In the midst of Gorbachev’s perestroika when the numerous reorganizations of all and everything and the almost complete uncertainty about the future were added to the problems of the consumer goods deficit, the low quality of the services and the red tape of the state apparatus, the Soviet citizens’ vocabulary got enriched by the saying “may you live at the time of changes”.
It looks like the time has come for Kazakhstan to put this idea into practice. Although, clearly, it is too soon to call the current developments in the country “perestroika”.
First of all, due to the fact that the “Leader of the Nation” is still alive and kicking. Apart from that, the strong-arm subvertical of power, even though it has been weakened by the inter-elite fighting and corruption-related scandals, remains untouchable and can be put to use at any moment. Finally, in terms of its scale and intensity, the storm in the society has not yet reached its peak.
In our opinion, this can go on for quite some time. The current model of the Kazakh economy (that is best described as the “state-monopolist” one) has not yet exhausted itself. And as long as Akorda and the Library are able to pay wages to siloviki and officials while giving small “gifts” and “pittances” to the population from time to time, the internal political situation in the country will remain relatively stable.
Yes, it will continue getting worse. Yes, the number of those who disagree with the authorities, their policies and individual actions will grow. Yes, the authorities, in their turn, will ease up on some non-crucial issues. But that’s the extent of it. Because Kazakhstan’s authoritarian political system and the super-presidential vertical are far from having exhausted their reserves.
Of course, the system demands a different kind of leader – someone younger, tougher, more consistent and more modern than Tokayev. Someone who, at the same time, will differ from the completely conceited Nazarbayev since he will be more empathetic, attentive and progressive than the Leader of the Nation.
With that, we must underscore that the internal political stability in Kazakhstan is being preserved not so much thanks to the strength and the effectiveness of the authoritarian political system as to the massive-scale passivity of the citizens. It is for this reason that the pet project of Mukhtar Ablyazov (currently, Nursultan Nazarbayev’s main political opponent) to take a million people to the streets and drive the current authorities from power does seem to make sense. However, the time when the country will have enough citizens who are not simply discontent with the authorities but are ready to consciously go against siloviki while risking being arrested, beaten up or even killed is still a long way off.
On the other hand, the massive-scale protests may happen even without a political motivation. For instance, as a result of the provocations on the part of the elite clans that wish to exert pressure on the authorities in order to defend their interests. Of due to the authorities not finding a solution to some kind of sensitive issue. This is why we are curious to see how Akorda and the Library will solve the problem of the 170 thousand (give or take) cars with Armenian, Kyrgyz and Russian registration numbers that had been imported to Kazakhstan but weren’t reregistered in the names of their current owners – the citizens of the Republic.
Today, this issue is one of the most acute, debated and complicated ones in the country. The official position of the state agencies in regard to this matter can be found on the website of the Ministry of Finance of the Republic of Kazakhstan (text available in Russian), the position of the experts - here (texts available in Russian). The complexity of the problem lies in the fact that it cannot be solved via the usual methods.
The thing is that, in accordance with the Kazakh law, when importing automotive vehicles intended for private use, a citizen must register them inside the country and equip with Kazakhstan’s registration numbers. However, this operation cannot be performed for free. As a result, hundreds of thousands of citizens who bought cheap cars with Armenian, Kyrgyz and Russian numbers have found themselves in a trap. And quite voluntarily so since they thought that if some people can violate the law and get off scot-free, they can do that too.
As a result, 170 thousand (give or take) people, by and large, are left without possibilities to reregister their cars since their total payments for this procedure will surpass the sum they have paid to the seller by two or three times. Also, they cannot export their cars since it will require time and (once again) money. And they cannot continue using their cars since the police have the legal right to stop them, arrest the car and deliver it to penalty parking areas.
Theoretically, a solution to this problem does exist and it has been used by Akorda already. We are talking about a one-time amnesty. But in order to carry it out, they need to have the necessary legal base and, most importantly, the political decision. In our opinion, the likelihood that such a law/decree will be passed is rather high. It’s just that it will take time and effort.
The country’s problem, however, lies in the fact that, even after solving this sensitive but, nonetheless, isolated problem, Akorda and the Library will be doomed to step on the “mines” that will blow up releasing the people’s resentment and taking them to streets.
Why are we certain about this?
Because the ratio of the law-abiding citizens to the total number of the Kazakhs is just as small as the share of those who is politically and socially active. The necessity forces people to violate the law and look for small (yet their own) benefits. As soon as someone finds a “hole” in the legislature that can help to get what they want, others start using it too.
This is exactly how the conflict involving the land parcels near Almaty taken over by self-settlers or by those who bought them from the people that had, de-facto, stolen the land from the state or private structure had developed. Let us remind you that it ended with the Shanykar tragedy of 2006.
The same can be said abut the Zhanaozen tragedy of 2011 when the abuse of authority on the part of the management of a private company, the abuse that also involved local officials, led to, first, a months-long strike and then to a large-scale shoot out of the citizens.
The problem of the 170 thousand cars with Armenian, Kyrgyz and Russian registration numbers belongs to the same plane. Tens of thousands of people, unknowingly or consciously, have violated the law and now have no possibility to mend this. In their turn, the state structures cannot pressure the violators who are becoming organized in a quick fashion and have even started to exert pressure on the authorities.
It is unlikely that, today, anyone in Akorda and the Library will risk giving the order to take away the cars and deliver them to penalty parking areas. But, at the same time, the authorities cannot leave this violation without a response. Therefore, most likely, it will either be an amnesty or a one-time decrease of the overhead charges for the reregistering. Or perhaps they will come up with something else. However, let us repeat that this is not going to save the Kazakh authoritarian political system and the “super-presidential” vertical from further “disruptions”.