For the past few weeks academic email lists devoted to Russian studies have been receiving a petition from a group of Sociology students from
In recent years, lectures at the department have become ever more insipid and formal exercises. The administration has cut the number of seminars and practical classes. We are allowed to take ever fewer course units in neighboring disciplines. We are hardly ever given the opportunity to attend talks by outside lecturers. Exam questions are limited to the contents of a textbook authored by the dean. The dean’s office has distributed a brochure to all students which approvingly quotes the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” blames Freemasons and Zionists for the world wars, and claims that they control US and British policy and the global financial system.
Studying conditions at the department are unbearable. There are not enough lecture halls, and there is no ventilation. The building is stuffed with video surveillance cameras which the administration uses to track suspect students. Factory-style turnstiles have been installed at the entrance, and the security guards act rudely toward students. We have no library of our own.
We demand that the curricula be changed, competent teachers be invited, students be informed about foreign exchange programs, the rude security guards be dismissed, the rigid gating system be abolished, and a minimum of basic amenities be provided.
Their organizing efforts seemed to have paid off. Today a few English language media picked up on the story. The New York Times claims that
I assume that in the end it will be the latter because since the creation of the commission, as the Chronicle of Higher Education reports, six students were detained by the police for distributing fliers. They were later released without charges. This was the second arrest in as many months. On February 28 police arrested some students for similar activities.
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By Sean — 12 years ago
Since I’ve been giving some attention to the Presidential election in
, I decided to enlist my friend, “Predsedatel’ Mike” for his impression of things in Almaty. “Mike” was kind enough to write something to post on this blog. The following is his thoughts. “Mike” is a scholar who has been in Kazakhstan for several months researching his dissertation. His view from the street gives a much needed picture of the situation concerning the Nazarbayev government’s use of paranoia and intimidation to influence the electorate as well as the status of the opposition, and the expat community’s inability to understand Kazakhstan without Western colored glasses. — Sean Kazakhstan
“An atmosphere of intense fear, and 10,000 phantom hooligans: A report on the Kazakh elections, from a foreign scholar on the ground”
by “Predsedatel’ Mike”
Almaty. Saturday night, December 3rd. The Night before the elections. I was called by a friend, a local, who cancelled our plans to go out to a club. Apparently, there was a curfew in effect. I couldn’t believe that news of this curfew had hit me so late – I hadn’t seen it posted anywhere, I hadn’t seen anything on television, and no one told me. I immediately phoned up my landlord. He “strongly advised” me not to go out that night, and not to go out the next day. There was going to be trouble surrounding the elections. Even if I didn’t confront hooligans and revolutionaries, there were so many police, army and special forces out on patrol, with itchy trigger-fingers, that they might target me, he said. “We could be facing disorder on the level of ‘ the December Events’ ” (In 1986, mass riots surrounding the replacement of a Kazakh party secretary with a Russian one, which resulted in a massacre of over 1000 people). “Just…don’t go out, okay?”. I was scared shitless. So I stayed in.
The next morning, I watched election news. The media outlet Khabar (owned by one of the Nazarbayevs – his daughter, I think) was interviewing people on the street in the lead-up to the elections. “Will you let these disturbances keep you from participating in the election?” “Can anyone stop this election – what do you think of these hooligans, will they succeed?” – Hmm, such pointed questions. I got into a taxi, and went to the expat pub for a quick bite and some darts. The streets were completely deserted. Not a soul. I had never seen it like this, particularly on Sunday, which is such a popular shopping day. I asked my driver why. “People are afraid, because of the hooligans. You know that the opposition has bused in tens of thousands of mambety (rural Kazakhs, typically seen as a dark, drunken, violent force from the countryside – the equivalent of ‘redneck’, or ‘yokel’) to do their evil work, and destroy our democracy”.
Rumors flew around town about these tens of thousands of hooligans – knuckle-dragging apes from the countryside, ready to rape and pillage. To disrupt the elections. To stage a color revolution. Even the opposition spoke of them, claiming that Nazarbayev himself had purchased this lumpenproletariat-for-hire, in order to make them look bad, and to justify further repression. The scary thing is, no one doubted their existence. Somewhere in the city, perhaps hiding in an abandoned factory, there were tens of thousands of barbarians waiting to be unleashed, by one side or the other. People were afraid. Too afraid to go out.
I met up with some friends at the Pub – marines, who hadn’t heard of the curfew. They had gone out the night before, and when the marines ‘go out’, let me tell you, that they go out all night, and all over the city. And they had seen nothing. No one had. Not one smashed window, not one broken bottle. The only violence I saw that night was between an Australian and an Irishman over
Suddenly, all was becoming clearer. The regime was cultivating this atmosphere of fear among the population, in an attempt to get more votes cast for the party of order, the OTAN party, the incumbent President Nazarbayev. They spread rumors of hooligans, of curfews (officially, it turns out, there wasn’t one), of dark forces plotting the overthrow of stability. The regime had even gone so far as to air a television special in the weeks preceding the elections – a documentary on the brutality of revolutions, and how they do nothing but destroy families, peoples’ lives, and entire nations… The fact is, none of this fear is necessary to the stability of this regime – it is the result of a typically Soviet paranoia.
