozen last week braved martial law conditions to stage a two-hour strike and rally to protest the jailing of 13 of their fellow workers currently appealing long prison sentences for resisting the regime’s crackdown.
This protest comes on top of a wave of successful strikes by workers in other parts of Kazakhstan that won pay raises for ArcelorMittal steel workers and Kazakhmys copper miners. Also, independent trade union Zhanartu and Socialist Movement Kazakhstan, increasingly the main opposition to Nazarbayev, are leading an international campaign to free leading human rights activist Vadim Kuramshin, who faces a prison sentence of up to 15 years for exposing corruption in the judicial system.
Despite the promises to skeptical investors that their money is safe with him, the City of London must be wondering how long Nazarbayev will last amid a rising tide of discontent. The next few months could well prove decisive.