Repression in Kazakhstan continues – Clampdown on independent trade unions proceeds and big prison sentences for organisers of peaceful land protests

Posted by T on January 27, 2017
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Correspondents for Campaign Kazakhstan recently reported that up to 20 oil-workers from Mangistau in Western Kazakhstan have been arrested. Some of them, possibly as many as 20, were said to have been taken to Astana for trial and no access to them was being allowed. These workers have been trying to establish independent trade unions with the backing of the International Confederation of Trade Unions.

Today, Human Rights Watch published an article about the repression of the oil-workers, hundreds of whom went on hunger strike which was declared illegal. It also points to trumped up charges brought against two of the leaders and other arrests.

For more detail see:

All this has been happening while Kazakhstan hosts peace talks about the Syrian War. Not a word in the media!

In another development, prison sentences of five years have been meted out to Max Bokayev and Talgat Ayanov for the simple ‘crime’ of organising peaceful protests against land sales last year. (See articles on this site)

Protest to your nearest Kazakhstan embassy and demand the release of all political prisoners and of the trade union organisers, the dropping of all charges and the full freedom of workers to organise independent trade unions.

Kazakhstan: New regulations tightening control over people, while replenishing government coffers!

Posted by clare on January 20, 2017
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By Andrei Prigor, Astana

On 22 December last year, the president of Kazakhstan signed amendments to the Administrative Code which mean everyone has to register with the police wherever they happen to be. This applies whether they are on a private visit, getting treatment somewhere, on a work visit or any other reason.

Everyone has to register their presence in a particular locality and their reason for being there within 10 days of arrival and the length of time they will be staying.

After a warning, punishment for non-compliance can be meted out within 30 days.

Total control over the population is being established by this ruling. The authorities say the reason for it is the intensification of the fight against terrorism. But the public thinks otherwise. By introducing this registration scheme, large sums of money will be collected in penalties for non-compliance.

The regulations came into effect from 7 January and most people feel it is a form of totalitarian control and repression comparable to being put in some form of concentration camp and just adding to the financial burdens they already have. They believe it is no accident that this form of taxation is happening at a time when the national budget has been plundered and the national EXPO exhibition is not far off!

Refuse to implement!

We are calling for people to boycott this law and conducting a campaign to explain that this initiative of the government goes against the country’s constitution and infringes the freedom of its citizens. Mass disobedience could lead to the law being abolished immediately. Alternatively, in the future, once the police begin to impose fines, there could be big protests.

Eighty per cent of Kazakhstan’s citizens have to move around the country or stay in places other than where they have had their original permanent address. It seems as if now everyone is supposed only to stay in the place they are registered in. But the conditions do not exist in Kazakhstan, nor are likely to, for living permanently in one place.

Incidentally, a visa-free regime exists in Kazakhstan for the residents of many foreign countries; but for its own population, it is shackles and handcuffs! It is said that the Nazarbayev regime is trying to turn Kazakhstan into a ghetto under totalitarian control. All this is probably due to the regime’s increasing fear for the future.

No to land privatisation! Release Max Bokayev and Talgat Ayanov!

Posted by clare on November 10, 2016
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Andrei Prigor, Astana, Kazakhstan

In the spring of this year, Kazakhstan society was stirred up by the government making amendments to the law on land which would give foreigners the right to buy land. In an unprecedented development, all opposition movements, liberals and socialists and just activists came out against the law.

In the city of Atirau, at the beginning of April, notice was given for holding a peaceful rally but the local authorities refused to allow it. Regardless of this, on the 24 April, between 4,000 and 5,000 came out onto the square. Then a series of demonstrations swept through many other towns across the country. Aktobe, Semipalatinsk, Kizil-Orda, Almaty, Zhanaozen and many others took part in Kazakhstan-wide demonstrations.

Arrests and detention

As these were all spontaneous protests, it was decided to hold similar peaceful demonstrations on the same day – May 21- across the whole of Kazakhstan. In the middle of the month, organisers from Atirau were arrested and detained for 15 days. Among them were Max Bokayev and Talgat Ayanov.

On the eve of the 21 May demonstration, over 400 more people in various cities were subject to arrest and detention, with the aim of the peaceful protests being prevented from going ahead. In Astana, for example, in the early hours of 21 May about 30 potential participants were held.

Later, on May 31 – the day in Kazakhstan on which the victims of political repression are remembered (!) – Max Bokayev and Talgat Ayanov were arrested again – this time on criminal charges. They were accused of “aiming to overthrow constitutional order and seize power by violent means”, “inciting social discord”, “spreading false information” and “violating the procedure for organising peaceful gatherings”.

Public outcry

The first charge was later withdrawn. However, a trial is now proceeding on the remaining three charges and is causing a huge public outcry. The judge, either accidentally or deliberately, announced that the trial is ‘political’. This meant it was immediately taken up by human rights activists; international observers are now following the court proceedings. The authorities are taking all possible measures to prevent supporters of Max and Talgat from participating in the trial, trying to put a limit on the numbers who can participate. But activists are finding various ways of protesting and supporting these brave fighters.

This trial shows openly the rottenness of the Nazarbayev regime, which is actually shaking with fear before its own people. It is showing its nervousness in the run up to the fifth anniversary of the state massacre of oil-workers in Zhanaozen – December 16th. They want to get this trial over before then. They have been stepping up harassment of activists to try and prevent any public demonstrations to mark the anniversary. On the other hand, they have made sure that concessions have been made in relation to demands put forward recently by Zhanaozen workers.

Socialists, activists and trade unionists in Kazakhstan are actively involved in campaigning for the release of Max and Talgat. Their only ‘crime’ has been to help organise genuine peaceful protest against the anti-people laws of the Nursultan Nazarbayev regime.

