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Central Asia Report: November 24, 2006

November 24, 2006, Volume 6, Number 28

WEEK AT A GLANCE (November 13-19, 2006). China and Kazakhstan deepened ties amid some ambivalence on the Kazakh side over Chinese efforts to gain equity in Kazakhstan's oil industry. Liu Qi, secretary of the Beijing Party Committee, met with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev in Astana as Kazakh Deputy Prime Minister Karim Masimov and Chinese Deputy Premier Wu Yi chaired the third meeting of the China-Kazakhstan Cooperation Committee in Beijing. At the same time, however, Kazakh Energy Minister Baktykozha Izmukhambetov said that China must not be allowed to acquire a Canadian-registered company that owns oil assets in Kazakhstan. Izmukhambetov was referring to China's International Trust & Investment Corporation, which recently announced plans to acquire Nations Energy for nearly $2 billion. Elsewhere, police in Stepnogorsk announced the arrest of 11 people suspected of establishing a terrorist group "with the goal of forming an Islamic caliphate on the territory of Kazakhstan and subverting the territorial integrity and security of this country."

Kyrgyz Prime Minister Feliks Kulov rejected calls for his resignation from the opposition For Reforms movement, whose leaders had claimed that Kulov lacked the public's trust. Meanwhile, the rights group Citizens Against Corruption appealed to prosecutors to halt the prosecution of members of For Reforms. Prosecutors had opened a criminal case after Kulov read excerpts from the transcript of a tape recording that suggested For Reforms members were plotting to seize power. The appeal asked prosecutors to close the case in light of a recent compromise between the opposition and President Kurmanbek Bakiev that allowed the passage of a new constitution. Elsewhere, Transport and Communications Minister Nurlan Sulaymanov blamed the recent collision of a Kyrgyz Airlines plane with a U.S. military KC-136 at Manas Airport on the U.S. crew, adding that the Foreign Ministry is discussing the issue of compensation for damage with U.S. officials.

Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov, recently reelected in a nearly 80 percent landslide, delivered his inauguration address to a joint session of parliament. He promised that Tajikistan would become one of the "key exporters of electricity in Asia" while continuing cooperation with Russia, developing relations with China, and expanding cooperation with the United States. Tajik border guards shot and killed an Uzbek border guard, with the Tajik side subsequently expressing regret and the Uzbek side suggesting a pattern of aggressive behavior by the Tajiks.

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov ordered police to launch a large-scale campaign to arrest cotton growers suspected of exaggerating harvest figures, according to a Deutsche Welle report. Perpetrators reportedly face up to 15 years in prison. Niyazov sacked several regional governors in October after accusing them of failing to fulfill the cotton harvest plan.

The European Union decided to extend sanctions against Uzbekistan for another year, leaving in place a ban on arms sales to Uzbekistan and a visa ban on 12 high-ranking officials suspected of involvement in the violent suppression of unrest in Andijon in May 2005. And the U.S. State Department added Uzbekistan to its list of "countries of particular concern" for violations of religious freedom. At home, an Uzbek court reportedly sentenced five individuals to prison terms ranging from 15 to 20 years for spying on behalf of Tajikistan. And a group of Russian political analysts and PR specialists headed by Gleb Pavlovsky held roundtable discussions with their Uzbek colleagues on democratic reforms and civil society, featuring ample praise for the Uzbek model of development and culminating in a friendly meeting between Pavlovsky and Uzbek President Islam Karimov.

RUSSIA/UZBEKISTAN: BRINGING POLITICAL SYSTEMS 'CLOSER TOGETHER.' Under Josef Stalin, the Soviet Union had "engineers of human souls," writers whose task it was to instill a staunch belief in the building of a glorious communist future.

What was once the Soviet Union is today a more pragmatic place, where moneyed elites have no truck with the glorious future but a deep-seated interest in the perpetuation of the status quo. The new engineers are "political technologists" -- and their task is to keep the cogs and gears of authoritarian "managed democracy" whirring from predictable election to predictable election behind a presentable public-relations facade.

