Kazakh free press is being censored into oblivion, but was it ever really free to begin with?
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!”