Faced with growing public discontent, Kazakhstan's government has shifted into high gear to head off antigovernment protests planned for May 21. Since May 16, authorities have been moving to detain people who could inspire or facilitate the planned nationwide demonstrations.
The issue of land privatization, or more specifically the fear that Kazakh land might be leased to foreigners for up to a quarter of a century, sparked rallies and demonstrations across Kazakhstan in late April. On May 5, President Nursultan Nazarbaev postponed implementation of the land-privatization plan until 2017.
Kazakh authorities seem reluctant to concede that land privatization was a catalyst for members of the public to air many pent-up grievances about the situation in Kazakhstan, where the economy has seen its worst downturn in some 20 years.
Some officials have been dismissed as Kazakhstan's economic woes deepened and protests started, but Nazarbaev and his government have refused to acknowledge any fault for the current problems.
And it's not their fault there have been protests recently, at least according to Kazakhstan's First Channel Eurasia. The host of the channel's Analitika program, Aymira Shaukentaeva, has it all figured out: it's a foreign plot.
Before continuing, it is necessary to reveal the owners of First Channel Eurasia.Eurasia+ORT owns the channel. Eurasia+ORT is a joint venture between Kazakh companies [80 percent] and Russia's First Channel [20 percent], the result of a 1996 agreement to retransmit Russian programming to Kazakhstan.
Shaukentaeva and Analitika have been leading the charge since late April, accusing demonstration organizers of paying people $50 to $150 to attend protests. She also accused foreign forces creating a "fifth column," once mentioning these problems were being created by someone "across the ocean." Shaukentaeva has not offered much in the way of proof.
However, on May 14, Shaukentaeva and fellow newscasters Alua Ketegenova and Ruslan Smykov, who has his own talk show on the Eurasia Channel, aired what they said was confirmation that people were being paid to attend protests.
The program showed a roughly 25-second video four times in five and a half minutes. Apparently taken with a mobile phone, the video shows a group of five or six people whose faces are never seen -- only their arms and legs. It is unclear where these people are. There are images of the assumed paymaster with a stack of dollars hanging out the top of his back pocket and shots of him holding some $100 bills, clearly displayed so that the person holding the phone camera just centimeters from the paymaster's hand gets a clear picture of the money.
'Sensational, A Bomb'
For the benefit of those who don't speak Russian, and just because I personally found this to be comical and ridiculous, I'll provide some of what Shaukentaeva, Ketegenova, and Smykov said.
After showing the video the first time and urging bloggers and people on social networks to disseminate the video as widely as possible, Ketegenova says, "Let's see it again." Smykov quickly agrees and says, "Let's look at this again, watch closely this video that we just received from 'closed sources,' actually we received it a while ago but we're showing it right now."
The video runs for a second time and as it ends Smykov says, "That's how they are selling us and it's interesting that they are selling not for Kazakh tenge, not in the national currency, but in dollars. We can understand who the organizer is."
The video is shown for a third time and Shaukentaeva says, "This is how these people sell the motherland." After more calls to viewers to post this video on their social network sites, the video is shown for a fourth time, this time with Smykov providing commentary.
"Pay attention, an illegal gathering… haggling is going on," then Shaukentaeva jumps in saying, "And there's the money."
Ketegenova -- mercifully -- wraps the program up saying, "That was sensational, a bomb."
It certainly was a bomb and people in Kazakhstan took to social networks to denounce the pathetic attempt to pass the video off as clear proof of protesters being paid or the involvement of a foreign country. EurasiaNet did a good job covering this.
On an earlier Analitika program, Shaukentaeva speaks about "certain third countries that have left their tracks in Muslim states." As she derides the systems she says have been left in place in Muslim countries by these "third countries," videos behind Shaukentaeva show a bloodied and beaten former Libyan President Muammar Qaddafi during the last minutes of his life and former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein being led to the gallows.
"This is democracy," Saukentaeva tells the audience. She follows up not long after by pointing to the recent Syrian parliamentary elections, "a huge victory for the country" that the West disregarded. The program continues with brief segments of U.S. President Barack Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton giving interviews about mistakes in U.S foreign policy mixed with local political analysts commenting on what they say have been failed U.S. moves on the world stage.
First Channel Eurasia is very similar in its style and approach to programming on Russian channels, playing on threats to the nation, pride and unity in the country, and portraying activists and demonstrators as malcontents and paid-off pawns.
The channel is fairly popular and some of the more outrageous claims and remarks during programs have become a topic of conversation around Kazakhstan.
With reporting by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, known locally as Azattyq