Revolt against the Plutocracy in Kazakhstan, the "Land of wanderers"
The protestors across Kazakhstan demanded a more democratically open political system, disturbing the balance of power of the government’s authoritarian and plutocratic regime.
By Purushendra Singh
Kazakhstan, once the bastion of stability in central Asia, witnessed an uprising of common citizens and large gatherings of civilians against the plutocratic . It commenced in front of the mayor's house in the Mangystau province, and soon the mayor’s office in Almaty, the country’s largest city, was set ablaze. For the first time since the formation of a sovereign and independent Kazakhstan in 1990, there have been protests of a high magnitude, with charred cars littering the nomadic cities. The protestors across Kazakhstan demanded a more democratically open political system, disturbing the balance of power of the government’s authoritarian and plutocratic regime.
The protests were sparked by soaring fuel prices, with LPG prices almost doubling on 1st January, 2022. This led to the citizens’ bottled up emotions oozing out. The protests grew past the concern with fuel prices to address the wider grievances such as the Kazakh elites trading political freedom for economic growth, rise of inequality, and lack of people’s representation in politics - with rampant corruption to top it all.
Locals were heard chanting in the streets “Kazakhs are accustomed to patience but they have grown tired and they have had enough.” More and more people gathered to join the march against the exploitative politico-economic class, the group that lives well while everyone else is in poverty.
Photo of demonstrators holding hands and making a human chain : Demonstrators denouncing the doubling of prices for liquefied petroleum gas have clashed with police in Kazakhstan's largest city and held protests in about a dozen other cities. [Vladimir Tretyakov/AP Photo]
Nursultan Nazarbayev, a former loyalist of the Communist Party when Kazakhstan was part of Soviet Russia, is also known as Elbasy meaning “the father of the nation.” He has been the President of Kazakhstan for 5 consecutive terms starting from 1990, finally stepping down in 2019 as President. He remained the Chairman of the National Security Council till he was succeeded by the current all-powerful President Kassym–Jomart Tokayev. Amidst the current protests, President Tokayev has issued the ‘shoot-to-kill’ order, suspiciously blaming a band of armed bandits and terrorists for the widespread violence in Kazakhstan recently. The country is struck by a crippling economy, lowering GDP and the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, the political elites from capital Astana visit chateaux in Western Europe and get rich from the country’s gold uranium, oil, gas and cryptocurrency farms. Meanwhile, a large number of the local populace demands political accountability and protection of their lands.
Shal Ket ! “Old Man, go”
As a result of the mass protests, the Prime Minister and his cabinet resigned on 5th January. Fuel prices reduced as well. President Tokayev accepted the resignation of the government, and took charge as the Chairman of the National Security Council. He stated that he would act as tough as possible, reflecting the erstwhile President Nursultan, whose dictatorial rule made him go from being the beloved father of the nation to the most hated person of the nation. During the protests, Nursultan’s statue was brought down by angry mobs who once paid respect to the man. Nursultan had won 5 consecutive elections, securing 98% of the vote as recently as 2015 elections. But now the slogan of “shal ket!” (go old man, go) can be heard in the major cities of Kazakhstan, indicating the citizen’s disappointment towards their former President. This shows that the protests are not just against rising oil prices but the much broader grievances that have deep roots in the politico-economic landscape of Kazakhstan.
Tokayev’s Iron Hand
After Ukraine and Belarus, Kazakhstan is the 3rd former Soviet country to face similar protests. President Tokayev announced a national emergency, banning mass gatherings, restricting movements, and restricting access to the internet. He imposed an overnight curfew in the capital city till 19th January. A peacekeeping mission was deployed by CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization) on the President’s request to his old ally, Russia. The Kremlin sent in over 2000 troops to stabilize the situation in Kazakhstan and to assist local law enforcement officers to displace protestors off the streets.
Amidst the death toll rising above 160, the protestors are motivated by different grievances. But the protests staged in different places all center around rejecting the Soviet-era leaders. Protestors want a sovereign and a truly politically representative government in their country. The slogan they are raising for the new age is Alga Kazakhstan!(forward Kazakhstan!)
Disclaimer: This article is author’s individual scholastic contribution and does not necessarily reflect the organization’s viewpoint.
The article was orginally published in First India.