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Workers’ representative demands to see KazMinerals boss in London

Posted by admin on October 01, 2015
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Copper giant denies suffering of its workers and victimisation of their representatives

Elizabeth Clarke

On Monday 28 September, Berik Zhakiparov from Zhezkazgan was joined by socialists and trade unionists outside the London offices of KazMinerals plc. The company dominates his home city in Kazakhstan. It exploits tens of thousands of workers in its copper mines, processing mills and smelting works. As I have seen for myself, it pollutes the air and the rivers of the city and of the surrounding countryside.

Over the years, the company has extracted huge profits – up to €200 billion in 10 years, salted away abroad. Yet it refuses to invest in new machinery or safety equipment to ease the burden of its workers and eliminate the horrific rate of deaths and injuries at its plants. The company refuses to pay decent wages or to allow genuine trade unions to be formed. When worker activists speak up they are victimised – harassed or sacked.

Before picketing the London headquarters of KazMinerals in Victoria Street, London, I wrote to the company on behalf of supporters of Campaign Kazakhstan and the National Shop Stewards’ Network to explain why Berik was in London. I telephoned their office on a number of occasions, asking to speak to the Chairman of the company – Vladimir Kim or one of the several English members of the Board. Berik was particularly keen to meet not only Mr Kim but also the head of the Health and Safety committee of the company (who has never visited the actual workplaces!). Berik wanted to put across to both of them how workers feel about the life-threatening working conditions in the company’s plants.

The reply from the company’s receptionist was always that there was no one in the office that we could speak to. Later we received a letter from the Company Secretary of KazMinerals saying his company was now separate from Kazakhmys, which is based in Karaganda, and that it had perfectly good relations with its workers!

When we eventually found the sumptuous offices of Kazminerals in Cardinal Place, some very large private security guards were waiting for us. There were also some casual observers sitting or walking around – obviously from the Kazakhstan embassy and taking a lot of photos!

One of the office guards reluctantly agreed to convey our request for a company representative to come and meet us. Berig had a petition with him that had been signed by more than 300 trade unionists and activists during the week he had been in Britain which he wanted to hand over personally. When the security man returned, he said no one could meet us and would not give any name of who had told him this! We took all of this to indicate a guilty conscience and a direct link between KazMinerals and Kazakhmys!

The demonstrators on Monday held up placards demanding better wages and conditions, an end to deaths in the work-place, the reinstatement of sacked workers’ leader, Erlan Tabinov, and hands off Maksat Esenbayeva and all worker activists.

These demands can be supported by using the petition sheet on this site here.

Kazakhstan’s presidential election -and the need to build a workers’ movement

Posted by T on April 22, 2015
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Having been in power since 1989, Nursultan Nazarbayev, President of Kazakhstan proposed in the spring to bring the 2016 presidential election forward. Needless to say, the puppet parliament approved the proposal and announced an election will be held on April 26th. Last week the list of 3 candidates eligible to stand in the election was announced and the official campaign started. However, the election is no more than a plebiscite intended simply to prolong the presidential term of Nazarbayev.

 

Background to the early election

The decision to call an early election was not taken lightly by the Akord (Presidential administration) but was motivated by concern about the deepening of the economic crisis and further fall of the oil price as well as by the increasing enfeeblement and poor health of the president himself.

 

The Bonapartist (authoritarian) regime is at the peak of its development, with all the power, capital and property concentrated into the hands of the president and his close entourage. All, even potentially dangerous figures and groups around whom opposition could emerge, have been neutralised, broken up or liquidated. It appears as if the ruling elite is consolidated as never before. But those close to Nazarbayev, his relatives and henchmen are worried about what state he will be in in a year, whether he will be able to conduct a campaign, if there is a growth of discontent and widening social protests in the country. For this reason, the presidential plebiscite has been brought forward, when there is the lowest possible political activity in the country and whilst it is still possible to hold the tenge (currency) artificially high, before devaluation takes place. The elite hope their actions will keep the presidential throne within the family and form a dynastic system for the transfer of power in the country.

 

If there is the death or long term hospitalisation of Nazarbayev after the election, there will then be no need for a new election as, according to the constitution, either the speaker of the senate, the speaker of the mazhilas (parliament) or the prime minister takes over as acting President. By serving out the rest of the term, they then  gain several years in which to prepare for their own election.

 

Preparations for this early election have been going on for some time. At the end of last year, Nur Otan (ruling party) presented its new programme “Nurli Zhol” (Path to the future) at the same time as Nazarbayev’s daughter Dariga was promoted to head Nur Otan and to the position of deputy speaker. The political arena was purged with the suspicious death in custody in Austria of the oligarch oppositionist (and Dariga’s ex-husband) Rakhat Aliev, the extradition from France to Russia of the other oligarch oppositionist , Mukhtar Ablyazov, and the banning of the activities of the country’s tame “Communist” party.

 

The entourage is rushing, afraid that they have little time left before the re-emergence of protests and the workers movement whilst the president is still around, so they can re-arrange their forces and ensure stability if he has to leave. Whether their plans will succeed is under much doubt.

 

The puppet sparring partners.

