Kazakhstan has formally assumed its one-year chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
Advocates of the authoritarian regime assuming the rotating chairmanship of the OSCE claimed that it would help create space for civil society and possibly even inch forward the country’s painfully slow and oft-deferred democratic reform.
But the first former Soviet republic to chair the 56-nation grouping is actively backsliding and now promises to use its tenure to dilute the organization’s commitment to democracy and human rights.
The regime considers its OSCE position to legitimate its “soft authoritarian” system.
“In [the capital] Astana, they see Kazakhstan’s recognition as chairman of the OSCE equally as recognition of the political system that’s taken shape here,” political analyst Dosym Satpayev told the BBC.
Its one-party parliament has adopted legislation that further restricts political and civil space, and the regime continues to harass and persecute its critics, as the case of imprisoned human rights activist Yevgeny Zhovtis attests.
Zhovtis, director of the Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy, was sentenced to four years in prison last month for accidentally striking and killing a man with his car.
Foreign Minister Kanat Saudabaev today stated his country’s intention to support all OSCE objectives, including security cooperation, economic development, and democracy and human rights.
“The decisive question for the OSCE for the future will be whether it can convert into a structure that recognizes the diversity of the world in the 21st century,” he said, “or whether it will continue to be an organization segmented into blocs where the West remains aloof from the space ‘east of Vienna’.”
Some activists still believe the OSCE chairmanship may provide opportunities for exposing the state’s democratic deficiencies.
Tamara Kaleeva, of the Kazakh NGO Adil Soz, told RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service today that the country’s OSCE tenure must not be allowed to gloss over its shortcomings in democracy and human rights.
“The problems that exist here in the realm of democracy do not speak well of Kazakhstan as the OSCE chairman,” she said. “OSCE member states should know what is happening in this country. Kazakhstan must try to improve the situation inside the country in accordance with OSCE principles.”