Reflections on the October 31st Rally

On Saturday, October 31, 2020, a rally organised by human rights activists (instead of political parties or civic movements) took place in the centre of Almaty. And it is this what differentiates this rally from the similar protest actions of the current and the past years.

Those who wish to learn more on how Bakhytzhan Toregozhina and Galym Ageleulov, with the help of several allies, have managed to organise this event may read their numerous posts on Facebook as well as the Radio Azattyk publications — this one and that one. (Texts available in Russian).  

We at believe that, from the internal political standpoint, the Saturday rally indicates that the Kazakh authorities «have shown weakness». The question is why.

If the city’s authorities’ permission to hold the rally on October 31 and the later refusal to cancel it due to the quarantine reasons are related to the upcoming parliamentary and maslikhats elections, it means that Akorda and the Library have performed their usual manoeuvre in order to pull the wool over the eyes of external observers.

However, we do allow for the possibility that the Saturday rally was a result of some kind of concession on the part of the Library and siloviks to Akorda.

We at believe that, today, Akorda is very keen on «awakening» the Kazakh society in some way and motivating it to move in the direction chosen by the authorities. Whereas the Library and the law-enforcement bodies, as per usual, seem to be keen on being on the safe side. 

If the aforementioned concession had really taken place, one should congratulate the human rights activists on their success. On the other hand, this success is unlikely to be repeated by anyone any time soon. Except perhaps the Nur Otan party and its newly created «opposition» partners in the Parliament. And not just because the upcoming Mazhilis and malikhats elections are to take place in an organised manner, according to the plan and without any incidents. One should also keep in mind that the nerves of Kazakhstan’s power holders are taut to the extreme nowadays.

For even though Akorda and the Library do control the internal political developments in the country and preserve the infamous stability, de-facto, they now occupy the position of the besieged. Because they lack any kind of support on the part of the civic society. And they do not have the instruments and, therefore, chances to gain it in the coming years.

Under these circumstances, the Kazakh power holders have to fear everyone and everything starting from the elite groups that are capable of beginning their own political game and ending with the fringe groups that are capable of destabilising the situation. And it is this feeling of everyone disliking them (if not behaving in an openly unfriendly manner) that, today, is dominating the Kazakh authoritarian political system and the «super-presidential» vertical. 

Add to this the intensification of the fight against corruption and officials’ dramatically increased workload, and you can easily see why the Kazakh state servants are so afraid of even peaceful acts of protestation.

However, the irony lies in the fact that, in order for the Kazakh state to collapse and for the political system to disintegrate, active protests or armed actions are not even needed anymore — if the majority of the citizens stays passive and doesn’t fight not only for the civil rights and liberties but for the country and the existing order of things in general, it should be quite enough…

Due to this passivity (or practicality if you will), today’s political model, let’s call it the Nazarbayev model, is simply doomed to fail. Of course, it’s not going to happen this year and may be not even the year after that. But say, in a decade, it will. And this will depend not so much on Akorda and the Library’s efforts as on the internal and external political storms that will blow over the Republic and inside it.

In other words, there is a great chance that the Republic of Kazakhstan will repeat the fate of the Soviet Union. Due to that simple reason that, at some point, the elite groups of the country’s individual regions decide that it is easier to «float to the surface» separately. And this process may be accelerated by Kazakhstan’s economic problems that are clearly not going to disappear when the pandemic ends.

Of course, the nationalistically-minded groups may try and fight the disintegration process but, today, these groups are no less marginalised and  disjointed than the supporters of the democratic way of development. Moreover, chances are that, if the Kazakh nationalists start to get the upper hand, it may result in the events similar to those of the 1920-1030s when, having seized weapons and power, one part of the population began to actively repress the other part of the population due to the ideological reasons and the latter was eventually forced to flee, or die, or surrender.

In these circumstances, we may only suggest that Akorda and the Library make concessions to organisers of peaceful protests more often. Not in order to develop democracy but in order to create a channel for expressing the protest sentiment.

Photo by Yuliya Kozlova/KZ.MEDIA

Of course, the Kazakh power holders are unlikely to take this step. And not even due to political reasons. It is the technical reasons that are at play here. The thing is that, from the bureaucratic, administrative and law-enforcement standpoint, permitting to hold peaceful and legal rallies, like the one that took place in Almaty on October 31, 2020, force the authorities to make more effort, show more professionalism and simple intelligence than performing the usual crackdowns followed by arrests and convictions.

For they need to isolate those who may say something impermissible or provoke negative developments beforehand. They need to isolate the place and then anxiously await for the rally to happen. And, when it’s finished, get it hot and strong for some kind of overlook. So, to those who are not on the top, it is much easier to keep things suppressed and not granted. 


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