Hundreds and thousands of people – young and old – turned out on Saturday, 21 May to join countrywide protests against the Nazarbayev regime. They were met with an enormous police operation to prevent them reaching the squares for the demonstrations. YouTube abounds with scenes of angry would-be demonstrators being chased like animals, grabbed and shoved into buses and police vans. Other scenes show people re-grouping and moving along streets defiantly singing and shouting.
But, “The people have awoken!” as one campaigner put it on Facebook. This movement is unlikely to subside any time soon. It erupted on the issue of land sales (see ‘Anger against Nazarbayev expressed on the streets’ http://www.socialistworld.net/doc/7596) which this same fighter explained is a sensitive issue in Kazakhstan. Land is seen as the primary source of people’s well-being. he said. It has been held in common over the centuries and is still in state hands. “Land must be the common property of all!”.
Discontent has been fueled by a huge drop in the country’s income, from oil and uranium, and the government’s policy of off-loading the costs onto the population with massive price rises and growing joblessness. Proposals for the privatisation of land follow a plan for massive privatisations of industry and transport, which would benefit only the oligarch vultures in Nazarbyev’s entourage. (Recent revelations in Britain have given more detail of the corrupt, money-making relationship between the dictator’s clique and a member of the royal family in Britain, Prince Andrew)
Massive police action
In the days before Saturday’s planned mass protests, dozens of government critics, human rights activists and media personnel were rounded up and given administrative detention for ten days to two weeks. In the case of a much-loved popular poet, Zhanat Esentayev, who is well known for attacking the regime, the sentence was harsher than for others. He got two months in prison for allegedly inciting social unrest.
In some of the cities, tanks and ‘special forces’ were put on the streets to scare demonstrators with the prospect of a repeat of the bloody clashes at Zhanaozen in 2011. It is a testament to the fear of the ruling layer of a major social explosion that live ammunition and armed force were not deployed on Saturday.
Another indication of the fear that grips the ruling elite was the blocking of most news channels and social media on the day of the planned demonstrations. But the news got out all the same.
One film on the internet shows what happened in the capital, Astana, when some people managed to evade the preventative arrests and police road-blocks. It is almost comic. Nervous police are shown gathered at one entrance to the huge, empty central square, like a cat waiting for a mouse to come out of its hole. They see people appearing at a different place and scurry across to push them away and onto police buses.
The videos and news reports that have come out of Kazakhstan show the determination of people to confront the regime and stand up to the police. The way they are treated only adds fuel to the fire. Huge anger has built up in society against being treated with contempt by an out-of-touch and super-rich dictator.
Fear is dissolving as the struggle intensifies to end the 27 year rule of Nursultan Nazarbayev. The urgent need now is for representatives agreed by the demonstrators to draw up plans for new protests and put forward slogans that can build a mass force. Campaign Kazakhstan has suggested a programme for such a task and welcomes comments that can assist this crucial fight. It has also called for protests, including pickets of embassies, to demand the release of all political prisoners.
See letter to the press from Campaign Secretary, Mike Whale at: http://campaignkazakhstan.org/index.php/2016/05/23/letter-to-press-police-action-to-foil-may21-demonstrations-will-not-abate-anger/