The Voice of the Working People of Kazakhstan Must Be Heard

Kazakhstan is living through a difficult period. The long pent-up popular discontent has erupted into mass indignation and protests.
Every broad movement has multiple components. The events in Kazakhstan involve social discontent, the activities of “the fifth column,” and the actions of terrorist groups. “The fifth column” includes extremists adhering to radical Islam, numerous NGOs nurtured by the West, some members of the security and military communities looking for a chance to fish in troubled waters and oligarchic clans which are prepared to use mass protests in their struggle for power.
The fraternal peoples of Russia and Kazakhstan are linked by bonds of centuries of common history. Together we created the Soviet Union, built and gained victories, prided ourselves on outstanding economic and social achievements. Together we revived integration processes creating the EurAsEC, SCO and CSTO.
Today our comrades and friends are living through a period of trials and tribulations. Kazakhstan has been swept by mass protests. The southern capital – Alma-Ata – has seen bloody riots which claimed many victims and brought devastation. An accurate and all-round assessment of the events should take many things into account. It is clear that the situation in Kazakhstan is a direct consequence of the tragedy that befell all of us thirty years ago. The collapse of the USSR, renunciation of the socialist system and Soviet power planted numerous mines under the new “independent democratic states.” The savage capitalism into which the Soviet republics have been plunged inevitably doomed the people to poverty and rightlessness, creating appalling inequality. By the same token, our peoples have become extremely vulnerable in the face of external threats.
Contrary to the promises of liberal pundits, the new states have not become fully-fledged members of the “civilized world.” Global capitalism has reduced them to the role of raw materials appendages and markets, sources of cheap labor and pawns in the geopolitical adventures of imperialist powers.
Kazakhstan embarked on this slippery path. Modern industries perished in the cesspool of privatization. The commodity sector was rented out to foreign capital. The oil sector is dominated by Chevron and Exxon Mobil (USA), Total (France) Royal Dutch Shell (UK and the Netherlands). The transnational corporation AlcelorMittal has become the new master of the steel industry.
The nascent bourgeoisie of Kazakhstan, closely allied with overseas capital, has been profiting from the exploitation of the republic’s labor and natural resources. Just like in Russia or Ukraine, it went to any lengths in the process of “primary capital accumulation.” Many of the richest people have effectively become part of the establishment. Like almost everywhere in the post-Soviet space, Kazakhstan has created an oligarchic-comprador system typical of savage capitalism.
Inequality in the republic was steadily growing. The people got tiny morsels of the national income. Inequalities of wealth and social tensions were mounting. In 2011 a strike of oilmen in Zhanaozen led to clashes in which 16 people died. The authorities demonstrated their attitude to the people by raising the retirement age to 63 for men and women.
The coronavirus pandemic finally shattered the myth about “social peace” in Kazakhstan. Even the official poverty figures grew. With the world poverty level at 5.5 dollars a day, one in every seven citizens is below the poverty line.
According to surveys, the percentage of households that cannot even put food on the table has grown from 3 to 13 percent. A further 44 percent say they have money only to buy food. Meanwhile the number of dollar billionaires grew from four to seven percent and their combined fortunes almost doubled. Strikes have been going on at Kazakhstan’s enterprises throughout the last two years. The biggest protests were in the western regions. While these regions are the main producers of export commodities – oil and gas – they also have the highest level of inequality in the country. Thousands of people were angry about wage arrears and lay-offs and demanded higher pay to make up for the constant rise of prices. Even according to official statistics, food inflation in the country ran at 20 percent over the past two years.
The authorities ignored the legitimate demands of the people. Social support during the pandemic turned out to be inadequate. People were also angry about the harsh quarantine measures. Like Russia, Kazakhstan had lived through the disastrous “optimization” of health care, which left them more vulnerable to the epidemic.
Some of the measures taken by the authorities were perceived as humiliating. Thus, in the autumn the president promised to unfreeze part of citizens’ pension savings. However, several days before the New Year the minimum sum of savings above which people aged 59-62 were allowed to withdraw part of their savings was raised to more than 9 million tenge, or 1.5 million robles. Only a tiny fraction of Kazakhstan’s population has such savings. Instead of addressing social problems the ruling class preferred to further divide society by fanning Russophobia and ethnic hostility. Kazakhstan’s kids read in their school textbooks about “Russian colonialism” and “bloody Soviet totalitarianism.” An official campaign has been launched for rehabilitation of all the “victims of repressions,” including those who collaborated with Hitler. Monuments were reared to people like Mustafa Shokai who collaborated with the Nazis. Streets and schools were named after them. The authorities were ramping up speculations about “the Kazakh Holodomor” in gross contradiction to historical facts. The pro-government nationalistic forces openly demanded that the famine be equated to genocide and called for a “final de-Communization” of the country.