Kremlin Connections

It was somehow fitting that a visit to Uzbekistan by a group of Russia's most prominent specialists in political public relations should coincide with the first anniversary of a treaty that established a new alliance between the two countries.

The Russian delegation that visited Tashkent and Samarqand on November 13-16 included Gleb Pavlovsky, director of the Effective Politics Foundation; Modest Kolerov, head of a Kremlin department in charge of relations with the CIS; Yevgeny Kozhokin, director of the Strategic Studies Institute; Andranik Migranyan, chairman of the Commission on Issues of Globalization and National Development Strategy in the Public Chamber; Sergei Markov, director of the Institute for Political Studies; and other notables.

Most of the Russian visitors warranted a Kremlin-tinged description, from "Kremlin insider" (Pavlovsky) to "Kremlin official" (Kolerov) to "pro-Kremlin" (Kozhokin, Migranyan, Markov).

'The Russian/Uzbek Experience'

The substantive portion of the visit, which was organized by Pavlovsky's Effective Politics Foundation and Uzbekistan's Regional Policy Foundation, consisted of roundtable discussions in Tashkent and Samarqand.

A website run by Pavlovsky's Foundation,, enumerated the topics as 1) Deepening the process of democratic, socioeconomic, and social and political reforms: the experience of Uzbekistan and Russia; 2) Current condition and prospects for development of democratic institutions and processes: the experience of Uzbekistan and Russia; and 3) Challenges and threats to the development of civil-society institutions and how to overcome them.

The visit and roundtables received extensive coverage in official and semi-official Uzbek media. In particular, one pro-government website,, provided numerous quotes from the discussions between the Russian experts and their Uzbek colleagues.

Western discourse on such topics frequently stresses civil society's watchdog role as a counterweight to the dangers of excessive state power. But the tone in Tashkent and Samarqand was somewhat different.

Importance Of The State

For example, quoted comments about civil society placed an odd emphasis on the importance of the state. One of the Russian visitors, Strategic Studies Institute head Kozhokin, noted that "the state and civil society are parts of a single whole." Kozhokin then went on to say that "it is precisely strong state power that can create the conditions for constructing a market economy and the transition to a developed democratic system."

The state was also a looming presence in the discussion of democratic institutions. One participant in the roundtable on the "development of democratic institutions and processes" suggested that those processes "should first and foremost ensure the flourishing of the state, the creation of a reliable system for defending national interests, and the country's security."

Meddling Foreigners

National sovereignty and the menace of malign foreign influence were another leitmotif. noted that "particular stress was placed on the need not only to build civil society, but also to ensure an unshakable foundation of state independence." The Russia-based Regnum news agency reported that participants at one point stressed that "democracy cannot be brought in from the outside." explained that democracy is more local than universal.

Roundtable participants were said to have noted that "democracy assuredly has requirements and principles that are common to all." But they went on to add that, "nevertheless, democratic transformations in each country should take into account a people's mentality, history, traditions, and other specific elements that are inherent only to that society."

Participants suggested that pernicious foreign influence seemingly manifests itself not only in attempts to install democracy from without. Foreign media are a source of distortions. That was a conclusion implied by a discussion of "the necessity of objective coverage by foreign media of socioeconomic and social and political transformations in Uzbekistan, and the implementation of the latest foreign-policy initiatives of the country's leadership."

Praising The State

The message that emerged from the discussion as reported by was clear: The state must remain in firm control; democracy is whatever political system is described as democratic by an individual state in line with its officially recognized national traditions; outside involvement in internal affairs is unwelcome; and, finally, foreign media coverage that deviates from these postulates is not objective.

That message fits in perfectly with recent Uzbek government policy. Officials in Tashkent have touted state control, rejected Western models of democratic reform, evicted the majority of Western-funded NGOs, and used the government-controlled press to pillory foreign media coverage of Uzbekistan that calls attention to these phenomena.

