From a communist country to a capitalist dictatorship

Looking at what happens in Kazakhstan one can wonder how that country came to grow from a state where people tried to build up a state belonging to the people, to a country where only a few rich could enrich themselves on the back of others who are squeezed like lemons.

That soviet country dared to bring an end by a massacre to demonstrations, like the one at Zhanaozen in 2011, where oil workers and their families had demanded better pay and conditions, and the right to organise independent trade unions, at Ozenmunaigaz, a production subsidiary of the national oil company Kazmunaigaz, and contracting firms and got imprisoned and tortured because they were active in protests about the way their country was moving or how workers were used.

The strike began in the spring of 2011 at Ersai, at Ersai Caspian Contractor, a firm linked to Italian companies that supplies and repairs equipment for the oil producers. The workforce of about 1000 went on strike. In solidarity with that strike, another strike started in Aktau, at Karazhanbasmunai.

in 2009-10, there had been strikes. Some of the trade union leaders had been beaten up, and there had even been an arson attack on the home of one of the leaders of the Karazhanbasmunai trade union committee. So in 2011 they supported Ersai. And then the workers at Ozenmunaigaz also came out in solidarity. This is a large company, crucial to the [Mangistau] region’s economy. And that brought the strike to [the city of] Zhanaozen. {They shot to kill: eight years on from massacre of Kazakhstan’s striking oil workers}


The workers’ revolt inspired such paranoia in the Kazakh elite that, after suppressing it, the government went on to mobilise the courts and police in an unprecedented clampdown on trade union activists, the political opposition and journalists.

By the end of 2012 many of the modest democratic gains made over the previous two decades had been reversed. Oil workers and their supporters remain in jail, many on blatantly political charges, many on the basis of “evidence” obtained with the use of torture. The leaders of “democratic” western nations that consume much of Kazakhstan’s oil have maintained a deafening silence.{Zhanaozen: worker organisation and repression}

The Kazakh elite seems not interested in protecting the workers with the necessary work clothes (like protective gloves), supplying them with the most elementary things or by sharing their wealth with the workers who provide for such enrichment, nor with the general population.

Oil is Kazakhstan’s largest source of export revenues and the most significant contributor to its national economy. Since prices started rising in the early 2000s, the wealth of the Kazakh elite has swelled and the new Kazakh capital, Astana (formerly Tselinograd), has filled up with skyscrapers and BMWs. {Zhanaozen: worker organisation and repression}

It might well be that across the country, average living standards may have risen, but all over Kazakhstan poor areas can be found, certainly in those areas were there is no oil and gaz industry.

Although Mangistau produces more oil than any other Kazakh region, in 2008 UN researchers estimated that it had more people living below the poverty line than any other region, and that in terms of UN development indicators had only reached the Kazakh national average. – Mangistau had 32.4% of its population below the poverty line in 2008. UNDP Kazakhstan, National Human Development Report 2009, pp. 103-109 {Zhanaozen: worker organisation and repression}

The citizens from Kazakhstan expressed their dissatisfaction and by the years anger at could grow, whilst after the Zhanaozen massacre, people all over the former USSR, and beyond, deluged the Kazakh authorities with protest letters and telegrams.

That there had been resolutions passed and pickets organised at Kazakh embassies in western European countries, did not bother the Kazakh elite or their “democratic” patrons. The rulers of the country and it’s powerful business managers got insured they were able to continue their scandalous practices without being disturbed by the outside world.

Oil production in 2011, millions of tonnes, was: Kazakhstan 82.4; Azerbaijan 45.6; Russia 511.4; Norway 93.4 (BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2012).

The Federation of Trade Unions of the Republic of Kazakhstan (FPRK), like similar federations in other former Soviet countries, descended directly from the old “official” trade unions, who in Soviet times were quasi-state structures that worked with managers to discipline workers and with the security services to punish them. Strikers were simply detained, held under arrest and jailed for the tiniest misdemeanours. Though the Soviet structure is long gone, its methods had not changed much, and they seemed more concerned to be in line with the bosses who wanted to gain as much as possible than being there for the protection and wellbeing of the workers.

Before 2011 there had been already attempts to establish independent union organisations.

An independent union, Karakiya, had been set up at Ersai Caspian Contractor in 2009. The Burgylai strike of the same year had attempted to spread independent union organisation. In the 2010 dispute at Ozenmunaigaz, workers had demanded the removal of collaborationist officials, although no attempts to set up new organisations were reported. {Zhanaozen: worker organisation and repression}

The well-documented use of torture against trade union activists after the 2011 massacre has gone unpunished and the demands for an independent international enquiry, by the United Nations and international trade union federations, have not been met.
Security services officers who tortured trade unionists and their supporters imprisoned after the Zhanaozen events have gone unpunished. These crimes have not even been investigated by the Kazakh authorities.

Ten years after police massacred striking oil workers at Zhanaozen, Kazakhstan, human rights organisations and trades unionists are demanding an international inquiry into the killings.

Even now, the number of victims is unknown. State officials admit that 16 were killed and 64 injured on 16 December 2011 – but campaigners say there were dozens, perhaps hundreds, more.

In 2017 after a renewed bout of trade union organising in the oil field at the end of 2016, two militants, Nurbek Kashakbayev and Amin Yeleusinov, were arrested. In April 2017 Kashakbayev was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison. An international trade union campaign began in his defence.

After unemployment grew rapidly, and in 2019 young people began to demonstrate at the local authorities’ offices, demanding work at Ozenmunaigaz, those protesters also got jailed.

