NUR-SULTAN, Kazakhstan – For three decades, Nursultan Nazarbayev seemed to be everywhere in Kazakhstan, the country he ruled with the clenched fist of an autocrat. The capital’s airport is named after him, as is the city’s best university, a group of elite high schools in the country, prime facilities and wide boulevards.
Mr. Nazarbayev designed a futuristic white steel tower in the city center, with a golden globe on top. Inside, visitors can place their hands on a giant golden bas-relief made by Mr. Nazarbayev himself, his fingers pointing out the glazed glass window leading to his presidential palace in the distance. He resign as president in 2019 after 28 years, but retains power and influence as the official “Leader of the Nation”. His rubber stamp Congress renamed the capital city in his honor.
It is an open secret that he is the one who still calls the photos.
Now, the man who is everywhere, and who controls everything, has disappeared after violent protests spread like wildfire this month and marked the land’s biggest political upheaval. country since independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Political power now rests with Mr. Nazarbayev’s ingenious successor, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who stripped him of his title of longtime boss and mentor and his last remaining seat of power. Except for work a brief video statementthe old leader had receded, the speed of his fall from power was almost stunning during his reign.
In the days following the protests, Kazakhstan closed its doors to many outsiders. A visit to Nur-Sultan shortly after it reopened reveals that life in the bureaucratic city, home to a large concentration of civil servants, has mostly returned to normal. On a recent weekend, coronavirus-risky shoppers visited the Khan Shatyr mall, designed by British architect Norman Foster in the shape of a large tent, with travelers looking for after-holiday sales.
The tranquility contrasts with the nation’s largest city, Almaty, where violence and looting and brutal police crackdowns have left residents severely injured, some still searching for loved ones who have died. disappear. Almaty’s monumental town hall was vandalized during the unrest and burned in three days, leaving a blackened crust.
Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic with a population of 19 million, is facing an uncertain future. Mr. Nazarbayev maintained a fragile independence from Vladimir V. Putin’s Russia, but Mr. Tokayev was forced to appeal. Russian-led military assistance to help quell the violence this month, raising the question of whether he has the support of the Russian leader for helping to ensure his political survival. When Mr. Putin opposes the West in a stalemate versus UkraineThe Russian President has made it clear his intention to maintain influence over neighboring countries.
Internally, Tokayev has promised major repairs to tackle the country’s growing inequality that has led to the protests in the first place.
Leysan Zoripova, 50, visiting her daughter in Nur-Sultan, said, “Of course we are waiting for better days, when products are readily available and essentials like groceries are not so expensive. “
“But,” she added, “all this violence is unnecessary.”
With Mr. Nazarbayev’s legacy so pervasive, the question is what will really change in a country rich in resources, but where autocracy has allowed his family and friends to Nazarbayev reaped many fortunes and kept it concentrated in the hands of a few.
Dimash Alzhanov, one of the founding members of Wake Up, Kazakhstan, an opposition movement whose activists are regularly harassed and detained, said: “The formal and informal construction of the regime degree remains the same. “The relationship between the elites – the way they build customer-patron relationships – remains the same.”
Mr. Nazarbayev grew up in a rural town near the capital Almaty. He was a steelworker before joining the Communist Party, rising through the ranks to regional secretary. In 1984, he became prime minister of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic.
Mr. Nazarbayev became Kazakhstan’s first president in 1990, and the next year, just weeks before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan declared its independence. This is the only newly independent former Soviet state whose main people – the Kazakhs – are not the ethnic majority. Forty percent of the population is ethnic Russian, a number that has dropped to 19 percent.
At that time, President Boris N. Yeltsin of Russia spoke openly about wanting to expand his country’s borders to include Abkhazia, an area of Georgia that Russia finally invaded in 2008; and Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula that Russia annexed in 2014. Britain also covets it Donbas, eastern part of Ukraine where Russian-backed separatists have been fighting since the annexation.
North Kazakhstan was the fourth area in Yeltsin’s sights, but Russian forces have never appeared uninvited, and today it is the only of the four that is not disputed.