Against the background of this hysterical hand-wringing the remaining monuments to Lenin are being brought down, streets, regions, villages and entire cities are being renamed. A new wave of this political skullduggery swept the country late last year. Dozens of streets were renamed in Uralsk, Semei (former Semipalatinsk) and other cities. In Karaganda the Octyabrsky district was named after Alikhan Buhkeikhanov, leader of the bourgeois Alash party who fought against the Soviet power along with Kolchak and Ataman Dutrov.
Contrary to the officially proclaimed friendship of the peoples, Kazakhstan’s leadership was steadily restricting the use of the Russian language and discriminating against Russian-speaking citizens. Late last year parliament passed a bill whereby all visual information could only be in the Kazakh language. Transition of the Kazakh alphabet from Cyrillic to Latin script is to be completed by 2025.
Such policies provoked an exodus of the population. The share of Russians in the republic dropped from 38 to 18 percent during the post-Soviet period. Thus, in 2019 of the 45,000 who left the country 85 percent were Russians, Ukrainians and Germans. A program is underway in Kazakhstan to resettle indigenous citizens to the northern, mainly Russian-populated regions.
“Language patrols” are a hideous phenomenon. Humiliating the “|non-titular nation” their participants make people apologize in front of the camera for not knowing the Kazakh language. For a long time the authorities turned a blind eye to this. The authorities went through the motions of condemning such actions only after they provoked an uproar in the Russian media.
These policies were welcomed by the numerous pro-Western NGOs which had dug in in the republic. The authorities, while coming out in support of Eurasian integration, were flirting with the Western capitals. The relations with the USA reached the level of Enhanced Strategic Partnership. Every year the republic hosts The Steppe Eagle military exercise jointly with NATO. With American help, several biological laboratories have been built which raise many questions among local and foreign experts.
While aiding and abetting the nationalists, the Kazakhstan government is cracking down on the left opposition. Communists and independent trade unions have come under severe pressure.
Against this background a social explosion occurred. The immediate pretext was the doubling of the price of liquefied gas. Earlier the authorities announced a transition to “market pricing” and abolished all subsidies. Western Kazakhstan became the focus of protests. First, liquefied gas is used there more extensively to heat dwellings and fuel motor vehicles. Second, the fuel is produced in this region through the efforts of many of its citizens, a fact which people were sked to forget in deference to the free market. And third, Western Kazakhstan was hardest hit by the previous waves of the crisis making it a center of protests.
Within days, protests spread to other regions. Initially they were peaceful. Protesters demanded lower prices, higher wages and social benefits and a return to the former pension age. Workers at some oilfields staged sympathy strikes. However, the situation changed quickly and got out of control. The first acts of terror and vandalism were committed in the cities of Zhanaozen and Aktau in the Manguistauskaya Oblast in south-western Kazakhstan. Unrest then developed into fierce clashes in Alma-Ata and other cities. The work of airports in Aktobe, Aktau and Alma-Ata was paralyzed. The Baikonur space launching site was in danger. Groups of armed men attacked police and army, seized and rampaged through buildings, attacked doctors, firemen and civilians. A wave of marauding swept the cities.
Obviously, the violent acts were perpetrated by people who had nothing to do with the mass of the protesters. Criminal groups are taking advantage of popular protests in Kazakhstan to further their own ends.
These are first and foremost radical Islamist cells. Proof of this is atrocities committed against policemen, some of whom were beheaded. External agents became active. This is especially true of Alma-Ata, traditionally a stronghold of liberalism where many pro-Western NGOs have their offices. Criminals linked to nationalist groups went on the rampage. This is evidenced by the targeting of the prosecutor’s and special services buildings which were set alight, seizure of weapons, looting of shops and other public places.