Sending this message was not the only purpose of the Russian delegation's visit. Praise for Uzbekistan's leadership and the affirmation of Russian-Uzbek friendship were also present in abundance. As reported, the Russian experts described the success of Uzbekistan's reforms as a result of what they called "the optimal choice of strategy and tactics of democratic transformations."

The visiting chairman of the Commission on Issues of Globalization and National Development Strategy in Russia's Public Chamber (Andranik Migranyan) was more succinct. He stated bluntly that Uzbekistan is "on the right path," reported.

Meanwhile, Gleb Pavlovsky positively gushed that what he called Uzbekistan's "ongoing construction of stable social institutions forms a unique experience that can be applied not only in other states in the region, but on other continents."

On friendship, Kolerov, the head of the Kremlin's CIS department, stressed that Russia "will always stand beside Uzbekistan as it carries out its important political and state tasks," according to, a website run by independent Uzbek journalist Sergei Yezhkov.

All of these messages received approval at the highest level in Uzbekistan. On November 16, President Islam Karimov received Pavlovsky and the other members of the Russian delegation, the official news agency UzA reported. And it was Pavlovsky who delivered what may have been the most potent characterization of Uzbek-Russian partnership at the current juncture, reported. A key Kremlin adviser, Pavlovsky remarked that recent reforms in Uzbekistan "are bringing our political systems closer together." (By Daniel Kimmage. Originally published on November 22, 2006.)

KAZAKHSTAN: NAZARBAEV SEEKS GREATER BUSINESS TIES WITH BRITAIN. After meeting Queen Elizabeth II and holding political talks with Prime Minister Tony Blair on November 21, Kazakh President Nazarbaev continued his official visit to Britain on November 22 firmly focused on business.

Nazarbaev opened the day's proceedings at the London Stock Exchange in the City of London, the financial hub of the city. He then went to the Mansion House -- the offices of the Lord Mayor of London -- where he was welcomed at one of London's most important historical palaces by Lord Mayor John Stuttard.

"Mr. President, your excellencies, fellow aldermen, my lords, ladies and gentlemen. It's a great pleasure to welcome you all here at the Mansion House, my official residence as Lord Mayor. Mr. President, we're very pleased to have the opportunity to host a conference here as part of your official visit to the United Kingdom. We look forward to hearing you speak, and we have an exciting line-up of other influential speakers this morning, who'll help increase our knowledge about Kazakhstan, an important partner of the City of London."

Stuttard was referring to a business seminar called "Kazakhstan -- Way Forward." The seminar was Nazarbaev's chance to use his keynote speech to tell some 300 top British representatives of business and finance that his country is ready for more business.

Nazarbaev mapped his country achievements over the past 15 years, stressing, among other things, that its per capita gross domestic product will soon reach $6,000 -- a significant tenfold increase over that period. He reminded the audience that Britain already is Kazakhstan's third-largest investor, with some 128 British companies investing in the Central Asian country.

Nazarbaev also stressed that Kazakhstan is a multinational and multireligious country, and invited British businesses and investors to come and see the opportunities available there.

"Kazakhstan is no longer part of the Soviet Union, not part of Russia, and there is no need to look at it as if it were...." Nazarbaev said. "As you see, Kazakhstan is a scene of liberal politics, liberal economics, and we wish that all the countries of the region would follow our example, walk in our footsteps in that we have created better conditions for our people than our neighbors."

Among the other speakers at the seminar were several representatives of Kazakhstan's business community who accompanied Nazarbaev to London, including companies such as the Kazyna Fund, Samruk State Holdings, and RFCA, as well as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and hundreds of officials from British companies.

Many of those at the seminar said they are satisfied with the improvements in Kazakhstan's business environment, including the legal framework. Martin Ferstl is the country chairman of Shell Oil International in Kazakhstan. He said Shell has invested some $3 billion in the country since 1993, most of it in the giant Kashagan oil field.

