Opinion-Decoding Kazakhstan protests

New Delhi, India Published: Jan 08, 2022, 04:58 PM(IST)

A burned car is seen in front of the mayor's office building, which was torched during protests triggered by fuel price increases in Almaty, Kazakhstan, January 6, 2022.  Photograph:( Reuters )

Story highlights

Kazakh people have been engaged in a series of protests since 2018 and been pushing the government to act for the welfare of its citizen

Kazakhstan has largely been a peaceful country ever since it got freedom from the erstwhile the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). The entire politics of the country revolved around its leader Nursultan Nazarbayev ever since then. He has been everything for this country and was known of ruling through autocratic measures. There was no opposition in the country and fair elections were never held. He had a coterie of influential businessmen around him who became wealthier and wealthier while the common men of the country suffered from the worst. As per a report of Wall Street Journal, top 162 wealthy men of Kazakhstan hold 55 per cent of Nation’s wealth as of December 2021.

Even when the International Monetary fund (IMF) put country’s growth as one of the most progressive economies of Central Asia, average annual wages of a common men were below $100 per month. Nursultan however, sailed the country through many ups and downs over last 30 years till he resigned in 2019 and was appointed as Chairman of the Security Council of Kazakhstan.

But as the former soviet state moved into the year 2022, protests started all over the country over rising fuel prices resulting in a nationwide emergency and large-scale bloodshed all across Kazakhstan. The entire cabinet resigned and the country is amidst chaos now. As I write this article, over 50 people have been killed and a similar number have been injured in the ongoing violence while government forces have arrested over 4500 people as per official estimates. The exact numbers may be much higher. Several thousands of Russian Paratroopers have moved in the country to establish law and order and a massive crackdown on the protesters is underway. “Shoot to Kill” orders are issued to the security forces and Nursultan Nazarbayev was removed from the position of “Chairman of the Security Council”.

The protests which started in a far-flung city of Zhanaozen on Jan 2, 2022, spread like a wildfire first to the nearby towns and then to the commercial capital of the country- Almaty on Jan 4, 2022. Capital Nursultan was also not spared and soon protesters were seen on the roads of all major cities of Kazakhstan with firearms looted from armouries. There are inputs that an unknown number of foreign mercenaries were also part of the mob who were hired by the wealthy business tycoons of the nation. Such kind of widespread movement does not form in a few days and there were strong reasons why this protest spread like wildfire.

These protests were not new. Kazakh people have been engaged in a series of protests since 2018 and been pushing the government to act for the welfare of its citizen. It is strongly felt that the oil price hike was not the reason of these protests but a trigger to them. The most important reason was the rampant corruption and government’s active support to the elites of the country. Ever since Kazakhstan came into existence as a free country, Nursultan Nazarbayev has been ruling. It was not a poor country in terms of natural resources. It owned over 40 per cent of the world’s Uranium reserves, large oil reserves and was among the top 15 countries with respect to the reserves of Natural Gas. However, as brought out earlier, few business elites owned a sizeable proportion of country’s wealth and owned large properties all across Europe while common men suffered badly.

At the same time, there was no voice in Kazakhstan. There was no opposition and anyone opposing Nazarbayev was punished severely. This prompted locals to adopt the strategy of raising a collective voice trough protest than standing individually. They carried out timely protests all across the country in large numbers which were difficult to supress.

The third most important reason for these protests was rising inflation and the concurrent issue of fuel price hike was part of it. Year 2021 witnessed worst of it when average inflation rate in Kazakhstan was over 8.9%. IMF predicted the inflation to cross 14.1% in 2022. This was primarily because of a nationwide drought, rising fuel costs and a worst performing currency. Moreover, the elites of the country were engaged in making money and transferring the country’s money to their European strongholds which brought the common men of the country on streets.

Irregularities in 2019 Presidential Elections of Kazakhstan were the fourth reason which led to these protests. Kassym Jomart Tokayev who was a candidate sponsored by Nursultan Nazarbayev got over 70 per cent votes and was elected as the president. Due to the biased elections, soon after the results were announced, people came on streets, but Kazakh government cracked down on them arresting all major protesting leaders. Protests were silenced for the time being, but these protests raised the foundation of Jan 2022 events.

The immediate trigger was the crackdown on the protesters in Zhanaozen on December 11, 2021 who were gathered to pay remembrance to their fallen comrades killed during police crackdown ten years ago. While the iron was still hot, government-issued notifications raising fuel price by double which brought entire of the country together and as a result, Kazakh parliament had to resign. Forces of “Central Collective Security Organisation” especially Russia moved its forces to establish law and order in the country and it made headlines all over the world.

Biggest question is what now?

Although severity of the protests has gone down and it is assumed that within next two weeks, peace will prevail in the Central Asian country, but a comprehensive solution is to be brought out with the help of members of Central Collective Security Organisation. There will be no permanent solution unless the country goes for a fair election, has the government of its choice and measures for the welfare of its working class are ensured. Nazarbayev’s era should come to an end and a people’s government to be instituted.

(Disclaimer: The views of the writer do not represent the views of WION or ZMCL. Nor does WION or ZMCL endorse the views of the writer.)

Major Amit Bansal (Retd)

Major Amit Bansal is is a Defence Strategist with keen interests in International Relations and Internal Security. He is also an author, blogger and poet.

Read in App