Media and Internet
Welcome to another round-up of press freedom news from Central Asia and the Caucasus.
We’ll start with an interview with the OSCE’s representative on the freedom of the media, Miklos Haraszti, in which he discusses the challenges for independent press in Central Asia as they battle with the ‘Soviet mentality’ of their governments.
One of the governments which has refused to cooperate with Haraszti is Uzbekistan’s. Over the past few months, independent internet sites have been blocked or shut down, leading to Uzbekistan being dubbed an ‘Internet black hole’. Tactics used by the authorites include harrassing the webmasters of some sites, and blocking access from Uzbek USPs to others. Neweurasia itself has been banned – here’s a translation of the BBC Uzbek take on the story.
The authorities are also continuing their censorship of more traditional media – six government journalists have recently been fired after being accused of freelancing for independent and foriegn media.
Across the border in Kazakhstan, President Nazarbayev has approved a new media bill, which according to the CPJ, gives his government “unlimited power to close independent and opposition media outlets for technical and administrative violations”. The Kazakh Minister of Culture and Information defended the bill, saying it will “safeguard the public’s trust in the Kazakh media”.
Also in Kazakhstan, a French journalist has been murdered in his Almaty home. Gregoire de Bourgues was reporting for Foreign Affairs when he was stabbed to death by intruders. The Kazakh Foreign Ministry has released a statement saying that his death was unrelated to his work.
In Turkmenistan, Ogulsapar Muradova, the Asgabat correspondent for Radio Free Europe, has been held without charge for over two months. RSF has more details on the case, as well as an on-line petition urging her release.
In the Caucasus, the Azeri journalist Shahin Agabeyli has begun a hunger strike to protest against a one-year jail sentence he was given for ‘blackmailing and insulting’ a former parliamentary speaker. Meanwhile, another jailed journalist, Sakit Zahidov, has called off his hunger strike after losing six kilos in ten days.
Also in Azerbaijan, an ex-minister has been accused of ordering the murder of Elmar Huseynov, who was killed 17 months ago. Friends and supporters of Huseynov are treating the allegations with scepticism, as the accused minister is currently in jail, charged with plotting a coup.
Journalists are also under threat in Armenia, as in the case of freelancer Gagik Shamshian, who recently beated up and robbed in Yerevan by a mob connected the local district mayor. Shamshian has since been evicted from his flat by the police and officers from the Armenian Ministry of Defence.
Onnik at Oneworld has a round-up of other attacks on the media in Armenia, which he sees as connected to the build-up to next year’s election.
Fifteen years ago to the day a cadre of communist hardliners staged a coup against Mikhail Gorbachev to restore the integrity of the Soviet Union. When Boris Yeltsin climbed on top of a tank to openly defy the usurpers, it was clear that the USSR had come to an end.
The coup marked the beginning of a period of extreme turmoil, but also of hope. The fall of the Soviet Union signaled a new beginning, a break with the past and promises for the future.
On this anniversary of a turning point in the history of the world, neweurasia recalls those years of uncertainty and assesses the progress, or lack thereof, since then.
In a special guest post, neweurasia is excited to present the reflections of Dr. Johannes Linn, Brookings scholar and former Vice President of the World Bank for Europe & Central Asia.
Vasili argues that the “peaceful” breakup of the Soviet Union was not as painless as it seemed, but the changes it brought were both inevitable and necessary.
- Armenia – Katy explains the 1991 coup and its significance to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, complete with testimony from those who lived through the transition.
Azerbaijan – Denise, with Marianna and Katy, recounts the other side of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, also with testimony from those who remember the coup and its aftermath.
Georgia - Vasili recounts the Georgian side of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and what it will take to make the most out of an uncertain future.
Kyrgyzstan – Yulia remembers the coup, and asks whether fifteen years on there is really anything to celebrate.
Turkmenistan – Peter explains why Niyazov did not wish the changes brought by the coup, and why the changes since then have been superficial at best.
Uzbekistan – Nick discusses why the transition out of the USSR was so calm in Uzbekistan, and how Uzbeks perceived the uncertain phase in their country’s history.
by Johannes Linn
What follows is one part of a cross-blog initiative that commemorates the 1991 Moscow coup and evaluates the years in between.
