Article Archive for Year 2006
Germany is in line to assume the rotating EU Presidency in the first half of 2007 and has already announced that it will work hard to develop a European Central Asia strategy. Last week’s travel of foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier took him to all five Central Asian countries within five days. Quite brief to come up with a cohesive strategy. Let’s have a look at what the German press has written about Mr. Steinmeier’s trip to Turkmenistan.
“Travel to Absurdistan” – the header of the article appearing in the tabloid Bild says it all, and the surreal aspects of the Turkmen dictatorship listed in the brief article are well-known to the Central Asia enthusiast, but now also to the wider German public. “In Turkmenistan, the way towards democracy is evidently being followed too hesitantly”, Steinmeier told the press after a rather long talk with President Niyazov. According to Reuters, the discussion between the German foreign minister and the Turkmen president apparently became quite heated at some point, with Niyazov justifying the country’s bleak human rights record in the light of terrorism and Steinmeier threatening less EU engagement.
However, as an example, German-Turkmen relations are already quite far-reaching: German (not Turkmen, thanks Nathan) doctors are healing Niyazov, Lufthansa flies almost daily to Ashgabad, Daimler-Chrysler has translated the Rukhnama into German and Deutsche Bank allegedly administers Turkmenbashi’s fabled riches. But, apparently, Germany is keen on extending its relations, especially in the framework of a new EU energy directive aimed to diversify the Union’s gas supplies. So, the Turkmen side can largely ignore the criticism of its human rights situation, argues Nathan on The Registan, also in the light of Steinmeier’s rather different tone in Uzbekistan. In an interview with Tagesschau.de, Central Asia expert Dr. Andrea Schmitz echoes the same sentiment:
Wenn man so offenkundig an Geschäftsbeziehungen mit einer Diktatur interessiert ist – und dies ganz unabhängig von Menschenrechtserwägungen, dann darf man nicht erwarten, dass Ermahnungen, die Menschenrechtssituation zu verbessern, sonderlich ernst genommen werden. Möglicherweise wird man über das Thema reden, aber am Ende des Tages zählen nicht Worte, sondern Taten – und in diesem Fall werden diese von der Handelsbilanz diktiert.
If one is so obviously interested in business relations with a dictatorial regime – and all this separate from human rights considerations – one shouldn’t expect that warnings to improve the human rights record are taken very seriously. Probably they will talk about it, but at the end of the day not words, but deeds count – and these are being dictated by the trade balance.
These are the pictures of the second day of the opposition rally in Bishkek. In the morning on November 3 the main spot of the opposition’s protests turned messy but were still peaceful… Read the full story »
Now, when you think about different ethnicities that are represented in Kazakhstan, mainly due to deportations in the Soviet time, the Czechs do not usually come to one’s mind. However, it seems that there were several hundred members of the Czech community, who settled in Kazakhstan starting from the mid-19th century. The Czech Government has launched a program to assist remianing Czechs to rellocate to the Czech Republic.
Between the years 1994 and 2000, some 650 Czechs moved mainly from the Aktyubinsk (now Aqtobe) region and found new homes across the Czech Republic. When the current repatriation programme concludes there will be no Czechs left in Kazakhstan.
As Olga Kalinina from Radio Prague writes (RUS), “Czechs, living in Kazakhstan, are descendants of peasants and craftsmen, who in the 19th century moved to Ukraine, and then, searching for new lands, went further to the East”.
My friend told me a story of a Czech, who in his Kazakhstani passport had “Russian” as a nationality. I wonder if this small community, which, undoubtedly, had to mix with other ethnic groups, managed to preserve their language, customs and national traditions.
More testimonies of our authors who witnessed the events in Kyrgyzstan are being translated at the moment and will be posted shortly. Meanwhile check their reports and pictures on our Russian version.
On November 22, 2006, the trial against one of the most popular opposition leaders – Bulat Abilov – will start in Almaty.
Abilov was the co-founder of the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DCK) Movement in 2001. He, then an MP, was evicted from the parliament and forced to drop his businesses. Since 2002, he co-chairs the True Ak Zhol Democratic Party. During the 2005 presidential elections, he headed the single opposition candidate’s campaign.
In 2004, Bulat Abilov was sentenced to 18 months of conditional imprisonment for alleged slander, when during the parliamentary election campaign he came out with a protest against corruption in the electoral system. In summer 2006, he was sentenced to 3 years of conditional imprisonment, charged with alleged attack on policeman a year before the trial.