During my time here, I have challenged embassy workers, scholars, and other expats, for their criticism of the Kazakhstani government and Nazarbayev. In making their analyses, they impose so much of the west, so much of what we think democracy is, how a society should be run, and what every decent human being should want, that they look everywhere for real, liberal democratic opposition to the Nazarbayev regime. And they find it everywhere – in the countryside, in poetry competitions, in competing clans, and in murdered ‘opposition’ leaders. Nurkadilov, who was taken out weeks ago, was part of Nazarbayev’s regime until very recently. He was the former mayor of Almaty, and the governor of several oblasts, during his career – all positions which are appointed and important, and which indicate a degree of trust and closeness to Nazarbayev. Their falling out had more to do with the fact that Nurkadilov was more visibly and openly corrupt and brutal than others in the establishment, and was thus harming the public image of the OTAN party. This man was no western liberal democrat reformer, and neither are the rest of the goons that surround him.
The problem is, these expat academic types and government officials talk to the wrong people. They talk to other academics, journalists, and dissidents. But they don’t talk to anyone else. When I say that I think Nazarbayev is truly popular, they look at me with mouths dropped wide open. No. He can’t be. No one would want to live under a democratic facade. Everyone is simply scared.
They’re partially right. Everyone is scared. But, much like the Soviet people living under Stalin, it isn’t all about fear. I consider my informal taxi-driver and shopkeeper political surveys more accurate than the very limited elite that the rest of the expats are talking to. According to my survey, even if the elections were not rigged, the opposition not suppressed, the atmosphere of fear lifted, Nazarbayev would still easily win by a large margin. Because he is truly loved. Sure, people grumble. They complain. Even the staunchest supporters will talk about corruption, and note that Nazarbayev is directly involved. However, he has the following going for him: He is the founder of the state. He moves deftly in international politics, balancing the influence of
America, Russiaand China, and always emerges with a good deal for (66% of oil revenue extracted by foreign companies, for example). His encouragement of foreign investment brings Kazakhstan Kazakhstanreal economic development – this ‘stan is an economic tiger, and the jewel of Central Asiaamidst the collapsing, dilapidated states surrounding it. He balances nationalities policy between advancing a Kazakhstani civic identity, while very gradually encouraging “Kazakhization” in schools and government – with a very fair target of completing the transition to Kazakh in government and public affairs by 2030 – even the Russians think this is acceptable (compared to the situation in Estonia, for example), and are beginning to send their children to Kazakh schools in droves. But most of all, Nursultan Nazarbayev gives the people hope – hope in the future of this country on the world scene. People are proud of this country, and the man at the helm. In a free and fair election, he would easily win somewhere between 70-80% of the vote. Once confronted my assessment, the other expats begrudgingly admit that I’m right.
That being said, Nazarbayev is paranoid, in a frighteningly Soviet way. It seems he can only feel secure with an overwhelming mandate, of 90-95% of the vote. And so, he stages forced rallies of students, workers, the army, etc. He bullies the opposition. And sometimes, people disappear. Nazarbayev is insecure. He doesn’t believe in the genuine love of his people. He considers it fickle, the people stupid, disloyal and easily swayed. And so he terrorizes them as well.
The day that Nurkadilov was killed, everyone spoke in hushed tones. “Did you hear? THEY killed Nurkadilov…”; “THEY murdered him, and threw him in a ditch”. And even the staunchest supporters of Nazarbayev fell silent in some sort of strange mourning. For they genuinely loved their father. But he didn’t need to scare them all into loving him. His irrational outbursts frightened the children, so they crawled into a corner, rocked back and forth, cried, and hugged each other, sharing in their inability to comprehend how father could be so cruel, and attempting to reconcile their love and their fear. With one eye, of course, peering into the darkness under their beds, waiting for ten thousand bogeyman to jump out.Post Views: 112
By Sean — 11 years ago
Last month Alexander Dugin boasted that his Eurasian Youth Union could bring out 1500 participants to their Imperial March. They got about 600-700 according to Kommersant (RFE/RL claims no more than 400 attended). It also seems that the Russian authorities have much more tolerance toward the far right than the left. A few days before the march,
mayor Yuri Luzhkov granted the International Eurasian Movement a permit to march down Tverskaya to Revolution Square. But there seems to be some confusion on this permit. Other news agencies, like the Moscow Times and RFE/RL, report that Luzhkov only granted a permit for a two hour rally at Mayakovskaya. In contrast, the mayor’s office has rejected a similar request by the “March of the Discontented” for April 14. Moscow
There were no reported arrests and no clubbing of demonstrators. That doesn’t mean that the police were not in full force. They were indeed. “Twenty-seven truckloads of soldiers, a stepped-up police presence and even several busloads of special forces troops protected the demonstrators and make sure no march occurred spontaneously,” reports Kommersant. One has to wonder who was guarding who. Were the police guarding bystanders or the Eurasianists?