  • We call for the immediate release of Max and Talgat and the dropping of all charges against them
  • We stand for the democratic rights of all citizens to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom to organise genuine political opposition
  • We also demand the freeing of all political prisoners in Kazakhstan, in particular the human rights lawyer, Vadim Kuramshin, and the poet, writer and land rights campaigner, Aron Atabek


Human rights activist, Azharkulova Kizdigoy, held in custody for seven months on trumped-up charge

Posted by clare on July 01, 2016
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Azharkulova Kizdigoy has been an active member of the Coordination Committee of the association called “Leave the people their homes” since 2009. She is chair of the organisation in Shimkent, South Kazakhstan called “Protecting our homes”. For all of this time she has participated, together with members of the association,  in all the national activities:- protests (pickets, demos, marches, motor cavalcades etc.), conferences, round tables, working committees with Members of Parliament, government agencies, the National Bank, created under the pressure of the movement with the aim of resolving the problems of the impoverished mortgage-holders.

However, everything points to the fact that all the funds allocated from the budget went to support the banks, which are owned by government officials. But, thanks to  the activities of the movement mass evictions were prevented across the country, the legal carrying out of extrajudicial repossessions were stopped and repayments reduced from figures like 300 to 500% to refinancing arrangements costing between 0 to 3%.

Personally, Kizdigoy managed to get homes returned to 16 families who were previously evicted by court decisions, not to mention many other achievements. In recent years, she has spoken out about crimes committed by the banks, exposed through criminal proceedings initiated by her. She openly criticised the government, which not only covers up all of this, but also fully supports them. All these years Kizdigoy has been a dependable ally of the leader of the mortgagees – Esenbek Ukteshbaev – in spite of threats and pressure, which is particularly disliked by the authorities.

And so, on December 13, 2015 at exactly 9 in the morning, seven people at the same time turned up at the South Kazakhstan regional offices of the Interior Ministry and wrote identical complaints that Kizdigoy supposedly promised to write get their loans written off on the basis of taking possessions of theirs as collateral. Four of them she did not know but the others were members of her NGO “Protecting our homes”. They reckon that Azharkulova K. should repay their joining fee and monthly subscriptions as well as expenses for legal costs, advice and representation in the courts.

According to the rules of the organisation “Protecting our homes”, members are obliged to pay membership and registration fees, as well as one-off costs of activities. On being expelled, membership fees will not be refunded.

A lawyer and colleagues have gathered all the documents in her defence. The investigator has repeatedly tried to confiscate the defence documents, to order their seizure and threatened to remove the legal counsel of the defendant.

At the trial, after the interrogation of victims and witnesses, K.Azharkulova testified her innocence and stated the reasons for which the four complainants, whom she saw for the first time, were testifying against her. They are friends of the convicted Beiten Raushan, in whose case Azharkulova K. won losses and damages amounting to 10 million tenge which have still not be refunded. Two of them admitted in court that they are friends of the condemned woman (BR).

Regardless of her age (56) and physical state (bronchitis, allergies and stomach ulcers), as well as high blood pressure and an attempt to make her confess to her guilt and a crime that did she did not commit, she stays strong and does not go on about the investigator and prosecutor keeping her in custody for a seventh month.

Currently, there is a lawsuit. The evidence and the prosecution against her are zero. No one doubts that the case was fabricated to order to intimidate activists and to weaken the movement of mortgage holders, which keeps the powers that be awake at night.

Azharkulova Kizdigoy is being held in solitary confinement in Shimkent. Please send protests demanding her immediate and unconditional release to the Kazkahstan Embassy in your country.

Please send messages of support to Azharkulova Kizdigoy:

Yuzhno-kazakhstanskaya oblast’,


mkr-n “Saule”, n/3,
Respublikanskoye Gosudarstvennoye Uchrezhdeniye ICH 166/11,

Komiteta ugolovno-ispolnitel’noy sistemy M V D,


Please send copies to her lawyer via


Embassy protests in solidarity with struggle against land privatisation and for democratic rights

Posted by clare on May 27, 2016
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Protesters from Campaign Kazakhstan held protests at several Kazakhstan embassies yesterday condemning the actions of the Nazarbeyev regime

In London, Campaign Kazakhstan and the Socialist Party chanted “Free all political prisoners” and speeches of solidarity with protesters fighting against land privatisation and for democratic rights against the corrupt regime. The embassy locked the doors as soon as the protest arrived and refused to accept the letter, but they did send someone outside the building to take photos. It clearly rattled them that people will continue to expose the nature of the Kazakhstan regime and protests will continue in Kazakhstan and abroad.

The following letter was handed in to the embassy in London, followed by protest letters sent to Kazakhstan embassies in India, Canada, Australia and Sweden. A letter was also handed in to the embassy in Berlin, where the officials promised “a reply”!

26 May 2016

To the Government of Kazakhstan


We have organised a picket today – with representatives from political and trade union organisations in Britain – to protest at the vicious repression of basic democratic rights in Kazakhstan.

In recent days, you have rounded up and held in prison dozens of activists, journalists and human rights representatives in order to try and prevent a peaceful protest movement developing.

We demand their immediate release and the dropping of all charges against them.  All political prisoners in Kazakhstan should be released. The right to demonstrate peaceful opposition should be respected and demonstrations allowed to go ahead. Genuinely free elections should be allowed at all levels of society.

We will do all we can to publicise the dictatorial nature of your government and its corrupt links with businesses and dignatories in Britain and elsewhere. We wholeheartedly support those who call for basic democratic and human rights to be implemented in your country.


Michael Whale

on behalf of Campaign Kazakhstan and all the organisations affiliated to it.



