Media and Internet
One more outrageous attempt to curb mass media in supposedly democratic Kyrgyzstan was made last night. This time an assault was aimed at the facilities of the TV station Pyramid in Bishkek. According to RFERL newsagency 3 people wearing masks stormed Pyramid’s transmitting tower, where technical stuff was installing new equipment that was earlier stolen from the TV company, which thus was forced out of air for a couple of months. Assaulters attacked Pyramid’s technicians and injured them plus they put on fire equipment worth $200 000 that has recently been purchased by the company wiling to resume regular broadcasts.
In fact, Pyramid (the oldest independent channel in Kyrgyzstan) started experiencing problems 2 years ago. At that time the channel had a reputation of an unbiased independent TV company that was extremely popular among viewers and respected by colleagues. In the light of upcoming elections at that period the government of Askar Akaev was not favoring any indications of free thinking and expressing any ideas other that official ones.
In March 2004 Pyramid got attacked for the first time. The scheme than was very similar to what happened on September 27,2006- company’s equipment at the transmitting tower was disabled and Pyramid went off air for 2 month. The broadcasting was resumed when American financier George Soros visited Kyrgyzstan, allegedly, asking Akaev to stop being hard on independent broadcaster. In the course of the past 2 years Pyramid has been shifting loyalty several times in an attempt to survive in rapidly changing political conditions. The reputation of the company was ruined, most prominent journalist have left Pyramid, not willing to comply with new rules.
And even in this situation Pyramid continued being chased. After the tulip revolution it was announced that freedom of the press remains valued in Kyrgyzstan though officials hurried to dissociate themselves from any problematic issues in this area. Problems of Pyramid that within a year was sold to the close affiliates of Aydar Akaev (son of the ex – president of Kyrgyzstan) and than was resold, after Akaev’s family fled the country, started being characterized as purely commercial issues, having nothing to do with politics. Though, observing the dynamics of the extermination process one could hardly believe that it is all about money and individual spheres of influence. Even though commercial interest are definitely at stake in the case of Pyramid TV station.
The latest incident with destroying recently purchased Pyramid’s equipment may signify two things:
A) Authorities are still scared stiff of the influence of the company and thus don’t want to let Pyramid on air (which is unlikely, because Pyramid’s content and programming quality at the present shape can hardly pose any challenge to ruling elites due to the low quality of the coverage and the lack of qualified personnel)
B) Chaotic after-revolution period has produced a situation where all arguments are only solved by the criminal means. There are evidences backing this version, since multiple criminal assaults and cases mainly remain uninvestigated and unpunished in Kyrgyzstan since the new regime took over. Thus it is not even about the authorities imposing restrictions on the freedom of speech (which is becoming the vaguest notion) but rather about official power being unable to deal with criminal in all spheres of life.
We can also opt for merging these options and than we get one more, rather scary explanation. Variant C- authorities are so unwilling to hear any alternative viewpoints and opinions that they use criminal means to curb mass media all around the place.
Concluding, it’s necessary to emphasize the incident with Pyramid is not just an incident with one TV station that fell out of favor at the given period of time. It is a testimony for the fact that the press in our “free-spirited” society currently has two existential choices: to function under the criminal pressure (not necessarily having political ties) or to not exist at all.
2006 has not so far proved to be a very positive year for Kazakh media, with more restrictive media bill being adopted in July 2006, and every other news item being a closure of a newspaper or a trial of a journalist. The OSCE, which Kazakhstan hopes to chair in 2009, has repeatedly tried to address the Government on amending the bill, but in vain.
Internet media too has lately experienced more attention from the state, with the Minister of Culture and Information promising to come up with a policy on the regulation of Internet by the end of the year. Currently, the new bill on information is being discussed in Mazhilis (link in Russian). The bill defines a website as a “collection of software and technical data in one domain on the web, which has common navigation tools and personal data (electronic information resources of a personal character) – data on facts, events, circumstances of lives of individuals and/or data that identify him/her.”
What about blogs? A relatively new phenomenon in Kazakhstan (I remember seeing the first online journals in 2003), blogs, as in other parts of the world, where they appeared earlier and are subject of comprehensive research, are mostly represented by personal diaries, hosted by the Livejournal platform (popular in Russian-speaking countries), meant to be read by close friends and widely used for online communication. There are about 16,000 Livejournals registered in Kazakhstan, 6,000 of them based in Almaty (the number of people actually maintaining diaries is not confirmed).* Only some blogs discuss politics and offer analysis of news and events. Could these diaries become subject to information and media laws? In my opinion, yes, and if so, this is not a good development for Kazakhstan. Read the full story »
Kazakhstan is sure to bag two international headlines this fall: For one, it’s President Nazarbayev’s second visit to Washington. It is likely that a different event will create more media frenzy than this state visit, though.
Borat’s movie: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan is due for release in November. After heaps of controversy over Sasha Cohen’s satirical figure (mostly during the MTV European Music Awards last year), the Kazakhstani elite seems split as to whether it should make bold statements against the man again. Because Borat might actually be useful in raising Kazakhstan’s image abroad. Sean Roberts reported:
“Having just moved back to the U.S., I have found that more Americans are aware of Kazakhstan than four years ago when I last lived in the United States. The increased knowledge of Kazakhstan, however, is not due to the country’s economic successes or its role as a U.S. ally in the war on terror.’ Instead, most Americans who have heard of Kazakhstan have heard of it through a satire of a Kazakh journalist named Borat. …
Is all publicity is good publicity? The Kazakh government thinks that it will have to promote a more balanced view of Kazakhstan and will launch an ad-campaign during the next weeks. The New York Magazine:
The real test of the tenuous relationship between Borat and the Kazakhstan government will emerge in the upcoming weeks as the public relations blitz being planned by the Kazakhstan government to publicize the country in the U.S. in the run-up to President Nazarbayev’s long-awaited trip to Washington clashes with the advertising blitz ongoing to promote Borat’s new film. …”
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.