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Analysts praise Kazakhstan’s peacemaking, fault ‘democratic’ standards
By Jamila Kerimova and Anar Kuanyshbekova
ASTANA –Government officials and civil society representatives are finding mixed results in assessing Kazakhstan's successes and failures five months into its one-year chairmanship of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
The two groups came together in late May for seminars in Almaty and Astana to discuss Kazakhstan's record at the helm of the OSCE. Central Asia Online also interviewed individuals who did not attend the seminars.
“All the commitments Kazakhstan made are nothing more than rhetorical devices", said Institute of Political Solutions scholar Maksim Kaznacheyev. "In exchange for this (chairmanship), we guaranteed the European countries stability in natural-resource contracts". The world is not expecting Kazakhstan to meet its promises, he added.
Kazakhstan's democratic practises need considerable work, said Jeannette Kloetzer, deputy director of the OSCE Centre in Astana. But she praised the country’s role as a peacemaker in the April 6-8 events in Kyrgyzstan. “We managed to establish conditions under which OSCE dialogue was effective", she said.
“What I really appreciate is that in this situation Kazakhstan was acting not as a particular country, but as OSCE chairman", said Wolfgang Zellner, director of the Centre for OSCE Research.
MP Kamal Burkhanov said Kazakhstan had contributed in other foreign locations. “Acting OSCE Chairman Kanat Saudabayev ... held talks in Nagorno-Karabakh, Transnistria and Afghanistan”, he said, calling such work important.
Long before taking the chairmanship, Kazakhstan consulted with the OSCE’s representatives and European consultants, Serzhan Abdykarimov, director of the Kazakhstani Foreign Ministry's OSCE Department, said.
Among the innovations that Kazakhstan introduced, Abdykarimov noted the OSCE’s involvement in Afghanistan, meetings in Corfu on European security and the upcoming OSCE summit that Kazakhstan intends to host.
“In the beginning, the decision (to convene a summit) was met rather negatively, but now that view seems to have changed”, Zellner said. “What I hear from Vienna is that even many Western delegations are rather positive about the summit”.
Indeed, all the European countries have agreed to participate in the OSCE summit — the first in more than ten years — this autumn, Kaznacheyev said. “The summit is an image thing, an effort by Kazakhstan to assert itself in a European format”.
A date for the summit has yet to be announced. However, assessments of Kazakhstani adherence to promises on democracy and freedom of speech are less rosy.
“In terms of democracy, Kazakhstan did not make good. ... The fact that (President) Nursultan Nazarbayev will become the Father of the Nation does not bring the country any closer to democracy”, Zellner said.
“Whereas two journalists celebrated the 2009 New Year in prison, the number had increased to six within a year”, said Tamara Kaleyeva, president of Adil Soz, an organisation defending freedom of speech.
She said the government increased the number of criminal-code articles allowing the imprisonment of journalists. That extends across society, an NGO representative said.
“The situation regarding freedom of assembly, freedom of speech and torture ... in some cases, has even worsened”, said Roza Akylbekova, executive director of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law. “Law enforcement often uses torture and psychological pressure to extract confessions”.
Zhaina Aidarkhan, whose husband — poet and activist Aron Atabek — received an 18-year prison sentence in 2007 for inciting disorder that led to the death of a police officer, agreed.
Authorities transferred him to a higher-security prison and added two years to his sentence for an article he wrote in his prison cell about Nazarbayev, she said. The government's lack of democratisation needs to be brought to the OSCE's attention, she said.
But no international organisation can interfere in the government’s internal affairs, replied MP Vladimir Nekhoroshev.
Another condition for OSCE chairmanship was a multiparty parliament. Nur-Otan remains the only party in parliament five months after Kazakhstan became OSCE chair.
“I don't expect democratisation in connection with Kazakhstan’s chairmanship of the OSCE. ... European diplomats understood perfectly well that the conditions for a multiparty parliament might not be fulfilled”, said Democratic Party Chairman Alikhan Baimenov.
MP Oral Mukhamejanov disagreed. He predicted that in future elections, the government might find a way to seat a party that receives only 5% of the vote, even though the threshold for parliamentary representation is 7%.
“When the OSCE chose Kazakhstan as the chair, it knew that we had a one-party parliament", he told Central Asia Online.
“Kazakhstan’s chairmanship of the OSCE has destroyed many of the stereotypes that exist in Europe regarding the CIS countries", Kuanysh Sultanov, chairman of the Senate Committee for International Relations, Defence and Security, said proudly.
“There is still quite a lot of time ahead, and we will see later if Kazakhstan will manage to fulfil its commitments”, Zellner concluded.