In part, that’s because even his toughest critics admit that Mr. Nazarbayev has handled difficult relations with Moscow wisely. When he moved the capital from Almaty to a windy grassland in the north (the new capital was formerly known as Astana), it was not a purely frivolous project; he effectively planted a flag.
He advocates a “multi-dynamic” foreign policy, balancing between powerful neighbors Russia and China, and attracting American investment, especially in the oil-rich West. The mantra for his development was “Economics first, politics later”.
But over 28 years, Nazarbayev’s reign looks more like a kleptocracy. His family was very wealthy, with influence in the banking, extraction and real estate industries in Switzerland, London and New York.
ONE recent report Chatham House listed 34 properties acquired by members of the country’s ruling elite between 1998 and 2020 at a total cost of about $733 million. Most of the purchases were made by members of the Nazarbayev family or people close to them, by John Heathershawone of the report’s authors.
Mr. Nazarbayev’s middle daughter, Dinara, and her husband, Timur Kulibayev, were each worth $3 billion before the recent unrest in Kazakhstan, according to Forbes, and they own the country’s largest bank. His eldest daughter, Dariga Nazarbayeva, an amateur opera singer and politician, and her son own real estate in London worth nearly $200 million. Their attributes are said to include house at 221B Baker Street it is the address of the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes.
Mr. Nazarbayev’s youngest daughter, Aliya, who already has a monopoly in the recycling industry through a private company called Operator ROP, is involved in the about $1.6 billion since 2016, commented Serikkali Brekeshev, a Kazakh minister, at a government meeting this month.
Understanding the protests in Kazakhstan
Cronyism and corruption have hit working-class citizens, who are increasingly tired of government-connected businessmen making money for themselves.
Taking a picture with her teenage daughter to capture the background of the presidential palace, Gulya Chumkent, 48, believes that Mr. Nazarbayev took advantage of his position.
“Of course it’s not right for him to enrich himself,” she said. “But we don’t have the ability to do anything about it.”
Mr. Tokayev first acknowledged the huge fortune accumulated by his predecessor’s family in his speech to the National Assembly on January 11.
“Thanks to the first president, Elbasy,” he said, using the Kazakh term for the Leader of the Nation, “a group of very profitable companies that have emerged in the country, as well as a group of people with considerable wealth even by international standards. ”
His criticisms have made a big impression in a country where denouncing the government can sometimes lead to arrests. ONE Law 2010 making it impossible to sue Mr. Nazarbayev or members of his family, and this made all his and his family’s banking documents confidential.
Mr. Tokayev also demanded that the local government cancel the contract with the ROP Operator, which many see as a sign of the beginning of the process to unravel Mr. Nazarbayev’s grip on creation centers make a profit.
Mr. Nazarbayev’s grandson, Samat Abish, has been sacked as deputy of the powerful security service. Sovereign Wealth Fund says two of Nazarbayev’s sons-in-law have left top positions at national energy companies. And Mr. Kulibayev, son-in-law, has stepped down as head of Kazakhstan’s top business lobby, although he retains positions in an influential energy group and on Russia’s Gazprom board. .
On Tuesday, Tokayev fired the head of the Central Election Commission, whose daughter is married to one of Nazarbayeva’s sons.
Many Kazakhs are waiting to see how Tokayev’s approach will differ from that of his predecessor.
Erzhan Kazykhan, Tokayev’s adviser, says his country is committed to democratic reform. Still, he answered when asked if the post-Nazarbayev era heralded a new era of real political competition.
“You cannot build a Jeffersonian democracy overnight,” he said in an interview.
Zhanbolat Mamai, an opposition politician, said that no matter who Tokayev brought into his inner circle, Nazarbayev’s effective removal of control got everyone excited. He cited what he said was an important difference between the two men.
“For 30 years, people were afraid of Mr. Nazarbayev,” said Mamai. “No one is afraid of Mr. Tokayev.”
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/25/world/europe/kazakhstan-nursultan-nazarbayev.html Kazakhstan’s longtime leader is gone, but still seems to be everywhere