Twenty years after seceding from the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan is now a beacon of democracy and stability, claims Erlan Idrissov, the country’s ambassador to Washington:
As an obvious achievement in this on-going quest for democratization, Kazakhstan served last year as chairman of the world’s premier election monitoring group, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Kazakhstan was widely commended for its leadership of OSCE, including by the U.S. If that’s not an indicator that Kazakhstan is serious about democratic governance and human rights, I don’t know what is.
Yevgeny Zhovtis would have something to say about such curious claims – if he was a free man.
The director of Kazakhstan’s Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy, Zhovtis was sentenced to four-years in prison following a car accident in which a man was killed. Independent observers insist the prosecution was politically-motivated and the legal proceedings seriously flawed.
As for US endorsement of Kazakhstan’s democratic credentials, at the recent OSCE summit in Astana, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pointedly declined to endorse the view that the host country was a “modern, confident state which is open and democratic.”
“There is still much more work to done, there are many issues which are still not satisfying the people on the human rights regime and on democracy development,” she told the meeting.
“Empowering civil society is key to the future of this region and the OSCE,” she told the summit, calling on member states to “recognize civil society as a partner that challenges our governments to do better.”
Similarly, Thomas O. Melia, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state, criticized the stifling of independent media and the “variety of constraints on civil society in the former Soviet Union,” highlighting the case of jailed democracy advocate Zhovtis.
The WikiLeaks cables illustrate the difference between democrats and dictators, citing a U.S. Embassy official’s lengthy 2008 account of Kazakh leaders’ “endemic corruption,” penchant for heavy drinking” and other extravagant behavior:
Prime Minister Karim K. Masimov is described as arriving at 11:30 p.m. at Chocolat, one of the trendiest nightclubs in the capital, Astana. As other members of his group got up to dance, Mr. Masimov was spotted by American officials dancing alone on a stage overlooking the floor. Another senior Kazakh official, the cable said, “appears to enjoy loosening up in the tried and true ‘homo Sovieticus’ style — i.e. drinking oneself into a stupor.”
Central Asia has been a key site of the authoritarian backlash against democracy assistance, targeting dissidents, human rights groups and NGOs that receive foreign funding, as detailed in the World Movement for Democracy’s report on Defending Civil Society.