ANOTHER day, another so called democracy on the skids. This time it is Kazakhstan. In a country infamous for repression and the abuse of human rights, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has been forced to reverse a fuel price hike that provoked the uprising. A state of emergency exists in three provinces, and government buildings are ablaze.
What started as a revolt over fuel prices has escalated as years of grievances find expression in demands for real political change. Despite backing down over the protesters’ original demands, Tokayev is determined to resist any fundamental change, hence the state of emergency. Strikes and demonstrations have been declared illegal, and riot police have been mobilised to disperse protestors.
Tokayev may not be able to quell the revolt. In many places demonstrators are refusing to disperse until local government officials meet with them to discuss their demands. In the largest city, Almaty, the presidential palace is on fire, and the airport has been occupied. Tokayev has already been forced to sack his government and, as demonstrators chanted “old man out,” in reference to Tokayev’s predecessor, Nursultan Nazarbayev, the ex-president and titular head of state was removed from his position as chair of the Security Council.
Kazakhstan was ruled by Nursultan Nazarbayev from 1991 until 2019 when he resigned and appointed Tokayev as his successor. Under his rule the country was a byword for corruption. But his brutal imposition of stability attracted billions in investments from western governments and corporations. Much of this wealth finished up in the hands of Nazarbayev and his family, who control much of the economy. The capital city, Astana, underwent massive redevelopment. In 2019 when Nazarbayev stood down as president, he retained much of his influence, and Astana was renamed Nur-Sultan in his honour.
It should come as no surprise that all this wealth would attract Tony Blair, who was busy enriching himself on the back of his tenure at Number 10. In 2011 Tony Blair Associates gained a lucrative contract, rumoured to be anything between $13 and $27 million per annum, to advise the Kazakhstan government. There had already been twenty years of corrupt and autocratic one party rule so he knew what he was getting into.
In that very year a strike broke out amongst oil workers that was brutally suppressed in what became known as “the Zhanaozen Massacre.” Police opened fire killing 17 people and injuring dozens more. The government responded with a crackdown on dissent, jailing many opposition activists. It is no accident that the present uprising began in Zhanaozen on January 2nd.
Blair defended Nazarbayev in 2011. He said this massacre “should not obscure the enormous progress” Nazarbayev had apparently brought to Kazakhstan. Blair then included a further 500 words for Nazarbayev to use, becoming, in effect, a speechwriter — and cheerleader — for Nazarbayev. And so it continued for five years.
Cherie Blair also profited as her law firm won lucrative contracts to review Kazakhstan’s bilateral trade agreements. When Nazarbayev was closing down the free press, imprisoning his opponents and ‘winning’ over 90% of the vote in elections, Blair went on the record to state that Nazarbayev was “trying to do the right thing”.
If the worst stain on Blair’s record is his lying defence of the Iraq War because Hussein was a brutal dictator, then his hypocrisy in selling his soul to another brutal dictator must rank second. Blair gets a knighthood and the country he sold down the river in exchange for Nazarbayev’s millions is benighted. Little wonder that The Diplomat covered his withdrawal from Kazakhstan with the headline Good Riddance?
What about Russia?
The ex-Soviet republic is the ninth largest country in the world by area just behind Argentina. By comparison, both its population and its economy are less than half the size of Argentina. Even so, its fertile agricultural land and oil wealth make it the largest economy amongst the Central Asian republics. Alongside the majority Kazakh population there is a significant minority of Russians, and Kazakhstan has always been a loyal supporter of Russia. So far the Kremlin has called for no foreign intervention. However, early this morning after an appeal from Tokayev for assistance, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Moscow-based alliance of six former Soviet countries, approved sending an unspecified number of peacekeepers, according to Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, the CSTO council’s chairman.
The latest news is not good. The state of emergency has been extended to cover the whole country, suggesting that the uprising is gathering pace. There are reports of deaths, and Tokayev is asking for Russian support against ‘terrorists and bandits’ amidst an internet blackout across the country. Against the odds, people around the world continue to rebel against injustice and oppression. And equally against the odds, sometimes we win. Solidarity with the people of Kazakhstan against the real bandits and terrorists who have ruled over them for too long.
Life long socialist. Now retired, I have been an office junior, a bookseller, a docker and a teacher. I write a lot and read a lot more. Committed member of the Society of Authors, English PEN and the National Education Union. Uncommitted member of the Labour Party. Will they expel me before my direct debit expires?