Editor’s Note: Dr. Johannes Linn is Executive Director of the Wolfensohn Center at the Brookings Institution, and was kind enough to share his thoughts with neweurasia to mark the 15 year anniversary of the Moscow coup. Linn was formerly Vice President of the World Bank for Europe and Central Asia. The Wolfensohn Center is devoted to finding new ways that development programs can be scaled up to reach more of the world’s poor.
Washington, DC, USA
August 17, 2006
When I grew up in the aftermath of the 2nd World War in what was then known as “West Germany”, the Soviet Union and its satellites of the “East” was a big red blob on my geography map in school. Our greatest fear was an invasion by “the Russians”, followed by the fear of a nuclear holocaust. The iron curtain became increasingly harder and more lethal as I grew older and I remember as a student in West Berlin in the mid-60s going on a lark to the Wall dividing East and West Berlin, after one too many drink, only to find myself sobered up very quickly by the sight of endless concrete, barbed wire and gun-toting sentries.
Growing up in the “West” in those days meant that we learned nothing about the people and countries of Central Asia. Some adventure books of the 19th and early 20th Centuries made this part of the earth sound like an odd version of the Wild West of North America. But mostly, Central Asia from outside the Soviet Union looked indistinguishable from the rest of the “red blob”? on the map and was more inaccessible than the farthest reaches of the African or Latin American continents.
And yet, growing up on a small tributary of the Danube River and looking at our maps I couldn’t but notice that our brooks and lakes inevitably drained towards the east and eventually met up in the Black Sea with the waters from the great rivers flowing west from the Urals. This perhaps made me look east more than west from early on. And so, when the Soviet Union collapsed and the newly independent nations of the CIS came into existence, what better to do than focus my attention on the new and unknown world beyond the formerly impenetrable curtain. What most of us as outsiders from the West expected, perhaps not entirely unreasonably, was a homogeneous set of people, cultures and countries. Of course, had I studied the available academic history and anthropology of Central Asia, I would have known better. But Soviet as well as Western propaganda had conveyed a misleading sense of uniformity. We had to abandon that impression quickly when we started as outsiders to visit, learn and engage in the unexpectedly difficult and traumatic transition process which Central Asia, along with the other ex-Soviet republics, had to undergo.
Why was the transition so hard? One view, propagated by the well-known Nobel-prize winning economist, Joe Stiglitz, is that it was because the “reformers” and their external advisers just got it all wrong: Instead of gradual reforms as in China, economic shock treatment was applied, institutions were destroyed rather than built, and economic and human capacity was wasted rather than strengthened. Of course there’s some truth to this — if only the Soviet Union had been like China, in terms of economic, institutional and political structure, a gradual process of transition might have worked. But gradual economic reforms had already failed under Mr. Gorbachev, and with the disappearance of the Communist Party as a source of political and economic control, a gradual and orderly process of transition to markets, a dual systems of production and pricing, and retention of control over state enterprises and assets, all this became impossible. The Chinese option simply was not available.
Read the full story »
By Vasili Rukhadze
What follows is one part of a cross-blog initiative that commemorates the 1991 Moscow coup and evaluates the years in between.
Exactly fifteen years ago, on August 19th of 1991, a group of die-hard top communist officials and military commanders carried out a putsch in Moscow with the intention to overthrow the Soviet leader Gorbachev, stop his proclaimed Ã¢â‚¬Å“Perestroika” (reforms) and reanimate agonizing Soviet Union by reestablishing totalitarian-communist ruleÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ hopeless endeavor at its core. The putsch failed within three days. Gorbachev regained reins of the union, only in several months to see the Soviets, for whose survival he and his Ã¢â‚¬Å“Perestroika” pushed so hard, ceasing its existence. Neither the August Coup, nor GorbachevÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s reforms could save the state that has been in deep political and social-economic malaise for several decades.