Date : 25-05-2016
Dear Sir/Madam,
We are writing this letter to show our concern and condemn the appalling deterioration of Human Rights situation in Kazakhstan.
As we pen this letter of protest, new mass demonstrations across the country of Kazakhstan are taking place mainly organised through social media. Though they were originally about the land issue, but now they are taking on a different dimension. Problems such as housing, social spending, pensions etc. which all points to the failure of the present administration headed by the President himself.
Last week activists in cities – Astana, Almaty and the oil-producing region of Atyrau – were arrested and charged with “planning illegal public rallies”. They are being held for 15 days in an attempt to frighten people off from attending Saturday’s protests. Two other activists in Astana – Makhambet Abzhan and Maksat Nurypbayev – have been charged with “hooliganism” and jailed for ten days. All these are clear violation of fundamental Human Rights.
We as socialists and human rights defenders urge your government to stop these viloations of the citizens of your country and restore all fundamental rights, including right to assembly and association.
Thanking you,
Jagadish G Chandra
National Secretary
New Socialist Alternative (CWI-India)


Mr Konstantin Zhigalov, Ambassador

Kazakh Embassy in Ottawa, Canada
150 Metcalfe Street, Suites 1603-1604
Ottawa, ON K2P 1P1

May 26, 2016

Dear Mr Konstantin Zhigalov,

It has come to our attention that the Kazakhstan government has been attempting to restrict democratic rights and arresting people who were expressing their opposition to government plans to sell large areas of land to Chinese businesses.

The reports of police seeking to intimidate people before the demonstrations even took place, of widespread media censorship and arrests are all worrying, un-democratic actions.


  • Condemn these actions
  • Demand the release of all those arrested and dropping of all charges
  • The release of all political prisoners held in Kazakhstan’s jails on trumped-up charges

Canada has important trade and other links with Kazakhstan. Socialist Alternative has members active in unions, community groups, student organizations and faith communities in Canada.

Yours in concern

Bill Hopwood

National Organizer, Socialist Alternative Canada


To whom it may concern,

I write this urgent letter on behalf of the Socialist Party (Australia).

The right to demonstrate is a fundamental right in a civilised modern democracy. The anti-democratic measures, which the Kazakhstan government have taken against its own people, in the last week is further proof that Nursultan Nazarbayev, the President of Kazakhstan, is no democrat.

The opposition of ordinary Kazakhs to the Nazarbayev government’s plans to sell vast swathes of Kazakh land to Chinese business concerns has been repressed by the police and security forces. Media broadcasts have been censored or prevented from taking place. There has been a virtual media blackout both within Kazakhstan and to the outside world.

Known activists and critics of the regime have been warned not to take part in any demonstrations. Some, disgracefully, were arrested in the days before the demonstrations had even taken place. Some have had “visits” from the police, others have been warned by telephone, and still more have been called into local police stations for a “discussion” and a “warning”.

Despite this intimidation, thousands of protestors showed their opposition to the land sell-off on the 21st May. In some cases, protestors had to find routes around a maze of security forces deployed to stop any demonstrations taking place.   In many towns and cities, a game of “cat and mouse” took place, as demonstrators tried to avoid being arrested by the police.

The security forces have not fired on the demonstrators, as they did on striking oil workers in Zhanaozen, in 2011, however, dozens of arrests have taken place. Protests against these arrests are being planned to take place outside Kazakh embassies around the world and more importantly inside Kazakhstan itself.

The demonstrations on Saturday against the land sell-off were the most coordinated protests across Kazakhstan as a whole so far. The fact that demonstrations took place in most of the main cities at the same time is significant. They are an indication of the growing deep-rooted opposition to the dictatorship.

Far from intimidating the opposition forces in Kazakhstan, government repression will only encourage further protests against Nazarbayev and his corrupt government.

On behalf of the Socialist Party in Australia I demand that the Kazakh government release of all those arrested in the run-up to the May 21 protests and the drop of all charges against them. On top of that the government should release of all political prisoners held in Kazakhstan’s jails on trumped up charges.

I look forward to your swift reply and urgent action being taken.


Anthony Main

Socialist Party (Australia)

Sweden: Kazakhstan solidarity

Free all protesters detained in the last two weeks!

Free all political prisoners in Kazakhstan!

With brutal police violence, state forces in Kazakhstan attacked people demonstrating on Saturday 21 May. We have witnessed videos showing the brutality used, as well as pictures of special forces and even tanks on the streets in some cities.

We are also well aware of the history of the regime, with election fraud, enormous corruption and its dictatorial violence, most visible in the massacre at Zhanaozen in 2011.

We defend the democratic right to protest against the plans for privatisation of land, to be followed of further privatisations. These privatisations would have devastating effects for working people that are already suffering.

We demand the immediate release of all protesters detained in the last two weeks and of all political prisoners in Kazakhstan.

Stockholm 26 May 2016

Mattias Bernhardsson and Lina Rigney Thörnblom, city councillors for Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna in Haninge, south Stockholm

Jonas Brännberg and Britta Berggren, city councillors for Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna in Luleå, north Sweden

Per-Åke Westerlund, national chairman, Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna


Letter to Press: Police action to foil ‘May21’ demonstrations will not abate anger

Posted by clare on May 23, 2016
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In a letter to the press, Secretary of Campaign Kazakhstan, Mick Whale, protests about police action in cities across Kazkahstan

Protests called for in capitals worldwide!

Dear Editor,

The right to demonstrate is a fundamental right in a civilised modern democracy. The anti-democratic measures, which the Kazakhstan government have taken against its own people, in the last week is further proof that Nursultan Nazarbayev, the President of Kazakhstan, is no democrat.

The opposition of ordinary Kazakhs to the Nazarbayev government’s plans to sell vast swathes of Kazakh land to Chinese business concerns has been repressed by the police and security forces. Media broadcasts have been censored or prevented from taking place. There has been a virtual media blackout both within Kazakhstan and to the outside world.

