Kazakhstan: Nazarbayev regime dealt a blow by European Parliament resolution

But condemnation tempered by trade interests

Following an intensive debate, the European Parliament has passed a resolution which “strongly condemns the violent crack down by the police forces on demonstrators in Zhanaozen, and calls for independent and credible investigation of the events with an international component” and goes on to express “its indignation regarding the incarceration of opposition leaders and journalists since January 2012 and calls on the Kazakh authorities to end the clampdown on the political opposition and independent media in the country and release all persons incarcerated on politically motivated grounds”.

The resolution includes a number of statements about the situation in Kazakhstan, including the following:

“according to independent reports and eye witnesses, the riot police attacked the protesters {in Zhanaozen} opening fire on civilians including unarmed strikers and their families and …after the clashes, the Kazakh authorities declared a state of emergency forbidding journalists and independent observers from having access to Zhanaozen”;

“approximately 43 people, have been arrested since December 2012 and face charges leading to sentences of up to six years, including prominent leaders and activists of the oil-workers strike as for example Talat Saktaganov, Roza Tuletaeva, Natalya Azhigalieva”;

“the opposition parties and organisations Alga, Azat and the Socialist Movement Kazakhstan, independent media, including the Vzglyad, Golos Republik and Respublika newspapers and the satellite TV channel STAN TV, independent trade unions, including the independent trade union Zhanartu and other civil society organisations, have become targets of intensified repression”;

Resolution a defeat for both the Nazarbayev regime and European Commission

The resolution is very significant in more ways than one. Firstly, it is a serious blow to the reputation and prestige of the Nazarbayev regime and, incidentally, for the High Representative/Vice President Catherine Ashton, whose representative opened the debate by echoing the position of the Kazakhstan government: “For the first time since Kazakhstan’s independence, we have seen considerable social tension, including a number of terrorist attacks. The strike of oil workers that started in May 2011 culminated in violent clashes with the police in December 2011, resulting in 17 dead and about 110 injured”. Yet the evidence that the police opened fire on peaceful protesters is now so overwhelming that even a significant section of the right wing parties in the Parliament, not usually known for their sympathy with workers’ struggles, were forced to “strongly condemn the violent crackdown by police forces”.

A vindication for the left

But it is also a vindication of the left group in the Parliament. The original draft resolution submitted by the right wing EPP group (Christian Democrats) and signed by Paulo Bertalozzi (Joint Chair of the EU-Kazakhstan Parliamentary group) and Piotr Borys, recently in Zhanaozen, mentioned the “violent clashes (which) occurred on 16 December 2011 in Zhanaozen” and called for “the release of Aizhangul Amirova” (leader of Alga in region) but ignored the arrest of Natalia Sokolova and 43 other oil workers and their supporters. The European Conservative and Reformist Group had a similar position. The Social Democrats and the Liberal and Democratic Group called for Natalia Sokolova’s release but failed to call for the release of those arrested in Zhanaozen. During the negotiations, their position was that the “Alga” party should be highlighted, and the main effort put into getting the release of Vladimir Kozlov and Igor Vyshnevskii. The only two groups which demanded the release of the ‘Zhenaozen 43’ (a number, incidentally, which is growing) and raised the issue of the attacks of independent trade unions (in particular Zhanartu) and human rights campaigners such as Vadim Kuramshin were the Greens and the United Left Group, of which Paul Murphy is a member.

In the light of this, the inclusion of the attacks on the Zhanaozen 43, Socialist Movement Kazakhstan and independent trade union Zhanartu in the resolution finally passed by the Parliament is a testament to a huge amount of hard work conducted by the Socialist Party (CWI Ireland) team in the Parliament.

Paul Murphy abstains

Notwithstanding however the serious condemnations outlined in the above excerpts from the resolution, there were a number of serious shortcomings in the resolution, which meant that Paul felt he could not fully support it.