This pseudo-election, even when compared to all other elections in the country which have never been honest, transparent or genuinely competitive, is the first in which the president’s office has not even bothered to pretend there are alternative candidates. The leader of the “United Social Democrats”, Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, and of the pro-Nazarbayev “Ak zhol” party, Azat Peruashev, and even the “ecologist”, Mels Eleusizov, have all refused to run. The first two are maybe waiting for next year’s parliamentary election, and are concerned that a low vote this time will discredit them.

 

In this situation, when political activity is very low, with the complete collapse of the liberal bourgeois opposition and the banning of the old ‘Communist’ party, the presidential administration has had to put up sparring partners from within its own ranks. The first of these is Abelgazi Kusainov, the former akim (mayor) of Karaganda and now head of the “Trade Union Federation of Kazakhstan” – a grey candidate, a complete product of the bureaucratic system who was appointed to head the state supported trade union as part of the president’s 2013 reforms of workers’ rights in his “Society of Universal Labour”. The aim of this reform was to strengthen the undemocratic state-sponsored union to prevent a repeat of the 2011 oil-workers’ protests. It was accompanied by the introduction into the criminal law of the country of the criminalisation of independent trade union activities.

 

As akim of Karaganda, Kusainov did all in his power to prevent strikes and protests by the workers, he continued this activity against the workers of Zhezkazgan. Workers also experienced his actions when, in 2003 as minister for trade and industry, he helped to liquidate and asset strip the Irtyshskii copper foundry.  As a bureaucrat and member of the Nur Otan ruling party, he heads the trade union as a representative of the mining companies and oligarchs to prevent the development of a genuine workers’ movement. His nomination is useful too, as it enables the regime to present an image of alternative elections to the west – “look we even have a trade unionist and a communist standing”.

 

The “communist”, according to the head of the communist faction in the parliament moving his nomination, is a “real Leninist”. But Turgin Syzdykov, head of the puppet “Communist Peoples’ Party of Kazakhstan” is an even greyer and less known candidate than Kasainov. His party’s approach to the “Society of Universal Labour” stresses their support and only complains that it doesn’t  implemented things properly. His candidature is proposed only, it seems, to give the impression that there is a “left” candidate.

 

Most importantly, both “alternative” candidates call for support for Nazarbayev in the election! Even Kazakhstan has not seen such a farcical circus of an election before.

 

The struggle under the covers continues.

Even though on the surface it appears that the ruling class has reached agreement for the election, the permanent war between the different groups is continuing behind the scenes. After the election, it could blow up again. Talk here is not about a complete split in the ruling class, but a confrontation between the different wings of the ruling family. Two wings have their eye on the throne – elder daughter Dalgira, deputy speaker and head of Nur Otan on the one side and Nazarbayev’s “middle” son-in law, Timur Kulibayev, and his ally the Prime Minister, Karim Massimov, on the other.

 

All other figures and palace oligarchs circle around these two main forces, the battle for the throne will be determined by who supports whom and this makes the question of whether the ruling elite will be able to maintain stability after the handover very debatable. An open struggle could lead to the activisation of the various regional groups, who up to now have been weakened by the purges and repression.  It’s not accidental that at a recent outburst by football fans in Aktobe, provoked by the regional clan elite, the demand for the separation of the territory of the region from the rest of Kazakhstan was raised.

 

Of course, a key factor in developments which cannot be ignored is the development of a politicised workers’ movement and social protests. This includes in particular the rural unemployed youth and internal migrants who are already capable of gathering in thousands at a moment’s notice. In the situation when the living standards of the masses falls, when production is dropping, unemployment increasing and the government is pushing through a programme of budget cuts and privatisation of the health and education systems, a protest movement could take on a national character, especially in the event of the death or long hospitalisation of Nazarbayev. Protests in Uzbekistan or Kyrghizia could also influence events.

 

In preparation for such developments the police and internal troops are being strengthened, weapons are being purchased in Europe. The new criminal code is being implemented in which there are seven specific points against the independent workers’ movement.  At the same time, the ultra-right nationalists are being built up, who, supported by the authorities and political police, are filling the social networks with a multitude of publications and resources with the aim of splitting ordinary people from each other, of diverting the Kazakh speaking youth away from active protests.

 

So there is no point in expecting these early elections to lead to any miracle of eternal stability and regime conservation or panacea from social shocks and instability at the top. On the contrary, they are no more than a convulsive attempt to maintain power at any cost in an attempt while there is still a chance to form a dynastic system.

 

Our tasks and the demand for a workers’ party

Clearly any participation in this circus spectacle is meaningless. It is clear that it is necessary to call for a boycott of this election, for people not to vote and to use the opportunity for maximum propaganda against all the candidates. Nevertheless, this plebiscite demonstrates again the political vacuum in the country, the complete lack of any opposition organisations and candidates, who can represent the interests of workers and the wider layer in society.

 

We can already see important developments with several different processes merging: the oil-workers are regaining their confidence with the release of their last prisoners, the beginning of some as yet localised strikes, the mass resignation from the state supported trade union, a general politicisation with the ignoring of the election and instead the raising of calls for the setting up of political workers’ organisations in the country. These important developments and changes in political consciousness underline that it is not enough just to call for a boycott, but to argue for the need for the self-organisation into class-based independent trade unions and to begin the discussion about establishing a workers’ party based on a socialist programme.