Moscow Putsch fastened the final and official collapse of the Soviet Union in December of 1991, four months after the failed coup. Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), formed in the same month, represented Russian dominated just a shadow of the Soviet Union, gradually bringing twelve former Soviet republics (except three Baltic states) into the commonwealth.
Countries and the societies of the Soviet Union turned out to be absolutely unprepared for independent life. For many of these societies Soviet collapse was the challenge of apocalyptic proportions, which they simply could not handle. For large part of the population it was equal to personal tragedy, for others beginning of a new, better life. However, all of them shared the exposure and the vulnerability to the new reality which they were completely unfamiliar with.
The collapse of the communist-totalitarian system gave new post-Soviet countries overwhelming task of building independent states, democratic political institutions and free market economies if they desired to catch up with well developed free world in visible future.
Looking back fifteen years after these dramatic events one can see many things clearer and make more conclusions
Read the full story »
A promising new Uzbek blog was set up some while ago. Ayollar Bekati (women’s bus-stop) discusses all things relevant to being a woman in Uzbekistan and attracts a growing readership and some vivid discussions.
Thanks to Shohruh, here are some translations of recent topics. They include:
- Domestic violence against children – a story of a kid from the UK
- Why to change your surname to your husband’s – one woman’s dilemma
- Smoking – why it is still popular?
- Getting married though matchmaking or by love – who choses which style?
- What is happiness? Is it in romantic love? – a confession of one woman
- Sexual harassment and what to do about it?
- “Am I a bad daughter?” (about a girl who wants to become an actress but her parents are against her studying, more generally it is about low value of high education these days in Uzbekistan)
- I don’t want to be the second wife! A young girl’s outcry and thought about a re- emerging tendency by some rich men to take more than one wife
- Emotional abuse by mothers-in-law (those two topics led to a wide discussion which attracted a lot of women and polarised opinions)
Thanks to Shohruh for the translation and Nick for some editing.
Dalia and Ana, two alumni of the Young Caucasus Women project (which is hosted on neweurasia’s server and managed by Katy Pearce) have both contributed an article to neweurasia, making them the youngest contributors onboard.
Dalia, who is from Azerbaijan, wonders what impact the large-scale export of oil will have on Azerbaijan. Will the Caspian Sea littoral state share the fate with that of other petro-states such as Nigeria? Or can more successful examples like Norway guide the country to a more equitable and prosperous future?
Ana, who is from Georgia, praises new unified high school exams that tackle corruption in the higher education sector. Now, it seems, students can pave their way into uni by achieving good grades in their final exams rather than by paying bribes to corrupt professors.
According to the CIA World Factbook, there are only 400.000 Internet users and 20.327 Internet hosts in Kazakhstan (2005 data). For comparison – Kazakhstan has a little over 15 million people, Belarus – a little over 10 million, 1.6 million of which are Internet users. Surely, it is still more than in other Central Asian countries. This, and one more thing that Kazakh Internet users can boast about is the increasing attention of the Government to their habitat.
Shortly after the SCO meeting, Yertysbayev promised to develop the new policy on regulation of the Internet media in Kazakhstan (see China, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan for regional examples). Indeed, the information security was one of the issues on the agenda of the SCO meeting, where it was decided to establish the expert groups in the member-states to figure out how to solve the common problem of increasing insecurity related to development of information technology, that can be used for “criminal, terrorist, military or political purposes that run counter to the maintenance of international security.” Well, Internet did prove to be a powerful instrument promoting regional cooperation in the end.
Before the new policy is developed, article 318, para.2 of Kazakh Penal Code on insulting the honor and dignity of the President in mass media is being invoked against some online journalists. Thus, Kazis Toguzbaev, has a case pending against him for writing an article named “Mafia Regime Covers the Murderers of Altynbek Sarsenbayev” on www.kub.kz. Funny enough, it says that the IP address is registered in Hong Kong. While going through the trial, Toguzbaev writes about his meetings with the investigator, where he tries to persuade him that KUB is a blog, not a media site, thus, para.2 is not applicable (in Russian).
