At least 225 dead, over 4000 injured and almost 10,000 arrested after the government of Kazakhstan’s suppression of the numerous demonstrations. The British media, meanwhile, says little about the recently honoured Tony Blair’s publicity relations exercise in 2011 to whitewash the last time Kazakhstan experienced unrest and improve the image of its previous president after civil unrest resulted in what is known as the Zhanaozen Massacre, where 70 people were killed, over 500 injured, and many more including main trade unionists, were arrested.
Former dictator, Nursultan Nazarbayev, believed to still pulling the strings in the autocratic regime, is said to have paid Blair’s consultancy business $13 million for advice. Like Blair, Nazarbayev was also awarded a title, the ‘Leader of the Nation’, and had the country’s capital renamed Nur-Sultan in his honour in 2019, something Blair has still to achieve.
The current leader, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, refuses to concede any legitimacy to the protests, describing those who participated in them as ‘bandits and terrorist’, incited by foreign infiltrators, dismissing as "stupidity", the appeals for all parties to negotiate a peaceful solution. He instead issued a shoot-to-kill order. It has been the Kazakh government itself that has introduced foreign intervention by inviting thousands of Russian troops to help put down the uprising. There also appears to be some internal dissent within the government as Nazarbayev has not spoken or appeared in public since the unrest began and Karim Masimov, the head of the security services and a former prime minister, has been arrested on charges of treason.
Unrest originally began when the cost of liquefied petroleum gas doubled (later rescinded.) It is the fuel 90 percent of their vehicles run on. But the protests were the result of long-standing frustrations with the political and economic situation in the country. It has turned into a generalised protest against corruption, poverty, inequality and lack of democracy. According to a KPMG report, 162 people control about half of Kazakhstan’s total wealth, a country of 19 million. There prevails widespread economic hardship despite the country’s enormous reserves of oil, natural gas, uranium and minerals.
Much of the people’s anger has been aimed at the wealth amassed by Narzabayev and his family plus their lavish spending. His daughter and grandson own £80m of property in London and in 2020 the National Crime Agency lost a legal action to force them to explain where the money came from. Property of hundreds of millions of pounds across the UK has been identified as belonging to Kazakhstan’s affluent elite.
There are those who have suggested the events echo one more American CIA-instigated ‘colour revolution’ to de-stabilise another former Soviet republic and Russian ally but the movement has had no obvious organisation behind it but it will not stop such conspiracy theories from spreading on social media. The protests are leader-free and the politicians have not yet taken control.
It is unfortunate due to the small size of the World Socialist Movement that we can only express our outrage at the brutality of the Kazakhstan government, condemn Putin’s military intervention, and offer sympathy and solidarity to our Kazakh fellow workers in their struggle against oppression. But the battle for democracy is a long and arduous one, and even if the Kazakhstan working class successfully depose their present masters, the class war against the replacement rulers requires to continue.