By posing the question in this way, we are reflecting the attempts by workers to unify their forces, to defend their rights and interests, to the need not just to defend their interests but to organise new large scale strikes and protests and the fact that the mass of oil-workers as well as many other workers across the country see how farcical these elections are.

 

From Socialism Kazakhstan blog

 

Report from Day one of housing protest in Astana

Posted by T on April 09, 2015
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7 April 2015

 

Today, activists of the ONJ – the organisation known as ‘Leave the People’s Homes Alone’ – from various regions of the country, have been trying to get a meeting with the candidate for the post of president, namely Nazarbayev.

All entrances to the President’s office and the House of Ministers were blocked by police.

As on 19 March this year, ONJ members communicated through a presidential aide, N Onjanov, that they wanted to meet the person who is standing for the highest state position. But Nazarbayev, according to this civil servant, was very busy and was today visiting the area of Semey.

Exchanges

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The Attorney of Yesil district received a clear declaration from the activists that mortgage-holders were seeking a peaceful meeting and the authorities had nothing to fear. In response, the Attorney issued a warning to them. With this, the exchange of courtesies almost came to an end, apart from both sides photographing and filming each other.

Then Mr Terenteyev, a Departmental Director, appeared on the scene to clarify the programme adopted by the government and the National Bank of the Republic of Kazakhstan, that has to be ‘worked on’ after the election. He began to address the housing activists, avoiding the questions they asked him. He just kept going on about the $130 billion being paid out and that the money will go to the socially vulnerable – people with health disabilities, mothers of large families, veterans and invalids from the Great Patriotic War and mortgages would be renewed at 3%!  This is what it was like. (He was videoed as he spoke.)

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Official tries to clarify!

To the questions of when would ordinary mortgage-holders like teachers, nurses and other workers, who make up the majority of borrowers hit by the financial crash, be in a position to pay their loans from their wages, there was no concrete answer from the official.     Then he thanked each ONJ activist by name and in every sentence repeated that without their struggle and their participation in the working group, there would not have been any help along the way and invited them all to go with him to a hall for further clarification about the programme for refinancing mortgage loans yet to be adopted. Apparently he was frozen, being from Almaty and unaccustomed to the cold.

Saying he would give up his return ticket, bought with public money, the official promised to remain in Astana to explain further the measures taken that have actually profited the banks (although no one had asked him to!).

Today, there was no provocation from the special branch. And the loans demonstrators gave them no cause for making arrests.

Thanks are due to all in Astana who have expressed their support and given food and shelter to the demonstrators.

Tomorrow is another day of protest. Same place from morning to evening. It remains to be seen if the president makes any response.

 

The Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers protest Bar Council ‘Business Mission’ to Kazakhstan

Posted by T on April 09, 2015
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The Bar Council

289-293 High Holborn

London WC1V 7HZ

 

By post and e-mail:

ContactUs@BarCouncil.org.uk

 

EXTREMELY URGENT.

 

Dear Sirs,

 

Re: Bar Council Business Development Mission to Kazakhstan.

 

The Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers was founded in 1930. It is an organisation that provides a forum for the discussion and analysis of law and the legal system both nationally and internationally, from a socialist perspective. It is independent of any political party. Its membership consists of individuals who are lawyers, academics or students and legal workers, and it also has trade union and labour affiliates.

 

We write to express our profound concern about the ‘business development mission’ you are organizing to Kazakhstan for 26-30 April 2015. Based on Kazakhstan’s human rights record, lack of an independent judiciary or any respect for procedural due process, such a mission appears ill-judged, to put it at its lowest.  The Bar Council represents the bar community of England and Wales.  As such, we believe the only appropriate stance for our Bar Council is to conduct a thorough investigation into violations of international human rights norms in that country.

 

Kazakhstan has an appalling human rights record, as is acknowledged by the United States State Department,[1] Human Rights Watch,[2] Amnesty International[3] and all international human rights monitors. Reporters Without Borders reports the state has control over independent media, NGOs, civil society, and effectively crushes dissent. The vast majority of the population lives in poverty and those who speak out against the state or organise mass resistance are harassed, jailed, or killed.

 

Kazakhstan is a police state. It is ruled by Nursultan Nazarbayev who, with the help of his close family, has looted the mineral and oil wealth of the country. Despite being oil rich and the world’s largest producer of uranium, its people do not share in the wealth.

 

The human rights situation in Kazakhstan continues to deteriorate. Nazarbayev has cracked down on protestors and journalists and has limited worker’s rights. The World Democracy Audit ranks Kazakhstan 129 out of 150 countries in its Democracy Ranking and 110th in the Corruption rank, and 131st in Press Freedom.

 

In mid-2011, oil workers took industrial action – demanding better pay, better working conditions, and the right to organize. Industrial action was met with a vicious state attack and massacre. On 16 December 2011, the state launched an unprovoked attack on a peaceful gathering in the central square of Zhenazoen. The BBC reported that 11 were killed, but workers in the area estimate that up to 70 strikers and supporters were actually killed. Numerous arrests were later made and trumped up charges were filed against workers. This view is shared by Human Rights Watch in their World Report 2015.[4]

 

Human rights defenders face constant persecution and harassment by the government in the course of their work. Vadim Kuramshin a well-known lawyer and human rights defender has worked for many years to expose the ill-treatment of prisoners in Kazakhstan. In December 2012, Vadim was sent to prison for 12 years on trumped-up charges on which he had first been acquitted. The trial has been condemned for breaching Kazhakstan’s own court procedures. This outrageous verdict was upheld by the Court of Taraz on 14 February 2013. Yet on 5th December 2013 he was awarded the prestigious 18th annual Ludovic-Trarieux Human Rights Prize for lawyers working in defense of human rights.[5] We continue to protest his innocence.