"Over the last 10 years the quality of the legal and regulatory framework in Kazakhstan has improved enormously, such that today we deal with a set of laws that are clear, unambiguous, and implementable in the context of long-term, large-scale investment projects in Kazakhstan," he said. "The regulations are being worked heavily upon, their implementation is progressing, and also the capacity and capability of the government and authorities in Kazakhstan has improved."

Executives of other companies tend to agree. Dr. David Robson is the director of Thetys Petroleum, which has been developing a gas field close to the Aral Sea. He says that there could be a bit less bureaucracy, but is generally satisfied.

"It's quite a bureaucratic structure, but there is nothing wrong with that," Robson said. "It just means that you've got to follow the steps. Providing you follow steps properly, then it works very, very efficiently, so I am very satisfied working there."

Some British and European experts say Kazakhstan could replace Russia as the major energy supplier if Moscow continues its policy of monopolizing supplies and pipeline networks.

"Kazakhstan can become an alternative supply for Russia to Europe," Ferstl said. "It is already [an alternative] today for crude oil. Today the crude oil of Kazakhstan finds its way to the ports of the Mediterranean and to Rotterdam."

Ferstl explains that Kazakh oil already flows to China through a new pipeline, as well as to Georgia and Russia. A member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Kazakhstan's strategic position between Europe and Asia will allow it to diversify away from oil and gas and assume an even more important role as an economic power, he said. Ferstl added that in the long-term, Kazakhstan's natural gas supply to Europe could serve as an alternative to gas being supplied by Russia.

Sauat Mynbaev, the acting chairman of Kazakhstan's Samruk State Holding company, also spoke at the seminar. He said the London seminar and Nazarbaev's visit highlight the fact there are many opportunities for British and other foreign firms in Kazakhstan.

"The reason for our visit to the London Stock Exchange (LSE) today is the introduction of the shares of four companies here," Mynbaev said. One of them is KazakhMys, which is a part of Samruk, the Research and Production Branch of KazMunayGaz. Shares in Kazkommertsbank have been introduced here recently as well. In the near future shares of other companies owned by Samruk may be introduced here. Preparations for that might take some time, but we have started the process. That is why it is very important for us to exchange views and ideas to make it easier to proceed in that direction. We might even sign preliminary agreements concerning these projects."

President Nazarbaev left the seminar to visit another important London business institution, the London Metal Exchange. It is there that metals are traded on a global scale.

Experts say the success of Nazarbaev's trip to London will only be known later, if there is an increase in the flow of business and trade between the two countries. John Taylor of BAE Systems, which is working with the Kazakh government to establish a new airline, Air Astana. Taylor thinks Kazakhstan's prospects are quite good.

"I think the seminar will increase significantly the population that are aware of the opportunities, and I think Kazakhstan is about to explode in terms of the people showing interest and wanting to invest," he said. (By Jan Jun. Originally published on November 22, 2006.)

EAST: WOMEN'S RIGHTS PROJECT USES FILM AS ADVOCACY TOOL. Seven short documentary films have emerged from an ambitious project by the Open Society's Institute's Network Women's Program to focus attention on the plight of women in post-Soviet societies. The films confront some of the most acute gender problems in countries like Armenia, Georgia, Lithuania, Russia, Tajikistan, and Ukraine -- strained transitional societies -- through the eyes of local directors.

The OSI's seven-film project is called "Gender Montage," and was produced by local filmmakers in cooperation with women's rights advocates and researchers. Some of the accounts are grippingly eloquent. The best of them transcend "in-your-face" moralizing to probe humanity under inhuman conditions.

In the Kyrgyz film "Elechek," Take Sairash is a woman who rejects her husband's polygamy. Spurned for a younger wife by a man with whom she has spent the best years of her life and whom she still dearly loves, Sairash refuses to accept the situation but finds it increasingly hard to fight. Scornful relatives, a judgmental community, inequitable divorce laws -- nothing seems to protect her.

