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ObbO Winter Collection Fashion Show
Written by , Monday, 10 Dec, 2012 – 13:24 | No Comment

Recently I have visited the Obbo Winter Collection Fashion Show in Bishkek. Here’re the pictures from the Tengri-Style Event:

Kazakh free press is being censored into oblivion, but was it ever really free to begin with?
Written by , Saturday, 8 Dec, 2012 – 18:25 | One Comment

So, last week a court in Kazakhstan banned Stan.tv from operating on the charge of extremism — and in a few weeks, Astana shall ascend to the UN Human Rights Council. There’s a full-on censorhip tsunami sweeping the country, taking out news agencies, websites, broadcasters, political parties and even the US Peace Corps, and one way or another, it seems the epicentre of the earthquake is in the 2011 Zhanoazen riots.

Of course, I don’t want to diminish the huge concern the world should have about this situation, but at the same time, I don’t want us captured by illusion either. “Free press” in Kazakhstan has always been a flexible, philosophical concept. As Freedom House (and others) note, “Kazakhstan’s media outlets are privately owned but firmly under the control of major financial groups affiliated with the regime.” In other words, the media is under the control of national elites, and what we on the outside see as “opposition” is frequently just disagreements and feuds between them (not to mention the fact that opposition and independence are not the same concept). This situation includes several of the agencies that have been recently drowned.

We should never forget that few regimes are as skilled at the spectacle of neo-liberalism as Kazakhstan’s. The “opposition” voices that shall survive this tsunami will be those pre-selected/pre-filtered, thereby giving a veneer of modernization to the country. And in the aftermath, they shall all be sounding the same cry as on Kazakhstan’s official new holiday, 1 December, “First President’s Day”, proclaiming: “One Country! One Destiny! One Leader!”

Invitation to Central Asian artists from the 55th Venice Biennale
Written by , Tuesday, 4 Sep, 2012 – 5:45 | No Comment

The Central Asian Pavilion at the the 55th Venice Biennale (La Biennale di Venezia), curators Ayatgali Tuleubek and Tiago Bom would like to invite artists to submit proposals of works to be hosted at the exhibition.

La Biennale di Venezia has for over a century been one of the most prestigious cultural institutions in the world. Ever since its foundation, it has been at the forefront in the research and promotion of new artistic trends. The 55th Venice Biennale will take place from June to November 2013.

The exhibition’s working title “Winter” is inspired by Abay’s poem. This project aims to address and bring a visual reflection on the complexity of the current socio-political context of the Central Asian region by employing the tools of the poetical and metaphorical language.

Artists from or living in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are invited to propose works that could explore this given context. Young and emergent artists are encouraged to apply.

For more information: http://www.cap2013.net/opencall/
Deadline: 15th of October 2012

“Myn Bala”: Move over Borat, it’s time to meet Sartai
Written by , Thursday, 31 May, 2012 – 10:43 | 4 Comments

A scene from the new Kazakh film, "Myn Bala".

War; triumph; love; romance; empire; defeat; power; loneliness; togetherness; sacrifice; friendship; honour; homeland; youth; freedom; perseverance; legend.

Move over “Borat”! A new – epic, patriotic, heroic, non-offensive, cultural stimulating and historically perfected – film about Kazakhstan has been shot and put up on screen for the world to learn from and enjoy.

Released in Kazakhstan on May 3rd, the state administered Kazakhfilm Studio introduced “Myn Bala: Warriors of the Steppe“, a movie about Kazakhs overthrowing their Mongolian oppressors. The film was made by well-known Kazakh Director Akan Satayev, at an estimated $12 million, and the film brought in $1 million on its first weekend at the box office. The film’s team includes “Central Asia’s leading DoP Khassan Kydyraliyev (“The Light Thief”), script doctor Claire Downs, editors Nicolas Trembasiewicz (“Transporter”) and Christopher Bell (“The Bourne Ultimatum”) and action consultant Teddy Chen (“Bodyguards And Assassins”).” Moreover, the “Myn Bala” Facebook page (supported by 216 ‘Likes’) informs that the film’s leading roles are played by teenage actors of Kazakhstan, who were chosen from 40,000 hopefuls that showed up to auditions spread through out the country.