 

In Kazakhstan we support the campaign for free speech, freedom of the media, freedom of public assembly, the right to establish trade unions and political parties independent of the government, to organise in the workplace and the community without interference from the state, to strike and demonstrate.

 

We consider the proposed ‘business development mission’ a serious misjudgment by the Bar Council. Given the level of human rights abuses carried out by the state in Kazakhstan we ask that you cancel this mission as it gives tacit support in legitimising the Nazabayev regime.

 

Further we call on the Bar Council to organize a mission to investigate human rights abuses in Kazakhstan.

 

Yours,

Russell Fraser (Chair)

 



[2] Human Rights Watch World Report 2015 states “Kazakhstan heavily restricts freedom of assembly, speech, and religion. In 2014, authorities closed newspapers, jailed or fined dozens of people after peaceful but unsanctioned protests, and fined or detained worshipers for practicing religion outside state controls. Government critics, including opposition leader Vladimir Kozlov, remained in detention after unfair trials.” http://www.hrw.org/world-report/2015/country-chapters/kazakhstan

[5] the Ludovic-Trarieux Prize was created in 1984 website, it is awarded to “a lawyer, regardless of nationality or Bar [national bar associations – professional bodies of lawyers] who thorough-out his career has illustrated, by his activity or his suffering, the defence of human rights, the promotion of defence rights, the supremacy of law, and the struggle against racism and intolerance in any form”. http://www.uianet.org/en/content/ludovic-trarieux-international-human-rights-prize

Court frees last two Zhanaozen oil workers

Posted by admin on April 06, 2015
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From right to left: Rose Tuletaeva, Naryn Zharylgasynov, Kanat Zhusipbaev

Court frees last two Zhanaozen oil workers
Independent investigation still needed into 2011 shooting, torture and disappearances

On 19 March, a court in Aktau decided to parole the last two remaining imprisoned oil workers from Zhanaozen. Naryn Zharylgasynov and Kanat Zhusipbaev were convicted for involvement in a nearly eight-month strike of workers in 2011. It appears that the paroles are linked to early presidential elections and the authorities wanting to give the appearance of the regime relaxing its authoritarian grip.

The freed workers expressed special thanks to the Mangistau regional Aktau trade union leaders who were constantly in touch with them and to Paul Murphy, a former Member of the European Parliament for the Socialist Party of Ireland (CWI) who is now a member of the Irish parliament . He visited Zhanaozen and also moved three resolutions on the massacre and injustices there at the European parliament as well as speaking at numerous conferences and events in support of the convicted workers.

Within two weeks, both workers were due to meet their comrades and fellow workers, as well as Aktau trade union leaders. It will mark a day when forces can begin to be gathered to start a new phase of struggle.

It is clear that this is not the end of the oil workers’ struggle.

The fight for the full rehabilitation of the convicted members of the heroic oil workers’ strike must go on, calling for nationalisation of the mining industry under workers’ control, for trade union freedom and the creation of a trade union-based workers’ party.

The demonisation of oil workers by the regime must stop! They are fighters for the cause of the working class in Kazakhstan! The fight must go on to get an independent investigation into the mass shooting, torture and disappearance of strikers and local people on 16 December 2011.

Nazarbayev goes for early re-election before hardship provokes mass opposition

Posted by admin on April 06, 2015
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Andrei Prigor, Kokshetau, Kazakhstan
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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.

Workers

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.

Opposition

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.

Third anniversary of Zhanaozen massacre

Posted by T on December 08, 2014
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Call for commemoration protests at Kazakhstan embassies

Ainur Kurmanov,  Socialist Movement Kazakhstan

16th December marks the third anniversary of the brutal shooting down by state forces of oil-workers and their families who had been on strike for seven months in West Kazakhstan. What began as a strike turned into a mass movement involving pensioners, unemployed youth, the relatives and friends of the strikers. This in part is due to the belief of the strikers that they were fighting for all. They put as one of their demands pay rises for the region’s teachers and doctors because of their low wages and the high cost of living.

The strike started in May. After the break-up of the protesters camp in July, the protesters started a round the clock rally in the city’s central square. It was organised and disciplined. Oil workers from other sites and companies maintained solidarity, regularly collected from their wages money to help the strikers. Even though the two companies involved, “Ozenmunaigaz” and “Karazhanbasmunai” tried to sack the workforce and replace them with new workers, production fell dramatically and the profits taken by the owners, including members of the ruling family were badly hit.

The most important point is that there was a dramatic jump in the political consciousness of those workers who went through the seven and half months of this school of class struggle in many ways similar to what happened to the Russia working class after the first Russian revolution in 1905. The strike quickly left the boundaries of economic struggle as the workers supported the nationalisation of the oil companies under workers’ control.  By November, the strikers set up a unified workers’ committee over the whole region which called for a boycott of the parliamentary election as a result of their lack of confidence in the current political parties and called for the setting up of a national unification of fighting trade unions and their own political party.

