Sunday, July 18, 2010

Kazakhstan - a long way to go on PD?

A couple of days ago I saw a Facebook "status" from a Kazakh friend (who's enjoying his summer vacation back at home) where he complained about the fact that Kazakhstan - the free and democratic American friend in Central Asia (no, not the one Borat was talking about) - has blocked access to certain popular web platforms, such as LiveJournal and Google's Blogger.

(Image courtesy of the Telegraph.)

Apparently, this is not news, especially in the light of Nazarbayev's near-official anointment as "Elbashi" (Nation's Leader) and the passage of the law granting him a "special" status, even after the expiration of his presidential term. (Although, after 21 years of occupying the Presidency, he doesn't seem all too eager to give it up.)

This, again, raises the question as to why, then, is Kazakhstan currently chairing the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE: or alternatively, the "Organization of Seriously Concerned Europeans")? I just find it all too ironic that Kazakhstan  is going over and beyond in its attempts to prove "democratization and progress" to the world, coming up with various public diplomacy and "image-making" overtures, while not making any real attempts to improve the facts on the ground - substantially, that is.

Thus, for example, Kazakhstan made it to the global headlines yesterday, as it hosted an unofficial meeting of OSCE representatives in Almaty and facilitated the organization's decision to send 52-member police force to southern Kyrgyzstan. It was also throughout the course of this meeting that Kazakhstan was finally given the green light to hold an official OSCE leaders' summit later this year in its brand-new capital Astana: a summit that has not been held since 1999, and something the Kazakh authorities were apparently lobbying hard for. All in the name of a positive international image...

Since I'm at it, I also need to reference the following interview that Prime Minister Karim Massimov gave to Al Jazeera a couple of weeks ago, where he could not stress enough the high value that the authorities put on improving Kazakhstan's international image.

The only tiny detail that they failed to take note of is that any major effort to create "a positive international image" today will involve public diplomacy; while an increasingly larger part of public diplomacy is shifting to the truly "public" sphere and to people-to-people interactions. Vast energy resources might secure very profitable international business deals for Kazakhstan, but they will not, necessarily, guarantee a positive image.

There are many issues with regard to freedom in Kazakhstan (just as in all of the former Soviet states), but I would like to focus on my friend's particular concern about online freedom. Without a substantial public discourse, a major part of which increasingly takes place online - be it domestically or "with those abroad" - Kazakhstan will remain in the minds of the outside world as the "glorious" "-stan" country somewhere in Asia (or is it Europe?), with a ruling dynasty that is all too difficult to challenge. Apparently it still has to learn what "public" really means, especially in terms of international image-making.


  1. Interesting piece again.
    My feeling is that OSCE (which, in my view, is not merely the Organization of Seriously Concerned Europeans but also the the Organization of Seriously Intellectually-Challenged Europeans, which, in its turn, should make us all fairly concerned about the future of Europe) could not care less about democracy and freedom.
    It would be unfair, though, to point fingers only at OSCE. Almost all (and probably all) regional and global organizations only pay lip service to the ideals of democracy and freedom. In reality, however, those issues are, to put it mildly, do not top the list of their priorities.
    It has become so obvious that most regimes in the post-Soviet area take less and less trouble to keep up appearances.
    Let me remind you that the Vice-President of the US (in Bush's Administration) in his public speech in Vilnius lashed out at the Russian Government (and, probably, rightly so) and then went straight to Kazakhstan, where he praised the Kazakh "democracy"...
    I think "blogger-hunt" ( I mean here the hunt for bloggers not by bloggers) is becoming a favorite pastime for most of the above-said regimes. Sometimes it is done brutally and conspicuously (Azerbaijan, Belarus and Kazakhstan are only three examples; Armenia did that during the March 2008 crisis). Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, etc. did the same in a not-so-obvious fashion. In any case, it is done with impunity.
    It does not mean that such de facto disincentives for public diplomacy will make those governments stop their efforts in the PD field. What I mean is that there are fewer incentives for them to engage in real democratization efforts and to use PD to that end.
    It reminds me again of Robert Kaplan's idea that democracy may turn out to be just a moment in the history of humanity.
    I think his skepticism was well-founded. At least it was better-founded than Huntington's optimism about the fourth wave of democratization...

  2. I guess I can only agree with you re: Huntington and Kaplan. And EVEN IF democracy survives, in one form or another, in some parts of the world, it definitely requires much more than "pretense" to take root in others.. and most importantly, it requires the proper "environment" where it can evolve - call it national "maturity", "readiness", or plain "naivete".. but it really does seem that our beloved region is far from having reached that point (that is, assuming we really DO want to get there in the first place).
    as for PD - I would want to have a little more faith in it than plain propaganda, and although we can debate about the difference between the concepts, I do believe in the fundamental difference between the definitions. and well, in that sense, whatever the ex-USSR states do will remain VERY distant from PUBLIC diplomacy, per se..