In February 2006, after brutal murder of another True Ak Zhol co-chairman – Altynbek Sarsenbayev – the rally was staged in memoriam of the slain politician. Practically all opposition leaders, including Abilov, were accused of organization of unsanctioned rally and jailed for up to 15 days. Read the full story »
Election campaign remains very low key three days ahead of November 6, when Tajikistans 3.2 million voters will go to the polls to elect their president for the next seven years.
Incumbent President Emomali Rakhmonov is the most visible candidate with his campaign activities, proxies and materials throughout the country. Huge Soviet-style banners and billboards with his images have recently appeared throughout the central part of the capital, Dushanbe. They show Rakhmonov among older people, orphans and farmers. These images ore often accompanied by invitation to the population to actively participate in the vote.
The only other candidate with some visibility is Ismoil Talbakov of the Communist Party (CPT). He talks to journalists, meets voters and writes articles in both state-owned and independent newspapers. However, Communist Partys candidate does not criticize the incumbent president and his main opponent. The main focus of his campaign is on social issues and return to socialism.
Campaigns of the other candidates Olimjon Boboev of the Party of Economic Reforms, Amir Karakulov of the Agrarian Party and Abduhalim Gaffarov of the pro-government Socialist Party are practically invisible in most areas and are limited to regional centres and Dushanbe. These candidates have created no visibility products except for unprofessional posters with their complete biographies, long platforms and grave-stone-like photos.
While 3,600 Somoni (approximately 1,000 USD) received by each candidate from state funds is obviously not enough to organize an effective election campaign, the candidates have not even attempted to raise funds from non-state sources. This indicates that the candidates are not really serious about the quality of their campaigns or about the campaign itself.
Observers suggest that there are no signs of competition between presidential candidates in the country. Four candidates, along with a proxy of Emomali Rakhmonov, tour the country together and attend joint public meetings arranged by the election administration.
While talking to voters, candidates refrain from criticizing their main opponent or his policies and actions. They focus their campaigns on solutions to problems in narrow fields of interest, such as agriculture, education and transport. They also praise Emomali Rakhmonov for his achievements and avoid giving interviews to foreign journalists.
Due to the low key election campaign there is little reporting of the campaign in the mass media. The state-owned television channels TV Safina and TVT broadcast free airtime programs featuring candidates and their platforms. Each candidate is entitled to 30 minutes of free airtime on state-owned television, while their proxies are entitled to up to 10 minutes each.
Most of the state-owned newspapers provide the majority of their coverage to the incumbent president and his Peoples Democratic Party. However, a few private newspapers appear to be more balanced in their coverage of the campaign and the candidates. Media analysts suggest that the tone of the campaign coverage in Tajikistans mass media is mostly neutral and there is no negative or critical coverage.
The voting process on the election day, as well as counting and tabulation, will be observed by representatives of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR), observation mission of Commonwealth of Independent States, Shanghai Cooperation Organization, IFES, International NGO For Fair Elections, International Group for Crisis Prevention and representatives of foreign embassies.
Cross-posted on Global Voices
Karachaganak Oil Refinery
Welcome to our latest roundup of blog posts and online discussions from Kazakhstan Russian-language blogosphere.
The Oil Business
Kazakhstan boasts having unique oil and gas deposit, Karachaganak, 150 km east from the city of Uralsk in the northeast of Kazakhstan. Having an area of over 280 square kilometres, it holds more than 1,200 million tonnes of oil and condensate and over 1.35 trillion cubic metres of gas, and is the biggest investment project in Kazakhstan. Starting from 1991, Kazakhstan government starting making deals with foreign companies, including AGIP (now ENI), British Gas (now BG group), Texaco (now Chevron Corporation) and Lokoil.