These calls culminated in a call for a general strike with the demand for Nazarbayev’s resignation which was due to be made on 16th December at the planned rally. This the ruling clique could not tolerate which led to the decision to prevent the movement developing into a national strike and protest by drowning the Zhanaozen protest in blood. At least 70 people were killed when the police opened fire on the peaceful and unarmed demonstration. For two weeks, the whole city was held in terror with mass arrests, tortures and disappearances. 37 of the most active protesters were put on trial and sentenced to prison terms of up to seven years.

For five days after the shootings, a general strike raged across the region, with protest meetings in the oil-fields themselves. In the following year, two short political strikes were held demanding the release of the imprisoned oil workers. In the three years since the strike, there have been more than 20 major strikes in the Mangystau region. In May, following the strike a just as dramatic strike took place at the “Kazakhmys” corporation which gained a 100% pay rise for the workers.

Socialist Movement Kazakhstan and the trade union “Zhanartu” call for:

  • Full independent investigation into the real number of victims amongst workers and their supporters, into the cases of torture and the names of those involved and into the facts around the organisation of the attack on the peaceful demonstration by the local authorities and company managers;
  • The immediate release of those still in prison with the full vindication and rehabilitation of those tried and imprisoned;
  • The complete freedom for trade union activities and strikes, with the establishment of genuine democratic and fighting trade unions across the country;
  • The nationalisation of industry and natural resources under the control of democratic workers committees;
  • The establishment of a party to represent the interests of the working class.

 

We call for protests to commemorate this event outside Kazakhstan embassies or other points of Kazakh interest on or around the 16th December.

Rosa’s release means it’s time to step up campaigning for other political prisoners

Posted by T on December 08, 2014
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Rosa T

 

As we reported previously on this site, Roza Tuletaeva, one of the active leaders of the Zhanaozen strike has been released from prison.

Originally sentenced to 7 years, her sentence was reduced on appeal to 5 years. In the summer she was refused release on parole so her release has been unexpected.

Undoubtedly this is a result of the international solidarity campaign and the fact that her case is being discussed by the UN committee on torture. The European Parliament has also passed four resolutions about the Zhanaozen events which have demanded the immediate release of participants in the months’ long strike.

It is not ruled out either that Roza’s release is linked to possible early elections in the country so that President Nazarbayev not only removes a factor leading to discontent in the country but is also able to strengthen his “liberal” credentials before the west. But we now need to step up the campaign to obtain the release of those others who are still in prison, including Maksat Dosmagambetov, who has suffered severe torture and as a result of his beatings, now suffers facial bone cancer.

Roza has been one of those who has not been afraid to speak out about who was responsible for the events in Zhenaozen on 16th December 2011. As a result she has become a symbol for freedom of speech and human rights in Kazakhstan.

 

 

Rosa Tuletaeva is freed from prison!

Posted by T on November 20, 2014
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Message from Bakhytzhan Toregozhina in Kazakhstan

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“I have just today been able to get t

 

hrough on the telephone to Rosa Tuletaeva

to convey my heart-felt congratulations on her release from prison! Since yesterday she has been getting phone calls from all over Kazakhstan with congratulations from supporters and friends! Rosa w

aited for my call to be able to pass on a huge thankyou to all the people who supported her while in prison.

“She said that it was the people’s support which helped her survive! Anyone who wants to congratulate Rosa personally can contact her on her phone: 7022969864.”

More details to follow.

See previous articles about Rosa and the Zhanaozen workers’ struggles on this site.

 

 

 

 

Brutal repression in imperialism’s interests

Posted by T on October 28, 2014
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The chair of Campaign Kazakhstan, Mick Whale, has written an update on the situation in Kazakhstan for the publication, Socialism Today. In it he raises the need for solidarity initiatives with workers who continue to fight the bosses and the regime. He also speaks of the plight of political prisoners – the oil-workers’ leaders, the lawyer Vadim Kuramshin and writer Aron Atabek (see previous articles on this site). Please renew your efforts to raise money for legal and other aid to victims of Nazarbayev’s dictatorship. 

Recent revelations of how former British prime minister Tony Blair advised the Kazakhstan president to ‘spin’ the December 2011 massacre of up to 70 oil workers in Zhanaozen, in the western province of Mangistau, Kazakhstan, has again brought attention to the brutal character of the regime

. The fallout from this bloody repression continues.

While there has been nothing on the scale of the Zhanaozen massacre since, the Kazakhstan regime has, if anything, become more repressive. Activities by independent trade unions or activists who call for strikes have been criminalised. The “distribution of false rumours” (calling for a strike) is punishable by up to twelve years in prison. The charge of “inciting social disorder”, which was used against the oil workers, has been strengthened. Any gathering of opponents to the regime of president Nursultan Nazarbayev is attacked by state forces. Activists face jail terms for public order offences. Independent trade unionists and social activists face daily harassment, ranging from being followed by state forces to being threatened with violence, beaten up and detained on fabricated charges.

Even rich oligarchs, like Mukhtar Ablyazov, who oppose Nazarbayev, claim they face intimidation and have been forced into exile. Ablyazov is wanted by the regime (and by Russian and Ukrainian authorities) in relation to the disappearance of $6 billion from the BTA bank of which he was chairman from 2005-09.