The good news is that the “huge potential for human development” is also being recognised. E-Government, working well in Singapore, Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, and the US, is being created in Kazakhstan too. The trilingual website at www.e.gov.kz offers information categorised in life and business cycles. The life cycle includes childhood, education, youth, family, work and old age, and business cycle – planning, starting and liquidation. You can find information on the state organs, citizenry (which includes some of the life cycle), business (business cycle, respectively) and information for foreigners. Tons of information about programs, laws and regulations, for instance, if you plan to enter the University in Kazakhstan, read about applying, paying, possibly getting a state grant, and maybe a presidential scholarship Bolashak to study in, let’s say, Harvard. You can even call the Ministry of Environmental Protection to question about the recent spill of waste in the Caspian Sea, or email the Ministry of Justice, to inquire about the period of issuing of the new passport. Well, it might be a good idea not having to meet the officials but handle everything online, says blogger Alexander E. Lyakhov, who also works for Kazkommertsbank. However, he says, any official knows that he loses money with this e-government (no opportunity to be rewarded), so the idea is being opposed to at all levels.
Now that the controversial media law has been signed by the President, Information Minister Yermukhamet Yertysbayev plans to tighten control of the World Wide Web’s Kazakhstan part, according to Reuters.
Internet journalism and other loosely regulated media could harm Kazakhstan’s national security.
Yertysbaev promised to develop the state policy on Kazakh web by the end of this year. Last year they closed Sasha Baron Cohen’s website in .kz domain (back then, Dariga Nazarbayeva defended him, and this year she appeared as an advocate of media freedom too) saying that sites in .kz domain can only be maintained from Kazakhstan. It seems that this year the content of the sites will be watched more closely. This will reach out to independent or opposition newspapers that operate online, such as mizinov.net, which already moved to zonakz.net.
Together with national security, Yertysbaev is concerned with the lies in the Internet. It is now a criminal offence to libel the officials and insult the honor and dignity of the President and many journalists have been sued for that. In the past the access to some websites such as navigator.kz, kub.kz, and eurasia.ru was blocked from within Kazakhstan, through the only one Internet service provider, the state-run Kazakhtelecom.
Those who think it’s impossible to control the Internet can continue living in the world of illusions,
said Yertysbaev in an interview to Kazakhstan’s Vremya newspaper.
Now that Dariga Nazarbaeva seems to have lost the battle, Yertysbaev will surely help Kazakhstan to wake up into reality.
This entry is a translation of Dmitry’s post, originally in Russian.
While Mazhilis of the Parliament of Kazakhstan is reviewing the draft media law proposed by the Ministry of Information and Culture, the discussions revolve around freedom of speech and freedom of media. Not attempting to provide the full analysis of the issue, I would just single out two things from the observer’s point of view. The first is that we need the exact statistical information on media outlets. The second is that we need to combat the abuse of freedom of speech.
First point echoes the minister of information and culture Ermuhamet Ertusbaev, who said that
70% of media outlets provide wrong data about their circulation at registration. Only 2.5 thousand out of 7.5 thousand registered media is circulating regularly. The Ministry does not have any or has little information about other media
In the heat of the debate on freedom of speech few spoke about correct statistics and exact information on what is being issued, by whom and what is its circulation. This is important for attracting the funding of both the investors and the advertisers. Without this exact information no sensible businessman is going to cooperate with media, which would then be financed by some anonymous magnates who will also sponsor campaigns.
When discussions of similar problem occured in Russia’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry, they spoke about creating common electronic database of newspapers, journals, and periodicals, and providing access to it to everyone. Without information – there is no interest, no business and no money. No money – no competitive environment, and only those who managed to get to a crib would survive. I do not think Kazakh journalists are in favour of this scenario.
The society needs to have a way to protect itself from the abuse of freedom of speech. Unfortunately, Kazakh opposition produced certain personas, well known to everyone. They are ready to use any plot and gossip for the sake of political campaign and present it as true information. Campaigns around the murder of Nurkadilov and Sarsenbayev showed what they are able to and what conspiracy assaults they can have. These people cannot be called journalists.
If there are problems, they should be discussed contructively, based on facts. You can also criticise the government and the president, if they deserve it. But hysteria of some journalists only causes resentment.