Erzhan Elshibayev, who helped to organise these peaceful gatherings, was arrested and jailed for five years. Galym Ageleuov said:

“Elshibayev is a victim of political repression. In 2019, he was charged with an offence arising from a fight he was involved in, when he was attacked by four men in 2017 while on his way to work – an incident that gave rise to no charges at the time.

“Elshibayev has been in detention for two years. For the last three months he has been in solitary confinement and no-one has heard from him.”

Trade unionists gathered at Bishkek last week at a conference called on the Kazakh authorities to release him immediately.

Ten years after the massacre, labour’s battles against capital continue in the oilfield – for better pay and living conditions, for the right to organise independently at work, for ways to live decently. Exposing the truth about the state repression in 2011, about the chain of command, about the barbaric use of murder and torture in the service of capital, is a part of this wider struggle. SP, 15 December 2021. {Kazakhstan, ten years after the Zhanaozen massacre: oil workers’ fight to organise goes on}

Aron Atabek after his release from prison. Photo from bureau-kz

The dissident poet Aron Atabek, who was instrumental in the creation of the Alash National Independence Party, in 2006 had been arrested for his part in defending the Shanyrak shanty town, set up by homeless people outside Almaty – a key chapter in the history of resistance to the authoritarian regime of Nursultan Nazarbayev.
From a healthy 85 kilos the poet lost 35 kilos of weight in prison. Several years in prison, beatings by guards, and long stretches of solitary confinement had taken their toll on his health. Very weakened, he was an easy prey for Covid-19. On 24 November Atabek at the age of 68, died in hospital.

Friends of Aron Atabek, members of his family and participants in opposition movements gathered on 28 November at the statue of the poet Abai Kunanbaev in Almaty. They read poems, and demanded that the Shanyrak case be reviewed.

The human rights campaign group Oyan, Qazaqstan issued a statement, saying:

We believe that the responsibility for the death of the poet Aron Atabek lies entirely with the [Kazakh] authorities. They passed an illegal sentence on Aron when they imprisoned him. The deterioration of Abatek’s health, and his death, is on their conscience. Aron Atabek stayed true to his principles to the end of his life. He did not agree to an amnesty, he did not once beg for forgiveness from Nazarbayev, and he never became disillusioned with what he himself did. For us he remains the same, unbending, a Kazakh samurai.

Atabek had been politically active in democratic and nationalist circles since late Soviet times (the 1980s). In the 2000s, the price of oil, Kazakhstan’s main export, rose, the elite accumulated vast wealth, the gap between rich and poor yawned still wider – and Atabek paid the price for defending the dispossessed. {Aron Atabek: poet, rebel, Kazakh samurai}

The Kazakh government wants the foreign press and the outside world to believe that external people entered the country to destabilise it and to uproar the people. The government of Kazakhstan wants us to believe that it are extremists, marauders, criminals and terrorists who came onto the streets in the hope to set on civil war or revolution. Though there might be criminals who have taken advantage of the strikes to loot shops, the majority of protesting people were hones men and women who want the best for the people of their nation. It was ordinary city folk, young people, elderly, women and men, who can no longer suffer this constant shame, lies and humiliation, who wanted to cry out to the leaders of their nation to bring it back to a dignified and liveable community state.

Asked by the present leader of Kazakhstan to intervene, the Russians, under the banner of the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO),  quickly mobilised forces. Planes were sent to ferry the troops from CSTO members in Central Asia and Caucasia, including Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, and Belarus, this way showing the Kazakhs and the world that Russia was standing ready in all those countries to come their befriended nations to help as well as to avoid Europe intervening by their border countries, like Ukraine.

Leveraging Kazakhstan’s membership of the CSTO, Tokayev formally sought support from the collective, telling the outside world that those Russian troops were necessary to bring an end to the violence of the criminals in the streets of Kazakhstan. He branded the foreign troops as peacekeepers, whose primary role was to secure lawful and established state institutions.

Kassym-Jomart Tokayev wants the outside world to believe there would be an external terrorist threat and that he is fighting against those people who are encouraged by foreign criminal organisations. By this action and having Russian troops entering the country, Tokayev with Putin also wanted to give a sign to the world that the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) is willing to defend its union and prepared to invade any country where Europe wants to get more grip (indicating Ukraine). Certainly the Ukrainians who took to the streets over the weekend to defend their independence and champion an additional cause – that of Kazakhstan’s protests, had to see how far Russia wants to go. The protesters in Ukraine made it clear that they oppose foreign military intervention in Kazakhstan under the guise of a peacekeeping operation, which is more like punitive action and risks becoming an occupation.

For many, it might look like the dictator Putin wants to rebuild the USSR by force, and by trying to make the alliance of several former Soviet states stronger, getting them to react against any form of people showing they want to join the West.
The Russian Defence Ministry may say that it is guarding

“vital facilities and social infrastructure,”

it looks more like it is giving other oligarchs and Russia befriended dictators the hand.



Almaty ablaze

Find also to read

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  5. Kazakhstan – From 1868 to 2019 and the Protest of 2022
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Published by Guestspeaker

A joint effort of several authors who do find that nobody can keep standing at the side and that “Everyone" must care about what is going on in today’s world. We are a bunch of people who do not mind that somebody has a totally different idea but is willing to share the ideas with others and to be Active and willing to let others understand how "today’s decisions will influence the future”. Therefore we would love to see many others to "Act today".

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