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Borat’s double-edged sword: Flourishing tourism versus cultural representation
Written by , Friday, 4 May, 2012 – 17:12 | 3 Comments

They say that negative attention is better than no attention at all.

This tagline has been well linked to the comedic and controversial movie Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (Borat), which enlightens the audience on the culture of Kazakhstan (among other things), for a long time.

But, in terms of tourism in 2012, the tables are beginning to turn – some negative attention is turning positive, in terms of plane tickets and passports.

Borat is the infamous movie/ mocumentary/ satire/ comedy wherein Sacha Baron Cohen plays the character of Borat (BORДT) Sagdiyev, a “sexist, homophobic and anti-semitic“ Kazakh journalist who travels through the United States, with the goal of meeting Pamela Anderson. Check out neweurasia’s views on all topics (positive and negative) Boart.

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Ambassador Idrissov’s intriguing geo-conceptual question
Written by , Friday, 10 Feb, 2012 – 10:21 | No Comment

The Kazakh foreign ministry circled their caravans in Washington, DC early last week to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of Kazakhstan’s independence. The Atlantic Council pounced on the opportunity by hosting the symposium “Twenty Years of Kazakhstan Independence and US-Kazakhstan Relations” in a ritzy ballroom. Keynote speakers included Lt. General Scowcroft, Senator Chuck Hagel, Asst. Secretary of State Robert Blake and a small fleet from Kazakh’s foreign ministry.

Amongst all these familiar faces, the ambiance was warm, with frequent smiles and winks beaming from the red-faced Ambassador Idrissov towards the elevated stage of panelists. On-stage anecdotes were carefully tossed from seat-to-seat coupled with hearty laughter, reminding attendees of the once humble diplomatic beginnings of the precocious Khazak republic. Yet, glowing praise and positive sentiments were not without a rigid and an unmistakable undertone of the United States’ expectations for the newly minted Eurasian state.

Whether intentional or not, the level of optimism among diplomats and academics reached a sometimes paradoxically conspirative tone, equivocating expectations for Kazakhstan’s (perhaps unwittingly sinister) role in current and future geopolitical Eurasian affairs. There were several implications made in the direction of multilateral decisions with the United States. As statesmen, one after the other, lauded Nazarbayev’s wisdom in relinquishing stockpiles of inherited biochemical and nuclear capabilities, sociopolitical manoeuvring toward Western powers amidst Russian soft-power influence, development of refinement technology, and the space program, it was interesting to gauge who was offered the local Kool Aid (or mare’s milk in this case) and who wasn’t.

There was also a tone of paternalism and an anxiety evident as officials began kneading the Kazakhs on talking points that uncannily paralleled the messy situation within the “rough neighborhood” to the South of the country. The topic of weapons disarmament alluded to what the cunningly peaceful Nazarbayev did right, and consequently what Ahmedinejad is doing (wrong) fifteen years later. General Scowcroft advised Nazarbayev (via the Kazakh diplomatic officials in attendance) to push towards multipartisanship and liberalization in the political process. The Kazakhs were warned that the world, and especially the United States would be intently watching. As I listened, I mulled over the possible consequences if Kazakhstan fails to move in a more democratic direction. Of course, the problems emerging from Iranian and now Syrian mass discontent came to mind as possible outcomes.

Kazakhstan’s GDP has tripled within the past decade and a half, and so free and fair elections come with the dangling carrot of WTO membership.  Mr. Ross Wilson, Director of the Atlantic Council, stated on this point:

“And WTO membership is one of those things that’s kind of a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval about your rules, about your regime, about the trading arrangements and providing a certain amount of additional reassurance to a would-be investor that the general rules of the road that are accepted around the world, well, more or less apply here. It doesn’t solve all your problems, but it solves some. And so I think WTO accession can be – and certainly I hope – would be marketed by the government as a way to promote more foreign direct investment outside of those extractive ministries that Kazakhstan needs to diversify… to diversify its economy.”

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Uzbek slavery in Kazakhstan
Written by , Monday, 6 Feb, 2012 – 1:00 | One Comment

гастарбайтер в Казахстане

Translator’s Note: Translated from Jamil’s post (RUS).