Firstly, throughout the resolution, attempts were made to “welcome” the attempts by the Kazakhstan government to improve its image. For example, the resolution “welcomes the legal changes in the last months aiming at introducing more parties which can submit candidates for election to Parliament”. In fact, this was a typical manoeuvre by Nazarbayev. Having refused the opposition parties Alga and the Communist Party the right to participate in the election, and the Socialist Movement Kazakhstan to even register as an organisation, he announced before last December’s parliamentary election, that at least one “opposition” party would be allowed to take seats. In the event, two parties are now “allowed” to participate. They are both loyal to Nazarbayev and his party, “Nur Otan” still holds over 80% of the seats.

The resolution also stated that “on 17 February 2012 the President of Kazakhstan signed several laws aiming at improving the legal basis for labour relations, worker’s rights and social dialogue and to strengthen the independence of the judiciary”. Once again this is pure duplicity. The new labour code enshrines even more restrictions on workers’ rights than existed before, even going so far as to allow the sacking of strikers and their representatives and legalising “lockouts” (See article).

Calls not to trust government’s “self-commitment”

Ignoring the fact that Paul Murphy had led a delegation to Zhanaozen last July, Piotr Boris from the right wing EPP group claimed to have been the only MEP to have been in Zhanaozen recently. He welcomed “the willingness of the Kazakhstan authorities to investigate the violence that took place recently, the assurances of the objectivity of the court cases of those who are most important to us, Mr Kozlov and other opposition leaders”. He commented, “We should monitor this transparency and assess my visit and the general situation as another step forward in democracy”. This was a common thread through the speeches of many of the MEPs who spoke – the regime should be trusted, it should be allowed to investigate itself and the EU should continue to encourage “improvement”. Indeed, the resolution said that the European Parliament “encourages Kazakhstan to maintain its self-commitment to further reforms in order to build up an open and democratic society including an independent civil society and opposition, respectful of fundamental rights and the rule of law”.

However, given that on almost practically every measure of “improvement” in the areas of human, democratic and workers ‘ rights in the past year, the record of the Kazakhstan government has significantly worsened, Paul moved an amendment to this, stating that “owing to the recent significant regression by the Government of Kazakhstan in the fields of human rights, including prisoners’ rights, the rule of law, electoral democracy, democratic freedoms and media freedom, and given the large-scale arrests of opposition activists, negotiations on the new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement should not be reactivated until significant progress on these issues has been made by the Government of Kazakhstan”.

WTO and human rights incompatible

But maybe the final straw was the inclusion by the right wing parties of a point calling for the Kazakhstan government to continue following its “roadmap for Kazakhstan’s WTO accession, which will contribute to creating a level playing field for business communities on both sides and will facilitate and liberalise trade”. Over the past few years, workers and youth in Kazakhstan have become conscious that there is a contradiction between the free market and democracy. They have “sold our rights for oil and gas” is a widely felt sentiment. As if to prove them right, last February, the German government signed a multi-billion deal with the Kazakhstan government to buy rare earth metals, completely ignoring the massacre in Mangystau, where many of these metals are to be found.

The same right wing parties who spoke openly in the discussion in the European parliament about the importance of Kazakhstan for oil and gas supplies, ignored the repression used against workers and their organisations and restricted their concerns for those politicians in Kazakhstan who support the market economy, those who in the words of Piotr Boris – “are most important for us”.

Paul Murphy continues to campaign

In explaining his vote, Paul explained: “I condemn the brutal massacre of the Kazakh state forces against the oil workers and their supporters: I condemn the arrests of the political opposition and the continuous clamp down and harassment of opposition media, independent trade unions and journalists.

I supported the oil-workers strike right from the start as I believe that all of their demands are absolutely justified: I salute the courage of all the fine Kazakh workers, journalists, oppositionists that I met and who dared to speak out despite the huge repression they face.

In the end, I had to abstain from the resolution because – despite all the correct concerns it voices with regard to the alarming deterioration in the human rights situation, the resolution gives in to the window dressing attempts of the Kazakhs regime who wants to make us believe that they have learned lessons and want to improve the situation”

He finished his main speech by announcing that in the near future he would be visiting Zhanaozen again “as part of a delegation made up of trade unionists, journalists and human rights defenders to try and assist in bringing out the truth of what happened in Zhanaozen”.

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