Breaking the shackles of tradition and prejudice, Sairash eventually discovers herself and emerges as strong and independent -- capable of standing up for her own beliefs.

Nurgul Asylbekova, from the OSI's Women's Program for Kyrgyzstan, which produced "Elechek," tells RFE/RL that four in 10 Kyrgyz women who seek psychological counseling are affected by the stress of being sidelined as second or third wives. Sairash's case is not isolated, she says.

"Usually the first wives turn [to counseling], but also the second and even the third," Asylbekova says. "First wives are looking for advice on their property rights and psychological counseling. Young wives are also looking for advice because they are vulnerable in the property issues, they worry about children's rights, and so on. Why has this problem been resurrected? After [Kyrgyzstan] gained independence, women were sidelined on a massive scale everywhere. The industries [in which women worked] are in disarray -- women who were employed in the light industries and had some rights are now practically on the street. They have no social protection at all and no guaranteed social rights."

Asylbekova claims that such factors have led to a revival of a more patriarchal attitude in Kyrgyzstan -- regarding women as property, as objects of desire and pleasure, but also as a work force.

With no women in parliament, legislative help is probably far off. Prevailing "traditional" wisdom dictates that it is better for a woman to become a second or third wife than to remain out of wedlock.

Asylbekova says polygamy has become fashionable and has even led to heated competition among Kyrgyz men for multiple wives.

"New Penelope" is another documentary from Central Asia -- this time Tajikistan. Women whose husbands have left for Russia to work as migrant laborers evoke comparisons with the eponymous wife of the mythical Greek hero Odysseus, who waited patiently for him to return from war.

The men's absence places a heavy burden on these Tajik women, who must provide for themselves and their children until the men can send money home.

Sometimes the money never comes, forcing wives to enter polygamous marriages simply to feed themselves and their children. Marital bonds are tested and often break apart. But the wives at home and their husbands abroad face similar fates: grueling labor and abuse.

Zuhra Halimova, the executive director of Open Society (OSI-Tajikistan), tells RFE/RL that the effects of thousands of Tajik men leaving to find migrant work can be seen within all layers of society, and in the film.

"It's actually talking about the generations of women: the mothers who are feeling sorry for their daughters, the wives who are waiting for their husbands and feeling sorry for them because they know that the conditions in which [their husbands] are living are not pleasant -- they had to leave and they also suffer," Halimova says. "And at the same time, [the film] provides an opportunity to actually look at human capacities in which the constraints in life due to the circumstances are making them act differently from the way they would usually be in their traditional context."

Halimova says that polygamy in Tajikistan is a result of class and economic diversification in the society. Those who can afford it take second or even third wives.

Armenia provides another of the OSI project's works, called "Women's Happiness Or Men's Dignity." This film examines the conflict between tradition and modernity through the lives of two women: One protagonist is a divorcee who as a struggling artist liberates herself and finds creative fulfillment; the other is a widow who dreams of happiness within a male-headed household.

Despite their places at opposite ends of the social spectrum, both women work hard and raise families as single mothers.

Armenuhi Tadevosyan, the Women's Program coordinator of OSI-Armenia, tells RFE/RL that the drive for modernity -- or as she calls it, "Europe-ization" -- of Armenia collides with tradition.

"The characters...have two extremes, and it is really the same in the society," Tadevosyan says. "There is polarization, and you can see two camps in the society -- for example, one that is following traditions, [and] the other one that is protesting. And sometimes it is very difficult to set up discussions between these two camps."

Although each of the seven films examines specific issues, there is a distinctive thread that unites them all: an increasing drift from what it is still described as "post-Soviet." Even the lingua franca of the former empire -- Russian -- has given way to local tongues.

But the each of these films' settings appears to be pursuing its own path of development 15 years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union -- and they have fewer and fewer common strings. (By Nikola Krastev. Originally published on November 20, 2006.)