Ablyazov has been detained by police in France, pending a challenge by his lawyers to an extradition order served on him there. He claims that he is innocent, that the charges are fabricated to silence a political opponent, and that he will not get a fair hearing if he returns from exile. The fact that the Kazakhstan authorities, in collusion with Italian officials, effectively kidnapped his wife and daughter and flew them back to Kazakhstan suggests that he is probably correct!

The media in Kazakhstan is heavily censored. Only officially accepted opposition parties are allowed to take part in elections. Nazarbayev’s political party, Nur-Otan (Light of Fatherland), usually gets more than 80% of the total vote. There are two other ‘opposition parties’ with seats: Ak Zhol (Democratic Party of Kazakhstan Bright Path), formed following a split in the liberal opposition by those who want to work with Nazarbayev; and the Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan, a pro-Nazarbayev group set up in opposition to the main Communist Party of Kazakhstan (CPK), which was at least anti-Nazarbayev.

Despite an international outcry from the legal profession, lawyers who are associated with opposition to the regime are imprisoned on fabricated charges. Well-known cultural figures like the poet Aron Atabek are also incarcerated. The Kazakhstan regime uses old Stalinist prison camps in remote parts of the country to try to intimidate and break opposition elements. Vadim Kuramshin, an award-winning lawyer, has been imprisoned in Karaganda province. This area became infamous in the 1960s and 1970s as the centre of the network of gulags featured in Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s novel, A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch. Rosa Tuletayava, one of the leaders of the Zhanaozen oil workers, has also been moved to a jail that is virtually inaccessible to her family.

Nazarbayev showed no remorse in relation to the Zhanaozen massacre when he chose the first anniversary, 16 December 2012, to launch his ‘forward plan’: ‘Kazakhstan 2050’. It contains several priorities, including, “Introducing a ‘zero tolerance’ principle towards disorder”. Ironically, this subheading is in the section titled, ‘Further Strengthening of the Statehood and Development of the Kazakhstan Democracy’.

Nazarbayev supports democracy as long as there is no serious opposition. He allows people to vote as long as they vote for him, his candidates and policies. He is a dictator in all but name. On the list of most corrupt countries in the world, Kazakhstan comes 140th out of 177! This corruption extends to all areas of life. Laws which on paper protect society from abuse are ignored if it suits the interests of Nazarbayev and his extended family. For example, it is alleged that building regulations were ignored to allow his son-in-law to build a new shopping mall in the country’s main city, Almaty.

A potentially more serious example concerns the Eurasian National Resources Company. It holds mining interests in Kazakhstan and Africa, and is controlled by Alexander Maskievitch, a long-term friend of Nazarbayev. It is now the subject of a serious fraud investigation by London’s Metropolitan Police. The Independent newspaper in Britain reported: “Kazakh government involvement in the UK machinations has led some observers in the central Asian state to speculate that the Nazarbayev family have equity interests in the company”. The regime survives by a combination of brutal repression and the international support of imperialism, in particular through giant oil and gas companies making vast profits in the area.

Crony capitalism

Nazarbayev likes to present himself as a great patriot. Indeed, Kazakhstan 2050 includes the aspiration that it will be one of the top 30 countries by 2050. This is a supreme irony since Nazarbayev has presided over the wholesale sell-off of oil, gas and mineral reserves to foreign companies. He has used his position as head of state to accumulate a massive fortune for himself and his family. This personal wealth has been ‘patriotically’ deposited in banks in southeast Asia! Kazakhstan was one of the first of the former Stalinist states to fully open itself up for imperialist interests. Western and Chinese big business needed little encouragement to ‘cooperate’ in exploiting and profiting from its rich natural resources.

Foreign capital has brought wealth into the country. In fact, Kazakhstan’s GDP was reportedly growing at 10% until the global crisis of 2008-09. Since then, growth has slowed to 5% per annum. With Russia on the verge of a new recession, it is likely that Kazakhstan’s economy will slow down further. Most of the oil, gas and mineral sector is still part-owned by the state which, in turn, is controlled by Nazarbayev and his cronies. From time to time, the state sells off its interests in these companies to giant multinationals like Chevron.

 

A victim of the 2011 Zhanaozen massacre of oil workers

 

This liberalisation has massively distorted both the economy and the life of the workers in it. The old state-owned system within the USSR meant that Kazakhstan was effectively under the control of the one-party regime based in Moscow. This meant that production was ultimately geared towards maintaining the interests of the Russian-based bureaucracy, which dominated the whole of the Soviet Union. Nazarbayev was the first native Kazakh to hold the post of general secretary of the CPK. Previous post holders had all been Russian.

Because of the state ownership and planning, and despite the bureaucratic methods by which the CPK ran Kazakhstan, the country did develop from a predominantly backward agricultural economy to one which had a relatively balanced industrial base. Manufacturing and construction existed alongside mining and drilling for gas and oil. Agriculture remained important but became mechanised. Though still lagging behind the advanced capitalist states in the west, infrastructure was developed.