Known activists and critics of the regime have been warned not to take part in any demonstrations. Some, disgracefully, were arrested in the days before the demonstrations had even taken place. Some have had “visits” from the police, others have been warned by telephone, and still more have been called into local police stations for a “discussion” and a “warning”.

Despite this intimidation, thousands of protestors showed their opposition to the land sell-off on the 21st May. In some cases, protestors had to find routes around a maze of security forces deployed to stop any demonstrations taking place.   In many towns and cities, a game of “cat and mouse” took place, as demonstrators tried to avoid being arrested by the police. The security forces have not fired on the demonstrators, as they did on striking oil workers in Zhanaozen, in 2011, however, dozens of arrests have taken place. Protests against these arrests are being planned to take place outside Kazakh embassies around the world and more importantly inside Kazakhstan itself.

The demonstrations on Saturday against the land sell-off were the most coordinated protests across Kazakhstan as a whole so far. The fact that demonstrations took place in most of the main cities at the same time is significant. They are an indication of the growing deep-rooted opposition to the dictatorship.

Far from intimidating the opposition forces in Kazakhstan, government repression will only encourage further protests against Nazarbayev and his corrupt government.

Michael Whale (Secretary Campaign Kazakhstan)

Protests at embassies should demand the release of all those arrested in the run-up to the May 21 protests and the dropping of all charges against them. It should also demand the release of all political prisoners held in Kazakhstan’s jails on trumped up charges.

‘No to land privatization!’ and ‘Down with the Nazarbayev dictatorship!’ are slogans carried on demonstrations already held. Other slogans can be taken from the short programme carried in our last article.

Please send copies of letters of protest handed in at embassies and photos of pickets to



Demonstrations across Kazakhstan planned for Saturday 21 May

Posted by clare on May 20, 2016
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Activists arrested – demands grow for president to resign

By Elizabeth Clarke

After confronting serious protests across the country, Kazakhstan’s President Nazarbayev quickly back-tracked on his plans to sell and lease land to Chinese interests. He announced a temporary moratorium and set up a commission involving some of the activists who had been involved in organising the protests. Before long, they abandoned the commission in disgust at its totally biased proceedings.

New demonstrations across the country planned for this coming Saturday (21 May), mainly organised through social media, were originally about the land issue. But now they are taking on a different dimension. “The demand is growing for the president himself to resign,” says one building worker in the country’s capital, Astana. “No-one trusts him! It’s not just a problem of land. It’s workers’ problems – their own housing needs, social spending, pensions etc. The clashes with the police on the land issue have just been a trigger for a movement on everything!”

Late on Tuesday, activists in cities – Astana, Almaty and the oil-producing region of Atyrau – were arrested and charged with “planning illegal public rallies”. They are being held for 15 days in an attempt to frighten people off from attending Saturday’s protests. Two other activists in Astana – Makhambet Abzhan and Maksat Nurypbayev – have been charged with “hooliganism” and jailed for ten days.

Activists around the country have been warned over the phone by local state functionaries or called into the local police stations to be told they will be arrested if they try to participate in the demonstrations. But this only makes them more determined to be there!


Condemn the arrests

Defence of these rallies against attack by the forces of the state is vital. So is the idea of getting representatives elected to link up on an area, on a regional and national basis. Appeals for support in neighbouring countries and internationally are also vital. Letters to national embassies or protests outside them should be organised in support of the demonstrators. Resolutions passed at union meetings, conferences and other gatherings of workers and young people will be warmly welcomed by those fighting dictatorship and for basic democratic rights in Kazakhstan.

Demands of the movement need to include:

  • No to any privatisation of land!
  • Free imprisoned activists and drop all charges!
  • Down with the corrupt and dictatorial Nazarbayev regime!
  • Build committees of struggle!
  • Fight for total freedom of speech, of assembly and organisation (trade unions and political parties)!
  • New elections at every level to an assembly that can decide on how the country should be run
  • End mass unemployment and poverty with planning of all resources and industry in public hands and under the control of democratically elected committees.
  • We call for support from working people in neighbouring countries and world-wide.

As Andrei Prigor has said to Campaign Kazakhstan: “This is just the beginning! There will be no stopping this now. People are fed up!”

Addresses of Kazakhstan embassies/consulates can be found at the following:





What lies ahead for Kazakhstan?

Posted by clare on May 12, 2016
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A contribution on perspectives for Kazakhstan, by Mick Whale, Secretary of Campaign Kazakhstan

 The following analysis of the current situation in Kazakhstan by Mick Whale is written in a personal capacity. Mick, a teachers’ union activist in Britain, has visited Kazakhstan in recent years. Mick has met and discussed with many worker-activists across the country, who are courageously resisting the attacks of the Nazarbayev regime and struggling to build a political alternative to the corrupt, crony capitalist dictatorship.

On March 20 this year, the ruling party in Kazakhstan, headed by the dictatorial ruler, Nursultan Nazarbayev, received over 80% of the ‘popular’ vote. Two other tame parties got about 7% each and a couple of ‘also-rans’ got around 1%. This is just what Nazarbayev wanted, in order to try and shore up his own position and that of the clique around him as the country’s economy is hit hard by developments on a world scale. Policies of privatisation, entailing closures and redundancies, plus additions to the cost of basic food and services are in store for the majority of the population.

A movement of opposition is urgently needed that links up workers in the beleaguered factories, mines and offices with the social movements that have developed around housing and press freedom. Clear analysis and socialist ideas and programme are vital for building such a movement. (See previous article on this site.)

 Kazakhstan’s economy

 Perspectives for what happens in Kazakhstan are intrinsically linked to both world economic and regional political developments. Most economic commentators are pessimistic about the future health of capitalism.

