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Grigory Pasko: A Week in Almaty, Part 3

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In the famous film Borat, Kazakhstan is shown, to put it mildly, as a strange state. However, the government of Kazakhstan, extremely irritated by the film at the beginning, now, as they are reporting, has replaced wrath with kindness – it has already in practice felt the growing interest in its country: people have wanted to see this mysterious Kazakhstan with their own eyes and are now storming tourist agencies.

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From Russia to Almaty I flew on a half-empty airplane: Russians, apparently, know even without Borat what and how it’s really like there. In Almaty itself I was amazed by two things: the almost complete absence of automobiles produced by VAZ and GAZ [i.e. Russian cars–Trans.], and also the fact that drivers give the right of way to pedestrians (in Moscow this is encountered extremely rarely).

On Ablaikhan street I asked a young woman who was baking blinys to smile. Instead of this she called over a security guard from the supermarket standing nearby. The security guard spent a long time summoning a supervisor on the walkie-talkie, but he wasn’t coming. I got tired of this, I went out and simply photographed the bliny-baker-girls. As well as everything I deemed necessary. Moreover, I was doing this demonstratively, so that all could see. After a couple of minutes interest in me was lost. Conclusion: if you insistently let people know that they have the right to behave themselves freely, then the people will quickly get used to this. Perhaps I’m mistaken. And, perhaps, in another 10 minutes I would have been arrested by the vigilant kaenbeshniki [employees of the National Security Committee (KNB), the successor to you-know-who–Trans.] of Kazakhstan. However, this did not happen, for which I, unconditionally, am glad.

In the subsequent days, I made yet another conclusion: if passers-by on the streets refused to speak with me, then the taxi drivers were talkative.

The young lad-taxi driver Timur wrote down for me the number of his mobile and said: “If you need to be driven someplace – ring.” Before this, he drove me through half the city and got 15 euros in rubles. The whole way he was recounting to me what, in his opinion, is going on in Kazakhstan. He had heard about the jailing of Zhovtis, and was certain that agents of the regime had pumped the poor young man full of drugs and vodka and shoved him in front of the car (despite the fact that Zhovtis denies this, and that the family of the victim supports the defense).

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This version I had already heard. To refute it, it looks, no one of the official persons intends to do. Also Timur recounted how he understands politics in the state. Nazarbayev is cunning, he does not copy everything negative from Russia. And all these people who have been exiled, especially Rakhat Aliyev, this is specially put up operations. If there were no understandings of some kind between them and Nazarbayev, they would have long ago shared the fate of the polonium-poisoned Litvinenko.

I don’t know about polonium, but Nazarbayev really is copying much from the Putinite arsenal. In recent times, the situation with human rights in Kazakhstan is attracting elevated attention in connection with the transfer in 2010 to this country of the chairmanship in the OSCE. The individual cosmetic improvements undertaken by the government are far from enough to guarantee the observance of fundamental rights, notes Human Rights Watch.

“We are shocked by the ease with which the powers violate fundamental rights, when until the chairmanship in the OSCE are left only several months, – says HRW representative Andrea Berg. – Kazakhstan is obviously not ready for such an important role”.

In the opinion of many human rights advocates, such forthright disdain for the norms of law in the case of Yevgeny Zhovtis will no doubt reflect negatively on the authority of Kazakhstan as a country laying claim to the chairmanship in the OSCE in the year 2010.

In this connection, not completely comprehensible to me is the position of many leaders of western countries. They do have levers of influence on such regimes as the one in Kazakhstan or even in Russia. But, obviously, western politicians are so pragmatic that Kazakhstani oil or Russian gas are capable of blinding them, as with high beam headlights on a nighttime right-of-way.

In the words of human rights advocate Sergey Duvanov [ in their time, they really set Sergey up hard and locked him in jail–G.P.], the conviction of Zhovtis was demonstrative . Further on he added: « I saw the faces of the western diplomats in Bakanas» [in the courtroom–G.P.] – they began to understand the situation in the country much better. On the other hand, while the human rights advocate is in the SIZO [investigative isolator prison–Trans.] of Taldykorgan, the power can drag out the time, analyze the reaction of society, wheel-and-deal with the West. Clarify how important losing face is for that».

Zhovtis’s lawyer Vitaly Voronov met with me right after returning from Taldykorgan, where in the SIZO he had met with Yevgeny Alexandrovich. «He and I discussed for a long time the question of to whose advantage, after all, it was to lock him up in jail precisely on the eve of Kazakhstan’s chairmanship of the OSCE? There can be several variants of an answer. One of them: the power is demonstrating its strength, like, we can do anything, and we wanted to spit on your OSCE and on human rights in general.

By telephone I conversed with Vyacheslav Kalyuzhny, head of the apparat of the National institute for human rights of the Republic of Kazakhstan. He said that they had written an address to the Supreme court of Kazakhstan with a request to take the Zhovtis case under control [oversight–Trans.] and in the event of appellate complaints to examine the case in strict compliance with the law. «The courts will get to the bottom of everything», – Vyacheslav Afanasievich assured me.

By the way, the next trial – with respect to a complaint by Zovtis’s defenders – is taking place already on the 19th of September. Perhaps the courts really will get to the bottom and will help Nazarbayev resolve the question: does he need a scandal on the eve of a series of European events, dedicated to the topic of the observance of human rights in Kazakhstan or maybe he doesn’t need one after all?

(To be continued)