Democratic control by the workers, crucial to a healthy workers’ state, was stifled by the Russian and Kazakh bureaucracies. All opposition was rooted out. But the economic development of the country brought certain social gains for the working class and poor farmers. Health, education and housing were readily and cheaply available. Despite the lack of democracy and choice under the old system, many older Kazakhstan workers now look back with some nostalgia on the ‘Soviet’ past.

Workers pay the price

Since the move to a market economy, Kazakhstan has been opened up to multinational vultures. From a relatively developed ‘mixed’ economy, it is now based on the export of primary goods, providing oil, gas and minerals for western imperialism and China. Reports estimate that oil and gas account for more than 80% of Kazakhstan’s GDP. This compares with about 20% in 1990. Alongside this, the privatisation of land and the breakup of collective farms saw the displacement and impoverishment of hundreds of thousands of land-labourers who migrated to the towns in search of work.

The social impact has been dramatic. Many workers have been forced out of their traditional family homes to move to the oil and gas fields. This has created a housing crisis. Shantytowns have grown up in some areas, including on the outskirts of Almaty. It was one such settlement, Shanyrak, where huge battles took place in 2006 against the bulldozers and armed forces sent in to clear the land for private development.

Some of the vast wealth in Kazakhstan has trickled down to a small middle class comprised mostly of managers in the gas and oil industries. This is unlikely to be sustained or substantial enough to create a meaningful social layer between the ruling elite and the working class. Certain groups of workers have also seen modest increases in pay but most are materially worse off than they were before the re-establishment of capitalism.

The recent fall in world commodity prices has exposed the dependence of Kazakhstan’s economy on the export of raw materials. In February, the Kazakhstan authorities were forced to devalue the tenge currency by 8%. Further devaluations, totalling an 18% reduction, are an indication of the relative weakness of the economy. They were aimed at maintaining the level of exports. However, the impact on workers in the country has been dramatic.

Yerbolat Dossayev, minister for economy and budget planning, urged people to remain calm when the devaluation took place. He claimed: “Over 80% of the basic goods are produced in our country. The prices for these goods will not be increased”. But Kazakh banks and finance houses warned that there could be inflation. In Almaty, many shops closed to re-price their goods, and a number of spontaneous street protests took place. The devaluation has boosted the share prices of giant firms like the mining company, Kazakhmys, but at the expense of workers’ living standards. Working-class people with mortgages, already having difficulty repaying them, were also hit.

Geopolitical pressures

It is not just falling commodity prices and devaluation that threaten the stability of Kazakhstan’s economy and the regime which profits from it. Increasingly, Nazarbayev is caught between contradictory international pressures. Historically, the Kazakh regime has been linked to Russia. This has continued into the post-Stalinist era. Russian remains, with Kazakh, an official language of Kazakhstan. Nazarbayev has cemented these links by taking Kazakhstan into a customs union – the Eurasian Economic Union (EES) – with Russia and Belarus. Officially an economic agreement, Russian president Vladimir Putin undoubtedly sees this as a potential political or even military bloc.

The problem for Nazarbayev is that, if Kazakhstan backs Russia against the EU or US imperialism in the conflict over Ukraine, for example, it risks sanctions and the loss of investment from western imperialism. This could cripple the economy and destabilise the regime. Up to now this has appeared unlikely, given Nazarbayev’s craven attitude towards the west, not to mention the huge investments which the west has in Kazakhstan. But it cannot be ruled out completely.

Alexander Lukhashenko, president of Belarus, was initially enthusiastic, stating at the EES signing ceremony that it would gradually turn into a foundation for political, military and humanitarian cooperation. As Russia started to flex its military muscle in relation to Ukraine, however, Lukashenko and Nazarbayev distanced themselves from the Kremlin. This course of action was dictated, in part, by fear of economic sanctions from the west. However, both Lukashenko and Nazarbayev have seen the growth of Russian intervention in the former Stalinist states and fear more overt Russian intervention in their own countries.

At the beginning of September, Putin even denied the legitimacy of Kazakhstan’s independence from Russia, stating: “There has never been a country called Kazakhstan… it is purely the product of the current president”. This is an open threat to Nazarbayev that Russia could intervene if Kazakhstan attempted to distance itself too much from Moscow, particularly in the north where there is a concentration of ethnic Russians.

The Kazakhstan government is in a contradictory situation over Ukraine and has so far managed to remain silent about it. But, as the tension has escalated with Russian forces directly involved, raising the possibility of some form of de facto partition in southeast Ukraine, Kazakhstan could be put on the spot and have to choose which side it supports. How the situation in Ukraine impacts on surrounding countries is not easily predictable. The situation remains very fluid. But Putin’s remarks about Kazakhstan are an indication that there can be other areas of dispute in the area of the ex-Soviet Union.

China initially adopted a neutral position in relation to Ukraine but, by ignoring western imperialism’s sanctions, is in effect supporting Russia. There are other parts of the world, for example Africa and the Middle East, where Russia and China could find themselves in conflict with each other. These tensions can also cause problems for Kazakhstan in the future.

China has a border with eastern Kazakhstan and is the largest single export market for the Kazakh economy. The gradual slowing down of the Chinese economy will affect its need for commodities and its imports of raw materials. At the same time, growing unrest among the Chinese working class could find its reflection within Kazakhstan.