If the Chinese economy has been a major force for world economic development in the recent past, its slow-down will have catastrophic consequences for a country like Kazakhstan. It depends on China taking 40% of its exports. It used to be said that if the USA sneezed, Europe caught a cold. The same can be said of China and Kazakhstan today.

Since the ‘independence’ of Kazakhstan, following the break-up of the Soviet Union, its economy has been ‘liberalised’. Much of industry has been privatised and the economy transformed into being predominantly a supplier of minerals and a producer of commodities for China, Russia and western multinational companies.

In the pre-recession period of the late 1990s and early 2000s, growth in Kazakhstan’s GDP reached 10% or more per annum after having nose-dived at the time of the break-up of the Soviet Union. However, the slowdown in the Chinese and world economy, means much less demand for Kazakhstan’s products, closures and the scaling back of production, further rises in unemployment and attacks on pay and conditions.  The very basis of Kazakhstan’s economic success has become its present weakness.

The dramatic fall in world prices for oil, gas and minerals has hit foreign investment.   The International Monetary Fund has predicted a fall in growth in Kazakhstan from a respectable 4.3% in 2014 to 1.4% for 2016. The currency fell 30% in value between August and December last year – a further indicator of the precarious position of the country’s economy.


Nazarbayev’s  response to this crisis has been to try and sell off more state assets.  In 2015, Umirzak Shukeyev, the chief executive of Samruk-Kazyna – the national sovereign wealth fund – announced a programme for selling off some of the most valuable remaining state-owned assets. These include the oil and gas company KazMunaiGas, the largest telecoms company Kazakhtelecom, the railway company Kazakhstan Temir Zholy, the nuclear holding company Kazatomprom and the Samruk-Energy. Samruk-Kaznya is still the largest single corporate owner in Kazakhstan and has traditionally been a sole investor but is now prepared to partner with foreign firms to get foreign capital into Kazakhstan.

Shukeyev sees these privatisations as enabling Astana to become a new Dubai (i.e. a regional financial centre) for trading stocks and shares. However, the privatisation programme is not an assured success. Many of the companies included are massively in debt and also have huge social obligations to provide pensions, health and education programmes – a legacy from the planned economy of the past. Western capital would not want to take on these responsibilities.

Kate Mallinson,  of the risk consultancy GPW, points to the difficulties in relation to Kazakhstan’s industrial monoliths: “They’re all bloated: it will be very difficult to restructure them into profitable entities…The privatisation of Kazatomprom, is also likely to meet ‘significant resistance’ from Russia”. Another candidate for privatisation – ERG – is under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office in London, making it doubtful that any western firm would invest in it, unless and until it is given a clean bill of health.

President Nazarbayev could try to cut the “social obligations” of the companies concerned, but this would mean attacking workers’ living standards. If he tries this, he could risk a backlash from workers; if he does not, he could deter foreign investment.  Whichever option Nazarbayev chooses will create problems for the country’s elite.

Many of Kazakhstan’s workers understand that privatisation means attacks on their living standards and will be opposed. In 2011, the oil workers of Zhanaozen, so bloodily attacked by the state, were on strike partly for better wages but also against the sale of their company to a Chinese business.

Asset Issekeshev, Minister of Investment and Development, insists that a “strong private sector” is one of the government’s priorities. In a statement to the London-based Financial Times he said, “We are not only going to privatise the big companies, but also small regional companies. If a company cannot be privatised it will be closed”.

Aiming to further open up the economy for foreign investment, the government in Astana announced its intention to completely revise the “Code of Law”. While the courts in Kazakhstan are manipulated by the dictatorship, the dismantling of the code opens the path for a further erosion of terms and conditions in work and those social gains that have not already been lost.

Relations with China and Russia

The ruling elite in Kazakhstan is trying to link the privatisation programme to the proposed “New Silk Road” – a huge project linking China to western Europe with road, rail, telephone and internet communication and financed largely by China. It is aiming to develop an ‘economic belt’ around it.

While China is the largest investor and trading partner in Kazakhstan, Russia is still the dominant foreign political power.  The historic links from the Soviet Union period have not been completely severed. Nazarbayev has taken Kazakhstan into the Russian-led Eurasian Union which also involves Belarus. Attempts to unify the Russian and Kazakh currencies have been resisted, but Russia’s economic difficulties mean it looks for support (both economic and political) from former soviet states including Kazakhstan. If it does not get support it can attempt to coerce and threaten.

Relations between the two big neighbours of Kazakhstan – Russia and China – are relatively stable, but if a conflict broke out between them, Kazakhstan could very quickly become embroiled. Both Russia and China are looking to dominate the Central Asian former Soviet states. It could not be excluded that a proxy war could break out between central Asian states. For example, China now gets a significant amount of its gas from Turkmenistan, via pipelines through Kazakhstan. Internal “anti-Chinese” demonstrations, as seen in Kirgizia and Uzbekistan, could lead to military intervention by Russia or China with the potential for a proxy war which might have some of the features of the Ukrainian conflict.

Another possible scenario could be internal strife even fratricidal clashes between sections of the ruling elite – different oligarchs with allegiances to different super powers. Such a development in any of the central Asian countries would have the potential to involve Kazakhstan in some way.

Nazarbayev has manoeuvred between the major imperialist powers. So far, he has managed to maintain good relations with all of them. However, an anticipation of the potential difficulties he faces was signposted by Putin’s rebuke in the summer of 2015. In response to Nazarbayev’s perceived lack of support for Russian policy in Ukraine, Putin warned that Kazakhstan is not “historically a nation”.  This was a naked threat to Nazarbayev that Russia might seek to annex or intervene directly into Kazakhstan if it opposed Russian policy in the future.

This is an outside possibility and direct military intervention is unlikely. The pre-condition would have to be a growth in discontent and resentment towards the regime amongst the ethnic Russian population – on the issue of language or religion, for example.