It cannot be ruled out that all these actions were coordinated from a single center which seeks to destabilize Kazakhstan. But part of the responsibility rests with the republic’s leadership because officials had aided and abetted the activities of pro-Western forces and adopted a conciliatory stand with regard to Islamists. The country’s National Security Committee turned down numerous requests for Salafism (Wahhabism) to be banned. Clerics trained in Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries were active in Kazakhstan.
It is incumbent on our country to see the developments in a broad international context. The military-political situation near Russia’s Western borders clearly deteriorated in recent months. Our country came under growing economic, information, diplomatic and military pressure. Western media, diplomats, politicians and NATO representatives have repeatedly voiced “concern” about alleged “plans to attack Ukraine” and threatened to take “comprehensive preventive measures.”
In the midst of the worsening situation around our country we have now received a blow on our southern border. With the advent of the New Year Russia’s enemies in the world upped the ante in the game “on the big chessboard.” On January 2 the people of Kazakhstan got a shock from the authorities which raised the gas prices. The flareup of indignation was promptly taken advantage of by the terrorist underground whose leaders use the experience of jihadists in Syria and Iraq. Large-scale actions were mounted to destabilize the situation. The members of the underground managed, on the one hand, to blend with the masses of protesters and on the other hand to enlist the support of declasse and criminal elements.
As of now, thousands of people have become victims of criminal acts. Hundreds of people have been hospitalized, dozens are in intensive care and many have been killed. The thugs obstruct the work of ambulance crews, intimidate the population, loot shops and engage in marauding. The character of their actions attests to the existence of a plan coordinated and funded from abroad.
The President of Kazakhstan has declared a state of emergency in the country and dismissed the government. Considering the scale of the events and the interference of external forces, the republic’s authorities have sought help from the partners. The CSTO Council has decided to render such assistance in order to stabilize the situation in the Republic of Kazakhstan.
The CPRF takes the view that the sending of CSTO peacekeepers is a forced but adequate and timely measure called upon to put out the flame of yet another “color revolution.” The Communist Party of Russia resolutely condemns the actions of international reaction and criminal elements. We deem totally unacceptable interference in the internal affairs of Kazakhstan and attempts to destabilize Central Asia which pose a direct threat to our country.
The CPRF wants to see Kazakhstan return to the peaceful path of development. We believe that the main task of the peacekeeping contingent is to protect strategic facilities called upon to ensure normal life for the citizens. The population of Kazakhstan must be protected against terrorist attacks of jihadists who have resorted to intimidation tactics.
We are sure that the peaceful mission of the CSTO will help to stabilize the situation in the Central Asian region. At the same time we strongly believe that the peacekeeping contingent should be used only for the purposes that have been declared. Involvement of peacekeepers in internal settling of scores between rival power clans and groups is inadmissible.
It would be a mistake for Kazakhstan’s leadership to persecute peaceful protesters and bracket them together with “terrorists” and “thugs.” We believe that the government should promptly initiate a dialog with the working people and authoritative politicians. And immediately meet their legitimate demands for better socio-economic conditions.
The CPRF thinks that the time has come to nip in the bud the manifestations of Russophobic and anti-Soviet policy in the republic. There is a pressing need to take a long hard look at the activities of pro-Western organizations and media. All that for years has been turning Kazakhstan into an arena of activities of anti-Russian forces that sought to set the people in opposition to friendship with our country.
The time has come to honestly discuss and root out the fundamental causes of the pernicious social cleavage in Kazakhstan and also in Russia. Our country has been given another sinister signal that the policy that breeds divisions, inequality and poverty inevitably makes people’s patience run out. Any government that works for the interests of oligarchs, tossing “crumbs from the master’s table” to the working people, will sooner or later meet with a demand to answer for its actions. Then neither crackdowns, nor the nationalism dope, nor the lies of anti-Sovieteers and Russophobia will help.
The most important lesson of Kazakhstan events is that the attempts of the national bourgeoisie to fit their peoples into the world of global capitalism turn them into puppets of the world oligarchy. The root interests of the peoples of Russia, Kazakhstan and all the other states consist in giving up this dead-end policy. Today, more than ever, our program of Ten Steps Toward a Worthy Life and the unique experience of people’s enterprises take on added relevance. Not foreign or homegrown capitalism but the working masses should be the masters of their countries.
Gennady Zyuganov
Chairman of the CPRF Central Committee