My name is Akbota Kalekenova and I am from Kazakhstan. I am currently interning at the World Youth Alliance Middle East Regional office in Beirut. I was born on the 7th of July in 1991. On December 16, and six months after my birth, Kazakhstan gained its independence. After the long history of being under the influence of many foreign powers, now, Kazakhstan is celebrating its 22nd anniversary of independence. And so am I. It is my 5th year away from home and yet another year when I celebrate this great day alone at home listening to Kazakh traditional music. Every year on this day I think of my country and its recent developments. So, this is one of my reflections on Kazakhstan’s independence.
Exactly two years ago small riots took place in the Western region of Kazakhstan in the small town called Zhanaozen. Sources state that the protestors were the former employee’s of KazMunaiGas who were fired during the summer of 2011. As a result, they went out to the main square on the day of celebration to demand higher wages and accuse the government of an unfair treatment. In the Kazakh local media protesters were labeled as vandals and disrupters of peace.
Exactly two years ago, I was reading that article about the protestors. Feeling outraged by those statements, I felt disappointed in my country: not the government but the people. However, now looking back at this incident I seem to understand why it was so important for the government to silence these people and diminish the conflict in the eyes of the Kazakh populace. Hence, maintain political and social stability in the country.
This year independent Kazakhstan turned 22. While still being a baby compared to many other countries, in these couple of decades Kazakhstan was selected to chair the OSCE Summit, carried out the Asian Olympic Games and recently was selected to host the international exposition – EXPO 2017. However, these achievements have nothing to do with the democratization of the country nor does it help in the cases of human rights violations.
I am not being negative or skeptical about my country’s future, I just I don’t think that a country this young can possibly achieve democracy. And it is not the authoritative regime that will trigger this chain of development but the immaturity of my comrades, including myself. Please, do not misunderstand me, I am in no way advocating for my government nor am I mocking my own comrades. I just don’t think that riots that took place in Zhanozen will solve the problem. Forming an opposition is not only useless but also unnecessary. I do not believe my country needs a revolution as some of my friends suggested, since it is not the key in resolving domestic problems in Kazakhstan. Revolution implies, by definition, radical changes that are, unfortunately, mostly destructive. I also believe that changes are not supposed to be promoted or led by a certain interest group or one leader, changes must come from the people, from the ‘mature’ people. Organized protests/revolution/movement are mere propagations of the interest of certain people and not of all the people. The incident that occurred in Zhanozen clearly shows that not all Kazakhstan citizens share the views of the protestors. Those who were sitting at home and watching the news about the riots in Zhanozen could have simply stood up for the poor workers and initiated their own protests. However, this did not happen, moreover, the rest of Kazakhstan remained silent and people went along with their daily routines. Does this indicate their impartiality and discord with the protestors? Or, was it simply not a priority for the rest of Kazakhstan citizens to disrupt their lives and join in with the protest? What stopped the rest of the Kazakh people from standing up for them and supporting them? Fear, impartiality, alienation or apathy. Whatever it is, the fact remains – nothing visible/significant followed after that incident. Interestingly, these riots happened around the same time as the uprisings erupted in the Arab world. So, it is understandable why the leaders of Kazakhstan felt threatened by such a minor incident.
Even if the government hadn’t “controlled” the riots and did not take the oppressive measures, I do not believe that this incident would have resulted in a major revolution. It was my mistake to believe that the people of Kazakhstan were ready to change something about their lives. And I am glad that they did not. Any social or political instability would have sent us backwards 20-30 years and would have prevented future progress in the country.
You need to understand that corruption in Kazakhstan exists in all layers of society. Many times I have witnessed people bribing a doctor in order to cut the line in the public hospital; or bribing the police officer to avoid tickets; or parents gifting beautiful jewelry to a teacher to ensure that their kids receive good grades. This is pretty common in my society. They’d rather indulge themselves in corruption for the sake of escaping long bureaucratic procedures. So, maybe what was implied in the “Odyssey of Homer” is right – which is, the leadership is a mere reflection of the society. This brings us only to one point: if the people want to be free than they need to mature and start with themselves. They must start not to believe but understand and firmly know about their freedoms, which is a long process of learning and self-development. The society as a whole needs to mature and come to this understanding. Only, then will we be able to witness natural, gradual and univalent changes in countries such as Kazakhstan. Government does not define our individual freedoms; it is something we already had since the day we were born. Yes, the government or anyone else could misguide and create false illusions but in no way can they take away our natural human freedom.
This is why I am not skeptical of Kazakhstan’s future. Though many criticized Kazakhstan for its immaturity it is still too early to jump to conclusions about Kazakhstan. I think we are still at the beginning of our journey of development. I also hope that economic and technological development will not be the only things that we will be boosting about in the future but social and political development as well. As long as there is some sort of progress along the journey, I will keep my hopes for the future prosperity of Kazakhstan and the bright future of my compatriots.
Note: Please, do criticize my ideas in this article. I might not agree with them, but I sure will respect your right to do so.
Akbota Kalekenova is a regional intern at the World Youth Alliance Middle East.