Russia has suffered economically with the sanctions imposed as a result of its intervention into Crimea and Ukraine. Its air strikes in support of the Assad regime in Syria also put it at odds with European and US imperialism for a period. It is unlikely that Putin would want to further risk relations with the west, unless there is no other way forward. A Russian attempt at annexation would be seen as a threat to imperialist interests in Kazakhstan and would likely bring further sanctions against Russia.

A further consequence of a Russian annexation would be to bring Russia into direct conflict with China. This would be not just because of China’s economic interests in Kazakhstan but because Kazakhstan’s East borders directly onto China. A further problem facing Putin, if he decided to intervene militarily, is the size of Kazakhstan and the likely resistance that a Russian army would face. Kazakhstan is not the same as Crimea or Eastern Ukraine in its consciousness and size.

Bonapartism and nationalism

Kazakhstan is a dictatorship dominated by Nursultan Nazarbayev. In attempting to map out likely developments in Kazakhstan, it is important to consider where he has come from and what his points of support are.

Nazarbayev made the transition seamlessly from General Secretary of the Kazakhstan Communist Party to President of an independent Kazakhstan. He has overseen the dismantling of the state-owned, bureautically planned economy and its opening up to private (mostly foreign) ownership. The present regime is in some respects Bonapartist in character – a dictatorship with a very thin veneer of pseudo-democracy.

Nazarbayev rests on support from, on the one hand, the international capitalist interests who he has allowed to plunder and exploit the economy. On the other hand, he is sometimes forced to rest on a nascent Kazakh nationalism, supported by the small Kazakh middle class and some sections of the working class. From its inception as a Soviet state, Kazakhstan has been politically dominated by Russia.  Notwithstanding Kazakhstan’s nominal political independence, there remains a feeling among many in the country that Kazakhstan is still not free to do what it wants. It is in Nazarbayev’s interests to promote “patriotism” etc.  This is exemplified in the campaign for fuller use of the Kazakh language.

Kazakhstan is a Muslim country, although all religions are tolerated.  It is possible in the future that Nazarbayev could try and promote the Islam in order to gain points of support. He  has recently curried favour with Turkey and its president, Erdogan, as a counter-weight to Putin and Russia.

As the economic situation worsens, Nazarbayev may attempt to promote Kazakh nationalism to deflect from his own role. The state support for “Kazakhstan Khanate” a television mini series which dramatises the tumultuous events leading up to the creation of the first Kazakh khanate in 1465 amid the collapse of the Mongolian-ruled Golden Horde – events interpreted in modern-day Kazakhstan as laying the foundations for today’s independent state is a good example of this.

Kazakhstan is known as the country of 100 nations. There are significant national minorities inside Kazakhstan.  We have already seen that where the material conditions exist for division between the nationalities it can develop into conflict. For example, in the past, native Kazakh traders have physically attacked Chinese traders in local markets in Almaty.


The hypocrisy of Nazarbayev’s patriotism is demonstrated in the Zhanaozen massacre of 2011. On Kazakhstan’s national day, Kazakh oil workers were shot down by the “patriotic” state forces loyal to Nazarbayev for arguing against the semi-privatisation of oil in Mangistau province to Chinese owners.  Nazarbayev promoted the myth that behind the protests were “anti-Kazakh” traitor oligarchs such as Ablyazov, when his own policies directly led to the confrontation and massacre.

While the best of the Kazakh working class will see through the hypocrisy of such a two-faced position, other less conscious elements could be mobilised or neutralised to accept Nazarbayev’s position.  An increasing need for Nazarbayev to manoeuvre between these different points of support is likely as the international situation worsens and internal tensions become more intense.

The regime is a dictatorship, which at times uses the police to attack and intimidate the working class and political opponents.  It hides behind a veneer of democracy which is extremely thin.

The ‘Forward Plan – Kazakhstan 2050’ is supposed to provide Nazarbayev with a constitutional framework to deceive the population – a “further strengthening of the Statehood and the Development of Kazakhstan democracy”. But it includes a “zero tolerance principle towards disorder”. By disorder, Nazarbayev means anything that threatens the continuation of his rule.

Nazarbayev is getting older and questions are being asked about his health. Although he rules through the courts, the police and a wider layer of family and friends, nevertheless, in a dictatorship, the dictator himself is an important element. The death of Nazarbayev, or his attempt to pass on the ‘crown’ to one of his family, could trigger a challenge to the regime or open up a struggle for democracy, which in turn would threaten the vested interests around Nazarbayev and his coterie.

Dictatorship and protest

Despite the relatively favourable conditions of economic growth that took place in the early years of this century, Nazarbayev has made no attempt to introduce a genuinely democratic state in Kazakhstan. While elections do take place, they are often hastily brought forward and only certain “approved” opposition parties are allowed to contest. This is typical of a Bonapartist dictator. Unsurprisingly, Nazarbayev’s party always wins with a big percentage or, in presidential elections, Nazarbayev can get over 90% – a figure reminiscent of Stalinist times.

The media is censored and has the features of a one-party state rather than that of a parliamentary democracy. Opposition is tolerated when it does not threaten Nazarbayev and physically attacked when it represents a serious threat to the regime. This is clearly seen in the way that lawyers who represent workers or even oligarchs who oppose Nazarbayev are intimidated, arrested and imprisoned under trumped up charges.

It is important to recognise that while the lack of democratic rights and intimidation from the state machine presents problems to any opposition element, which should not be underestimated, such rule is a sign of weakness of the regime not a sign of strength.  A strong, healthy state would be able to encompass opposition elements and deal with them through democratic means.

Nazarbayev’s social basis of support is narrowing and will continue to narrow in the next period as the economic situation becomes more unstable. An indication of the potential for open revolt has been seen over the response in Spring 2015 when the Tenge was devalued. The resulting price increases in Almaty shops led to open protest and criticism of the regime itself.

