Andrei Prigor, Kokshetau, Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan came into the year 2015 carrying a heavy load of social, economic and political problems. A worsening of the situation had been seen in the year before, but the social and economic problems which affect the everyday lives of ordinary people have got more difficult to bear.
Kazakhstan’s economy is based on raw materials, especially oil, but its production methods are not competitive and the price of oil is falling on the world market. The problems in the economy are reflected in a worsening of the country’s internal social policies.
The population have had to suffer rocketing, uncontrolled price rises, big increases in the cost of utilities, cuts in jobs and pay and, as a result, a steep fall in general living standards.
Those hit hardest are the workers employed in the different spheres of production who make up the majority of the working population. In the last few months there has been a series of spontaneous strikes, particularly of workers in the Mangistau and Aktyubinsk areas representing the oil extraction industry.
The situation in the Zhezkazgan region has got significantly worse. The main employer there is the corporation, Kazakhmys, which extracts copper ore. The local people are very worried about the deteriorating situation, which includes cuts and lay-offs. The corporation is unwilling to bear the burden of paying for any of the social services in the region, with the result that the government has been forced to pay out subsidies from the national budget. It is a paradoxical situation where the corporation rakes in handsome profits and the cost of social needs is covered by the state. This is the way Kazakhmys operates. It is anyway a business enterprise run by and for government officials.
The recent ‘Law on trade unions’ adopted in Kazakhstan has severely limited the right of workers to organise themselves and, as a result, to defend themselves from both bosses and officials. Nevertheless, paradoxically, this law has pushed workers more in the direction of protest action. It is no secret to anyone that relations between workers and bosses are not established in the realms of law but in the context of the pressure from above and the superior position of the bosses. State bodies in no way regulate these relations and always stand on the side of the capitalists. All this looks more like the Middle Ages.
Impoverishment and debt
In today’s world the number of poor and jobless is constantly increasing. However the powerful in society prefer to ignore this, continuing to praise the policies of Nazarbayev. In fact, there is not one aspect of people’s lives unaffected by crisis.
The problems of people who have outstanding loans with the secondary banks have got worse – whether it is house-holders with mortgages or people who borrowed to develop a business or simply to cover everyday personal requirements. Most borrowers have ended up unable to repay their loans.
It recently came out that people’s savings which had accumulated in a pension fund, were just appropriated by the government and put into subsidising the agricultural sector, without anyone being consulted. This is a scandal but it also underlines the precarious situation within the economy.
President aims to hold on to power
Against this background of big economic problems in Kazakhstan, an early election for president has been announced for April 26 this year. It is worth pointing out that, throughout the period since independence, not one presidential election has been held at the full term! Every presidential campaign has been premature. This most likely happens because of the lack of confidence in the future for people and, therefore, the government itself.
People in Kazakhstan are generally apathetic towards the up-coming election and not interested in it because they are accustomed to knowing the result in advance, because of the administrative resources put into extending the mandate of the incumbent president.
Most of Kazakhstan’s population are very disturbed by the events in Ukraine and, imagining such a situation in Kazakhstan, are settling for a result known in advance, linking a peaceful life in the country with Nazarbayev’s actions. Of course, this is the fruit of the work done by the regime’s kept spin-doctors.
The signing of a Customs Union between Russia, Kazakhstan and Belorussia and, after that, the Eurasian Economic Union, did not bring the hoped for results and look more like declaratory agreements between dictatorial regimes with the aim of maintaining their own personal power and security.
In today’s Kazakhstan, all opposition parties have been prevented from operating by the present regime. Political opponents have either been discredited or forced to leave the country under threat of arrest on trumped-up charges.
The present situation in Kazakhstan is very difficult, whatever rosy picture is drawn by the government and the parliament – mere puppets who never take independent decisions. The only force capable of standing up to the existing government and trying to change the situation for the better is the workers’ movement in the form of the trade unions – who have also suffered repression – and social organisations of people who fight for social justice.
For real change, we need to try and build a party of opposition that fights for real democracy and workers’ rights, and for industry to be owned and run democratically by the working class.