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Kazakhstan Tries to Prove Borat Right

nazarbayev090309.jpgHere goes a bit from Robert Amsterdam’s latest piece on Huffington Post regarding the conviction of Yevgeny Zhovtis.

Just a few years back, a savagely offensive and popular comedy starring Sascha Baron Cohen caused extraordinary embarrassment in Kazakhstan, as outraged citizens rightfully protested the portrayal of their country as a backward and ignorant third world hole. Kazakhstan actually does have a lot going for it, with enormous energy deposits, a powerfully growing economy, and an intelligent innovative class, but thanks to the ongoing conduct by the government of the Nursultan Nazarbayev, they seem intent on making Borat a self-fulfilling prophecy.  (…)

There are many competing theories as to why we are seeing so many opposition politicians, journalists, and activists facing an onslaught of cases from Nazarbayev. One rumor is that there is a serious behind-the-scenes power struggle to either remove the 17-year leader, or at least advance higher within his camp. These struggles often exacerbate the current corruption problems of the state, which most kindly could be described as hideous. But even veteran Kazakh analysts I have been talking to seem shocked by the severity of the sentence against Zhovtis, who unlike some, usually knew what was acceptable and unacceptable in order to keep working. The draconian sentencing clearly illustrates a high level of insecurity and panic in the leadership, which appears to be heightening as the OSCE chairmanship approaches.

The reaction, so far, has been outrage.  The supporters who crowded the courtroom are reported to have shouted “shame, shame” after the judge, and they’re right. The people of Kazakhstan should be embarrassed by the conduct of their president, but for members of the OSCE, even more so.