The spontaneous strike and victory by the copper miners of Kazakhmys in Karaganda in the aftermath of the Zhanaozen massacre are further grounds for trepidation on the part of the regime in approaching any conflict. This is also confirmed by the tenacious struggle of housing campaigners which is not yet finished. It is not possible for the state to stop all opposition.

The threat of state intervention has not stopped the social movements over housing continuing in Astana, Almaty and Shimkent and elsewhere. Local demonstrations, which are officially illegal, have included protests to defend people from eviction. On a number of occasions, activists have been arrested, charged, fined and even jailed for a few weeks. Some have gone on hunger strike in protest. It is a sign of Nazarbayev’s weakness that he has not been able to totally destroy the workers’ opposition

Despite this, Nazarbayev will certainly use armed reaction if he feels that there is no other way forward, but the response of workers across Kazakhstan to the Zhanaozen massacre has made the regime wary of using the forces of the state too brutally. This is mostly because they are afraid of provoking a mass response from the Kazakh working class, but it is also because they are trying to win support from the “democratic” capitalist powers in the west.


It is difficult to predict how the current situation will break. It could be linked to Nazarbayev leaving office, possibly through a palace coup. It could be that a social protest or Trade Union struggle gathers momentum and Nazarbayev is forced out. It could be that external factors (like a further downturn in the world economy) lead to an anti-Nazarbayev movement. The important thing is to recognise that such a movement is more than likely in the coming period.

We have seen how internationally, even the most brutal dictatorships have been left powerless once the masses have taken to the streets. The Egyptian revolution is a good example of what might develop. The masses occupied Tahir Square in Cairo and the government, including the army, were left powerless for a period of weeks. Strikes by organised workers played an important role. Although the tyrant Mubarak was overthrown, the eventual defeat of the Egyptian revolution was primarily because of the lack of a clear leadership able to channel the discontent of the Egyptian masses to a successful resolution of the struggle.

By not challenging the capitalist state forces – the army and police – and by not developing an independent working class voice in Egypt, despite an heroic resistance, the capitalist class and its international friends were able to regain control of the situation and carry out a bloody repression. There will be different features and aspects to the revolution in Kazakhstan, but essentially, the tasks are the same.

The possibility of establishing a western style parliamentary democracy in Kazakhstan does not seem possible but cannot be ruled out. The call for democracy will be to the forefront of the masses’ demands. There will undoubtedly be sections of the current ruling elite who will try to portray themselves as democrats and try to put themselves at the head of such a movement.

Anti-Nazarbayev oligarchs like Ablyazov can return wearing “democratic” badges. Their democracy is very thin and is put forward in order to get the support of sections of the masses. They would hope to get to power but maintain capitalist exploitation – making profits for themselves from the labour of workers. If Ablyazov were to come to power as a replacement for Nazarbayev, his “democracy” would last as long as it guaranteed his predominance.

It could quickly become a government of crisis. Either the working class with a revolutionary leadership would have to move to challenge for power and push it aside or a new dictatorship could take its place.

A key policy demand in Kazakhstan is that for a democratic constituent assembly. This would involve calling for a genuinely democratic parliament with elected representatives to governing bodies at a local, regional and national level – like the soviets of workers’ and peasants’ deputies of just under 100 years ago in Petrograd. Linked to this idea is that of a fraternal approach to the state’s forces that are used against workers. The precise formulation of programme would be determined by the development of events themselves.

 Reform and revolution

 All of the lessons from history and from struggles against dictatorships from around the world point to the need to understand these tasks. Essentially, capitalism on a world scale has entered a period of terminal decline. Its ability to rule, even in the more established countries of Europe and the USA through democratic means is becoming more and more limited. It is only the strength of the organised labour movement in the west, which is preventing a more naked dictatorial rule there. The way in which the “troika” of European capitalist institutions bullied the democratically elected Greek government of Syriza to comply with capitalism’s wishes is a lesson to workers in all countries (and Greece is the historic home of Democracy!)


In a relatively weak economy like Kazakhstan, already dominated by foreign capital, the material basis for the establishment of democracy under capitalism is weak. But if the movement is strong enough, it can force concessions in terms of democratic rights and economic improvements. Reforms could be granted in an attempt to stave off revolution.

The only way that a truly democratic society could be established and maintained, however, is if the workers can mobilise and seize power from the capitalists. A democratic workers’ state in Kazakhstan would go on to renationalise the main economic concerns – under democratic workers’ control and management this time – and start the process of constructing socialism. Such a state would appeal to the workers across central Asia to join in establishing a socialist federation of the region.

Other opposition groups active in Kazakhstan have not fully understood this situation. The OSDP (All-national Social Democratic Part), for example believe that it will be possible to establish a ‘Social Democratic’ bourgeois democracy similar to what developed in Northern Europe and the UK after the 2nd World War. Such a development took place for concrete objective reasons that are not present in Kazakhstan in 2016. To imagine that it would be possible to establish such a capitalist utopia in Kazakhstan in 2016, when the world economy appears to be on the brink of recession, is utopian in the extreme.



 The alternative sketched out above, with democratic planning of a publicly owned economy might seem utopian and daunting. But there are workers and young people in Kazakhstan who are conscious of the need for a fight-back and the construction of a mass force with a leadership capable of carrying through the overturn of a powerful regime like that of Nazarbayev. The purpose of this analysis is to help in the building of such a force from amongst those already struggling to build trade unions, conduct campaigns against privatisation, against housing evictions and for basic democratic rights. Their numbers will swell in the coming months and years and make the socialist transformation of society in Kazakhstan, Central Asia and the rest of the world a reality.