On neweurasia Kazakhstan, Marat reveals the history of Karachaganak, discovered in the 1980s (RUS). Marat shares some curious details: in 1991, for example, at the peak of oil extraction and due to poor safety measures regulation, one of the wellsites started spitting gas in the air as a huge fountain. As in 1991 the country was busy with “putch” and the following collapse of the Soviet Union, no one really cared. Safety rules require burning the gas and hydrogen fountains, so locals could enjoy the vivid scenery of liquid fire shooting up to 300-500 meters. Tungush, a small village 3 kilometers from the field has dissapeared, then the inhabitants were moved to Aksai, a nearby town, by the Soviet Union. After its collapse, the flats were successfully boozed away, and when foreigners arrived to the field, the inhabitants of the village started complaining, and subsequently, each family got one flat in Aksai, one in Uralsk and a car in addition. Other villages started looking at it as an example… In his Livejournal, Marat posts photos from Karachaganak. Read the full story »
“Constructive” opposition started rallying at the main square in Bishkek. NTS TV channel is providing “No Comments” coverage. It’s hard to comment on that, indeed. Crowds are always scary. This one is not an exception. According to the police there are 4000 protesters, other sources say it’s 5 to 10 thousand. God, where did they bring them all from?! They all keep screaming “Down with Bakiev”. The floor is open to all willing to take it. Edil Baysalov is saying that drunk people shouldn’t be among the protesters. Well, it’s hard to believe, indeed. Almazbek Atambaev looks a bit lost. Someone is playing comuz. Every speaker is pushing own agenda. The bottom line: “You were deceived let’s replace the government and the president”. No word is uttered on who is prepared to take over…
There are rumors that this time the “award” for participating in the rally was 2000 soms ($50 almost). Not bad. Now more seems to be at stake.
Other TV channels are keeping silence as if they were in another country. KTR is murmuring something about agriculture, NBT is selling ringtones, KOORT is broadcasting a movie.
Last week on the Russian language blog I reported that the EU sent a delegation lead by Finnish diplomat Anti Turunen to Tashkent in order to investigate to which extent Uzbekistan is ready for dialogue. It seems like the result of that visit was positive and Uzbek side is willing to diversify the circle of its â€œfriendsâ€? and leave in fact very limited isolation. Thus a new, more serious delegation was sent to Tashkent in order to begin long-awaited dialog. Recently appointed EU special representative in Central Asia Pier Morel and another EU delegation visited Uzbekistan last week. Morel met with Foreign Minister Vladimir Norov in Tashkent.
The reason for so frequent visits is obvious â€“ energy resources. That fact actually doesnâ€™t credit EU states. Once again, those who talk about democracy and human rights more than others, in fact, care about them less than people looking forward to take a swallow of freedom. On the other hand I can understand European politicians. They represent people who care more about heat and light in their houses (which is natural) than the level of democracy in Uzbekistan or Nigeria. Thus, I would absolutely justify that surprising maneuver if it were the only reason. Geopolitical interests are still ruling the world, and still remaining as the most harmful phenomenon for some nations. Uzbekistan has an excellent geopolitical location and different types of strategic resources, which is in a way punishment for the nation. The reason is expressed but at the same time underestimated by Andrei Grozin forms the institute CIS countries:
All of that taken into consideration, the sarcasm that oil and gas prove more important than democracy is hardly appropriate in this particular case
On the other hand, Registan.net recently quoted one of Uzbek opposition activists, who said: â€œGullible Europeansâ€? do not understand Uzbekistan and foolishly think that dialogue will encourage reforms.
Both Yakubov and the author of the article make the point, which I agree with, that Karimov is not a reliable partner, and that any deal for gas with Uzbekistan cannot be depended on to supply Europe for too long.
Every visit of EU delegation was shrouded in a veil of secrecy. It was not surprising that Uzbek media outlets made no mention of them at all, because Tashkent does not want to make its plans known to Moscow. But the fact that Europeans are also (almost) keeping silence, means that they are ready to do everything Tashkent demands in order to contribute to democratization process in the country, which for the moment is done by means of friendship in exchange for energy resources.
Following the Central Asian film and music festival in Prague, I spoke to Murad Rakhimov (on the photo), a Turkmen dutar (national two string instrument) musician and member of “Silk Road Band” comprised of Central Asian and Afghani musicians in Prague. Listen to two passages of dutar and read the story of Murad, who mastered the traditional style of playing it.
Murad grew up in Turkmenistan, and, after getting his first dutar from a shop, he and his brother started practicing. “I became interested in playing dutar at the age of 8 or 9”, says Murad. “Back home, I studied the dutar with a traditional teacher. His name was Sapar Ishan, who himself was a student of famous Turkmen destanchi bahshi Gurt Yakubov, a classical singer and musician who tells the epic poems and novels. Traditionally Turkmen bahshi study without notes, and music is transmitted orally from person to person. Each region in Turkmenistan is famous for its own style of music and traditional teachers try to stick to theirs and thus preserve local traditions of playing. Formalized music schools teach dutar by notes and mix the styles.”
In addition to music, Murad is fond of poetry – he was writing himself and volunteered as a leader of a local regional Union for young writers. He was a student of philology at Turkmen State University and a journalist. When he became active in opposition movement Agzybirlik – organized meetings, distributed leaflets – he was being called in and questioned by the KGB. Read the full story »