The Kazakh language is part of the Turkic group. Certainly, in the oil-rich south-western areas of Kazakhstan there is an affinity with Turkey, and the Islamic religion is more obviously visible. Many Turks work in the Kazakh oil fields, and the demonstrations earlier this year against the Erdoğan regime in Turkey over the tragic mining disaster at Soma will have resonated with workers in Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan’s official religion is Islam although, at present, there are few open signs of right-wing political Islam in the country. Periodically, the KNB (secret police) ‘uncover’ a plot linked to Islamic extremism. However, it has been reported that hundreds of native Kazakh Islamists have gone to fight in Syria on behalf of the anti-Assad forces, while Bashar al-Assad’s main superpower ally is Russia. There are even unconfirmed reports that prisoners have been released from Kazakh jails with the unofficial support of the regime to go and fight in Syria.

Particularly in the south, there appears to be a growth in support for Islam, and an increase in attacks on police stations and other government buildings. It is not clear whether these are organised by agents provocateurs to give the state grounds for further repression. If the state is using Islamic fundamentalism in this way, it is a very dangerous strategy which could easily backfire. While an unlikely development, the growth of right-wing political Islam could not be entirely ruled out in Kazakhstan, particularly if the working class is unable to mount a challenge to the dictatorship.

Working-class opposition

International factors may destabilise the Nazarbayev regime, but it falls to the working class to remove him from power. When they move into action workers will quickly realise that the way forward is not to replace Nazarbayev and his cronies with another oligarch like Ablyazov. Rather, the task before Kazakhstan’s working class is the establishment of a democratic workers’ state which would use the oil, gas and mineral wealth to create a real paradise on this earth for working people. The struggle for a workers’ state or genuine socialism in Kazakhstan could be the impetus for similar developments in Russia, Turkey, China and elsewhere.

It would be wrong to underestimate the difficulties which the working class face. The brutal dictatorship makes basic organisation very difficult. All manner of obstacles, however, have not stopped some heroic struggles taking place. Against all the odds, and new anti-union laws, independent trade unions do exist. Strikes happen and have been successful. While, unsurprisingly after Zhanaozen, oil workers have been less militant, in 2012 copper miners in central Kazakhstan occupied the mines and won pay rises of 100%! More recently, they were campaigning for the renationalisation of the mines.

The threats and state intimidation have not stopped social movements over housing continuing in Astana, Almaty, 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. Nevertheless, the constant threat of jailings and physical attacks make taking part in protests extremely dangerous.

Revolution and counter-revolution walk side by side in Kazakhstan. The lack of social reserves for the regime means that any spark – a strike, economic emergency or political clash – can lead to a protest which could quickly escalate into a mass movement, like those seen in recent years in Egypt and elsewhere. Such a movement could isolate and force out the regime.

It is unlikely that Nazarbayev would hand over the reins of power without a struggle. If he did, it would probably be to one of his family. At 73 years old, rumours abound that his health is declining. He cannot go on forever. Any dictatorship faces a potential crisis when a change of leadership takes place. The regime appears to be preparing for an election. One reason for this could be to try and clear out any unreliable elements from office that could make a handover to a new ‘Nazarbayev’ difficult. However long Nazarbayev lives, a key task, in very difficult conditions, is to prepare a political cadre which can develop workers’ organisations and opposition movements into a united fighting force that can bring down the dictatorship.

Campaign Kazakhstan

Socialists in Britain and across the world cannot substitute themselves for the Kazakhstan workers but we can play an important role in assisting them. Campaign Kazakhstan was established precisely to organise support for workers in Kazakhstan and to try and isolate the regime of Nazarbayev abroad.

We need to continue to expose the brutality of the regime. We need to highlight the terrible conditions in Kazakhstan’s prisons and to campaign for the release of political prisoners like Vadim Kuramshin and Rosa Tuletayeva. Assistance in this can be as simple as signing an online petition or writing a letter of protest to the Kazakhstan embassy.

We need to challenge those outside Kazakhstan who support the Nazarbayev regime, including Tony and Cherie Blair. Tony Blair has been paid around £9 million to advise Nazarbayev on how to appear to be a democrat. Cherie’s law firm has received fees of $1,000 an hour for its services!

We also need to expose the multinational companies which implicitly condone repression and murder. When Austria’s campaign held a protest at a football match involving Kazakhstan’s national team in Vienna, it had a huge impact in Kazakhstan and lifted the spirits of activists.

 

Campaign Kazakhstan protest outside ’Tony Blair Associates’ offices, London

 

We need more trade union branches and other organisations to affiliate and donate money to Campaign Kazakhstan. Money raised has gone predominantly to help victims of oppression in Kazakhstan itself. Can you take a simple resolution to your trade union branch asking for affiliation and support?

I was privileged to visit Zhanaozen last year. The importance of international solidarity is best expressed through the appreciation voiced by one of the activists I met. He had survived for twelve hours on the square after the killing spree by government forces. He had been slipping in and out of consciousness. His left leg is now four inches shorter as a result of his bullet wound injuries. He had not worked since the massacre. I was able to give him a donation from our campaign to help him with his medical and living expenses. He thanked me for the money but added that, even more important was the knowledge that workers in other countries were standing in solidarity.

Campaign Kazakhstan needs you to build support for us. Help us continue to campaign in solidarity with workers throughout Kazakhstan.