On March 14, 2011, Mukhiddin Khojimuradov suggested to his compatriots Khairulla and Sunatullo Yuldashevs from Chinaz region of Tashkent oblast that they move to Kazakhstan’s city of Turkestan, where they could earn decent money. When the four young men reached the place, the only job they were offered was at the car washing station; their employer refused to pay for their labor, reports the Initiative group of independent rights activists of Uzbekistan (IGIRAU). They never signed contracts and their passports had been taken away; they had effectively become slaves, who were constantly beaten and forced to work each day from 7am to 10pm.

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Nursultan Nazarbayev Atakazakh?
Written by , Monday, 16 Jan, 2012 – 17:24 | 2 Comments

Musta Kemal striking an Ataturk pose in Turkey's Cankaya Library.

I’m knee-deep in exam season at the moment, studying my level один Russian and writing essays, so I haven’t had the chance to look closely at the Kazakh parliamentary elections. From what I’m hearing, preliminary results are giving Nur Otan party 80.7% of the vote, while two other parties — the business-oriented Ak Zhol and the People’s Communist Party — earned slightly more than 7% each, clearing the threshold to enter parliament. Unsurprisingly, Western press has been mostly negative, but what my inner cynic just finds hilarious is this remark from Miklos Haraszti, head of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights’ observation mission: “This election took place in a tightly controlled environment, with serious restrictions on citizens’ electoral rights.” Well, OSCE, I guess all you can really say is: whoops.

However, putting my hypocrisy radar aside for a moment, they’re right. Although I am not so quick to condemn Kazakhstan — as there is usually more than meets the eye to this country, both in good and bad ways — nevertheless, this election definitely was shoddy. My colleague from Ghent University, Dr. Bruno De Cordier has brought to my attention an article in the Washington Times with this telling remark:

“‘Even the government doesn’t hide that they have no intention of copying Western democracies,’ said Lilit Gevorgyan, an analyst and IHS Global Insight in London. ‘I think what they are trying to do is to show that they are responding to social discontent.’”

The article also quotes a taxi driver who refers to most of the so-called opposition parties as “pupils” of the main party. As some of you know, I am currently working on an MPhil at the University of Leuven concerning the phenomenon of managed democracy in Russia and Kazakhstan, so these kind of tidbits are right up my alley.

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Keeping an eye on Mangystau Province
Written by , Sunday, 18 Dec, 2011 – 17:20 | One Comment

Not only is Internet in my part of Belgium about as reliable as the Internet in Dushanbe, but December and January are the academic busy season here, so it’s difficult to juggle all the papers I need to write with my duties covering Central Asia. Such is life as a full-time graduate student/full-time editor, I suppose, but this business going down in western Kazakhstan really needs to be mentioned.

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The Aral Sea Disaster: Told By People Of Karakalpakstan, Yet Facing A Denial
Written by , Friday, 16 Dec, 2011 – 13:54 | 12 Comments

“The water that serveth all that country is drawn by ditches out of the River Oxus, into the great destruction of the said river, for which it cause it falleth not into the Caspian Sea as it hath done in times past, and in short time all that land is like to be destroyed, and to become a wilderness for want of water, when the river of Oxus shall fail.”

Anthony Jenkinson, 1558

Sometimes I think that people of Uzbekistan with a 28 million population know less about one of the greatest catastrophe in their own country than people worldwide. One of the reasons of it is the governmental propaganda of the successes in the policies towards its citizens. Another one is that the tragedy is being considered as not only the one of Uzbekistan but also of Kazakhstan, neighboring country rich of oil, and, considered as a main responsible side.

I found out about the Aral Sea ecological disaster when I became a freshman in my undergraduate studies. We had an introduction of our class and my then-future fellows introduced themselves. As myself, majority of students were from the capital city of Tashkent. The distribution among provinces represented the wealth and accessibility of the education in the most prestigious university of Uzbekistan: Tashkent, ancient cities of Bukhara and Samarkand were in top three in representation. All of them were telling their mostly enthusiastic live stories and what inspired them to study at the University. Except for one 17 year old guy who looked much older for us: skin on his face was flabby; he had a permanent cough and was breathing very hard; he was so thin and tall that for the rest of our five year education he had been called a “Skeleton”; the manner of speaking was slow but the way of thinking was critical and, as I understood later, more realistic than ours. Read the full story »