After fake elections a storm is brewing in Kazakhstan

Posted by clare on May 11, 2016
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Andrei Prigor, Astana

Parliamentary ‘elections’ took place this year on March 20th. In what has become a tradition, the election was held before it was due. In the whole period in which Kazakhstan has been independent, there has not been one parliamentary or presidential election that has gone ahead according to the period laid down by the law. Every time, having elections early has been explained by the need for reforms to be carried through or certain set tasks to be fulfilled early – supposedly to make the parliament and the president himself look super-efficient!

This of course is not a reflection of the real situation as it exists. Such decisions have been taken with the sole aim of holding onto power and to the control over Kazakhstan’s resources by the existing clique of officials and people close to the irreplaceable president, who has, in turn, protected himself by being beyond the law and with life-long tenure of office. The people of Kazakhstan are so accustomed to this behaviour, that no-one questions these things and all interest in this side of democracy – elections – is completely exhausted. It can be said that the Kazakhstan regime has discredited democratic institutions that go back as far as ancient Greece, when the basic principles of democracy were born.

‘A silent boycott’

Just like the previous elections held prematurely, the latest ones went ahead along the usual lines. The Kazakhstan people displayed complete apathy towards what is supposed to be a significant event. The overwhelming majority decided by themselves to adopt a silent boycott, thus consciously protecting themselves from the kind of attack by the state apparatus which they would have suffered if they had adopted open forms of protest.

State employees, under threat of losing their jobs, were made to ensure a turn-out for the election not only from family members but friends and people they know. Naturally, the question of who to vote for was pre-ordained. The ruling party, Nur Otan, has done nothing with its domination in Parliament except approve laws proposed by the government and clarify proclamations from the president. Its MPs are more like a collection of sleep-walkers!

The process of election campaigning was led by officials who are members of the ruling party. The result was predictable. Turnout, on the basis of considerably skilful fraud, ended up at 82%, which in itself looks absurd, because in reality, the turnout was about 25-30%.

Hollow victory

‘Victory’ went, according to the now established tradition, to Nur Otan, who got an everwhelming 86% of the vote, graciously sharing 7% with the CPPK (Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan)  – a creation of the president’s administration, giving the appearance of the presence of left forces in parliament – and the Democratic Party, ‘Ak Zhol’, representing the interests of business. The result was a new-old parliament, not promising anything new to improve the lives of ordinary citizens.

As expected, after the election the negative attitude in society towards the institutions of state power in general was strengthened – against the ongoing national policies of the government and the ‘representative’ body, the parliament – because a growing number of citizens have come to understand the way the authorities use it to manipulate society.

The social and economic situation has not improved in the country ; it is getting worse by the day. The government has begun introducing a new tax, the pension funds accumulated over the years by ordinary workers are being given to support the second-line banks, meaning the build-up of savings in pension funds exists only on paper. If, tomorrow, there is a need to produce retirement savings in real money terms, the state will not be able to implement it.

Popular discontent

Given the difficult economic situation in the world in relation to the fall in oil prices – and the budget of the country depends on the proceeds of its sale – the Kazakhstan government justifiably fears popular discontent. In a deteriorating social situation it has put through a number of laws restricting the trade union movement and have tightened liability for the organisation of strikes and demonstrations, and all forms of public protest. A range of independent trade union organisations have been liquidated for not wanting to join the more or less state-controlled structures with the high-sounding title ‘Federation of Trade Unions of the Republic of Kazakhstan’.

The question of non-payment of wages has become especially bitter and causes huge discontent amongst workers who have little or no legitimate earnings. In the construction industry, building projects for housing and public sector projects have come to a halt. Those people who have participated in shared building projects are demanding the return of the money they have put in or the handing over of the housing which they have almost paid for. And this is just the beginning of a mood of resistance, as the government has no clear plan for a way out of the crisis.

Corruption in high places

Something which has provoked a particular response from people has been the fact that newly elected members of parliament, while waiting for their service apartments for two weeks, lived in a luxury expensive hotel called ‘Peking Palace’, which cost the public purse a massive 8 million tenge.

The next row followed very quickly. It turned out that the budget for expenses of members of parliament included the cost of purchasing alcoholic drinks like  whisky, brandy, vodka and champagne. In the end, it turned out that the amount spent on top class alcoholic drinks was the equivalent of the cost of a railway tanker !

All this behaviour of these officials of the state apparatus is only adding to the build up of pressure and a difficult situation, the result of corruption and irresponsibility.

Protests have begun

After defeating the opposition in the election, the arrogant government obviously considered the most important threat to them is removed – the threat of a change of power. In fact, on the political field, informal leaders have been bringing people together who are active in society, organising protest groups and raising the mood of protest amongst people, uniting them around one aim – to change the existing unjust order of things.

Under cover of the elections, the government proposed to rent out about one million hectares of land to the People’s Republic of China. Legislation was also being considered for the sale of land to foreigners, which arouse an angry reaction in the population. On April 24, in Atyrau there was an un-sanctioned rally against the sale of land to China, which brought out about 4,000 participants. In the near future, similar protests are planned in other cities of Kazakhstan.

So, instead of getting a quiet life as expected by government officials after falsifying the election, the government has found itself with an intensification of the struggle of Kazakhstan people with the false, lying and criminal set-up established during the many years of Nazarbayev’s rule.

Fourth Anniversary of Zhanaozen oil workers massacre.

Posted by T on December 18, 2015
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Book launch in London remembers the dead and injured and all political prisoners in Kazakhstan.

At the headquarters of Unite the Union in London, an event on 16 December remembered the dreadful events of four years ago (See articles on this site).

Special music was played by Alfia Nakipbekova and James Hesford and newly translated poems by one of Kazakhstan’s most famous political prisoners, Aron Atabek, were read by Tim Newton and Niall McDevitt.

A full video report is in preparation.

Here is a reading of the title poem RE-ZONA-NCE