The march displayed all the nationalist rhetoric one would expect at a neo-fascist rally. Again from Kommersant:
collapsed, I had the feeling that I was being cut up into pieces,” Eurasian Youth Union leader Pavel Zarifullin told those gathered. “But we will restore the empire. The process has already begun.” Alexander Dugin, spiritual leader of the movement, called opposition members who attend the March of Those Who Disagree “the forces of hell,” and stated that “ USSR is the kingdom of the Antichrist in the far West. Those who urge friendship with it want to sell the country for Internet and free chewing gum.” America
“We are supporters of the regime. We support Putin because he created the prerequisites for the rebirth of the nation,” Dugin told the rally. “We want guarantees that Putin will stay for a third term or secure the continuity of his course.”
should be strong and not crawling under the West,” Dmitry Zakharov, a rally participant, said Sunday. Russia
“National Bolsheviks want to monopolize street protests and the notion of civil society for themselves, and we want to show everybody today that we, too, are a part of civil society,” said Pavel Kanishchev, waving a black flag decorated with eight yellow arrows symbolizing
‘s imperial expansion. Russia
I think that this line from the International Herald Tribune summed things up nicely: “Some demonstrators said they were recruited in rural schools, and had little idea why they were there.”Post Views: 145
By Sean — 12 years ago
Here is a summary of interesting news stories coming out of Russia this week.
—The U.S. military will abandon its airbases in Uzbekistan. Uzbek President Islam Karimov’s administration asked the U.S. to leave after it suggested an international probe into the massacre of over 800 people in town of Andijan. I’m surprised. Given the Bush Administration’s “commitment” to human rights, I figured that they would make the standard public condemnations, while assuring Karimov behind the scenes that their call for a probe was far from serious. Perhaps Karimov accidentally took them seriously. This news comes as the Andijan 15 are being tried in Uzbek courts for orchestrating an uprising. It seems that the EU is taking some “harsher” measures by placing an arms embargo on Uzbekistan.
—The drama around the Beslan Mothers and cult leader Grigorii Grabovoi heats up. Several of the mothers have filed a request to the Russian General Prosecutor Vladimir Ustinov to investigate Grabovoi’s dealings. The appeal stated: “This cultist’s cynical promise to resurrect those killed in the terrorist act is blasphemous to all those who suffered in this dreadful tragedy. We … ask you to investigate the legality of Grigory Grabovoi’s actions and to bring him to justice under Russian law.”
—Amnesty International released a report this week condemning abductions, secret detentions, and torture carried out by Russian authorities in Ingushetia and Chechnya. The report charges that “Russia’s “war on terror” is being used as an excuse for systematic human rights abuses.” Unfortunately, Russia is not alone it the use of Bush’s “war on terror” to commit such acts without concern for national or international law, not to mention, human rights. According to the press release, Amnesty International
“detected a new trend in the human rights abuses in the North Caucasus. People are reportedly being arbitrarily detained and held in incommunicado detention, where they are subjected to torture and ill-treatment, in order to force them to confess to crimes that they have not committed. Once they have signed a “confession” they are reportedly transferred to another detention facility where they have access to a lawyer of their choice and relatives; but the confession seems to be enough “evidence” to secure their conviction.”
Such measures are a disturbing reminder of Soviet practices. Then it was “enemies of the people.” Now its “terrorists.”
—In a sign of some progress and recognition of the problem of HIV/AIDS in the military, Russian soldiers will now be given condoms before they go on leave. Official statistics put detected HIV/AIDS cases in the Russian military since 1989 has number 2000. One can assume that this number is very, very low.
—Already in anticipation to the 2008 elections, the Federal Registration Service is going to begin a “proverka,” or check, of registered Russian political parties. According to legislation passed last December, registered electoral parties must have a national membership of 100,000, and at least 500 members in each of the county’s 89 regions.
—Kommersant is reporting that the bones of General Anton Denikin, the commander of the White Army during the Russian Civil War (1918-1920, are being flown from New York for burial in the Donskoi cemetery in Moscow. The transfer comes with a special Presidential envoy.
—In another sign of progress, a St. Petersburg Court ruled that Oktyabrskaya Railroad broke the law when it rejected a man’s application because he was a homosexual. In addition, a Yaroslav court upheld the rights of a lesbian woman who was fired from teaching because of “health problems,” i.e. she’s gay. Many Russians still believe in the Soviet view that homosexuality is a mental disease.
—I don’t think that I need to dwell to long on the biggest story coming out of Russia this week: Gazprom’s $13 billion purchase of SibNeft. The purchase further consolidates Gazprom’s dominance of Russian energy and oil markets as well as shows its intention to become a global player in oil and natural gas.
—And finally, Vitaly Matyukhin, a resident of Archangelsk has spent the last 15 years in a living his summer days in a refrigerator. Matyukhin apparently suffers from a rare heat exchange disorder where he can’t be in temperatures over 5 C. So during the warm weather of September he spends most of his time in a self built refrigerator, only to come out at night. Born in Krasnodar, he moved to Archangelsk to escape the southern heat. Only in Russia . . .Post Views: 359