About the millions on the street and the turn towards democracy

Not too long ago an article by publicist Sregey Duvanov “How to get millions to come out to the streets of Kazakhstan?”  was published on Center-1’s website. Thinking of the possibility of transfer of power through protests, he came to the conclusion that that million of people coming out to the streets is not a guarantee of the fact that people will come to power who will change country’s course towards real democratic changes.

We need efforts aimed not towards getting people to come to the streets, but towards forming of such a level of public spirit, where coming out to public protests would become a normal reaction of citizens towards the actions of the regime. Thus, it is a matter of civic maturity, its activation and politicization” – Duvanov wrote in the article.

We asked him to explain his position to the readers of KazakhSTAN 2.0.


Sergey, I have read your article and came out feeling that you personally, do not believe that a million of protesters can change the ruling system towards democracy. Is that so?

Exaclty. A million of people with servant mentality, dreaming of putting a more fair and rightful leader in charge, instead of the one they don’t like, likely are unable to bring the country towards democracy. It is the same thing as the Spartak’s uprising in ancient Rome. Victory of slaves didn’t indicate the defeat of the slave-owning era. Everything would have stayed the same, but with new actors. The question is not in the number of people, coming out to the streets but in their quality. They have to be CITIZENS, and not servants. That is the main thing. Because only by having the status of citizens they won’t let the old system reanimate itself, and will be able to make any regime work for society and not for itself.

From the article: “The fact that change of political regimes is possible through mass public protests and acts of civil disobedience – is an unquestionable fact. This has been and always will be this way. Disputable is what should be the foundation of such protests: coming out of masses of people to the streets based on the call of the masters or parties. Or a conscious self-organized protest of citizens, united by desire to change political paradigm of the powers. This two different approaches towards the transfer of power issue in authoritarian countries is caused by the fact that a transformation of relations between society and powers is happening in society”.

If not towards democracy, then towards the Arab model?

Arab model is no better than what we currently have. By and large, it is middle ages in a more or less civilized form. I don’t even examine this option.

In the article you wrote that dissidents and opoisition stem from a faulty position that it is enough to open people’s eyes to the nature of the regime, for it to resent and stand behind those who will lead them in this outburst. In your opinion,  it is a big misconception. Why?

Majority of regime’s opponents come from a viewpoint that demcoracy is something that by definition has to be appealing to anyone. Thus, they think, all that is needed is to show people that the regime is opposed to democracy and thus has to be changed.

However, this is far from the truth. In reality majority of Kazakhs do not view democracy as a remedy from corruption, poverty and disenfranchisement. In best case scenario, for them it is an abstract concept, in the worst – a threat. Yes, yes exactly a threat. In the past fifteen years, both Kremlin and our own official media have turned democracy into a boogey man, for a common man. As a result, democratic slogans, not only don’t attract but rather repulse many people, fooled by anti-democratic propaganda. In this context, a thievish regime, keeping stability and order, is preferable to democrats who call for the change of regime, and thus, for political shocks, “blood and violence”.

Everything’s easy: people, brainwashed in the right way, chose the lesser of two evils. At least they think so.

From the article: “Discrediting of the power on its own doesn’t do much for forming of public spirit. Based on negativity alone, it is impossible to engrain self-reliance into people, responsibility for what is going on in the country, inner need for social justice and civic bravery in defending one’s own position. Other approaches are needed, a different format of work and principles of motivation. I.e.it is an important work on galvanizing of civic society (outside of political context) that remains outside of field of view of opponents of power. Nobody wants to do that”.

You also said that there’s no need to guide people who have matured to high civic consciousness, that presupposes responsibility for the fate of the country: they can go outside on their own, in order to solve problems that powers create, and if necessary change these powers. But are there people like that?

There are people like that in Kazakhstan, but there aren’t many. No more than 15%. This isn’t enough at all, in order to change current system of power. What needs to be done so that there is more of them? Huge efforts of those 15% that already matured to that level. But the main problem is that these people cannot get up from their couches, and start doing something instead of cursing at the TV.  And opposition, instead of banking on this part of society, by galvanizing and consolidating them, dreams of getting millions into the streets.

From the article: “It is silly to try to recruit people who think in the categories of patriarchal traditionalism, calling for polygamy, struggling with anti-Americanism, supporting Putinist bigotry   into democratic ranks. With such supporters, even given desire it is impossible to build democracy. They themselves need to be reformed and remade, fundamentally. Maybe it is worth doing this? And a million the streets is more of a result”.

But what, then is left to do in this case?

The recipe is simple and hard at the same time – intentionally and systemically brainwash people around them. How? That’s a different story. We cannot say that this process isn’t going at all. Of course not. Slowly, but surely it is happening. Notably it happens largely due to contacts with the outside world – through films, press, trips, work contacts, through social media, etc. Cleaning up of the brains from official propaganda is happening without efforts from opposition, but with it, it would have moved much faster.

From the article: “The current state of public mind, which is mostly pro-regime and weak, is a result of formula: “whoever is in charge of television forms public opinion”. What civic position of Kazakhs can we talk about if society hasn’t reacted at all to shooting of strikers of Janaozen in 2011. It is an indicator of complete immaturity and inability of citizens to adequately react to powers stepping on their rights”.

In the article you write that there is a transformation of relations between society and people going on in the world. What do you mean by that?

To put it simply, in the relationship between authorities and people the formula “I am a boss and you are a fool” is seizing to work. People don’t want to be fools. Another formula is starting to work: “If the boss considers us fools, then it is time to replace such boss”. All of the so-called velvet revolutions happened exactly following this formula. It is the result of servants turning into citizens.

In your opinion, can simple citizens, united by commonality of interests become the leading force in changing the political structure of society. As an example you talk of velvet revolutions in Yoguslavia, Georgia, Ukraine, Tunisia, Egypt but exclude Kyrgyzstan and Lybia. Why?

Civic society did not participate in revolutions these two countries. In some ways, it simply didn’t exist, in others it ended up on the sidelines. These were those exact government upheavals. The exact cases, when someone was able to bring out millions of dissatisfied. But we can see, what happened as a result. Those are vivid examples of what can happen when civic society hasn’t matured to fulfill their right.

From the article: “The main political trend of modern times: common citizens, united by commonality of interests, become leading forces in changing the political structure of the country. A vivid example is velvet revolutions in Yugoslavia, Georgia, Ukraine, Egypt. Notice, that there wasn’t any guiding role of the parties or domination of charismatic leaders. These were strictly civic  protests, in which there was no professional political involvement. In the best case scenario, they joined them and used them in their political interests; but initially impulse come from the bottom from society, which self-formed and won”.

Why do you think the change of power under immature civic society carries a lot of risks?

The risk is one and it is the main one. It is the threat that those who brought people out to the streets, after assuming power, will in the same way, take them out of the streets. I.e. they will take away their right to dictate their will to the authorities. A great example of this, is two Kyrgyzstani revolutions. By using dissatisfaction they brought people out to storm the white house, but having assumed power they appropriated it, without leaving anyone the right to control power or contradict it. The possibility to build democracy in this case, depends fully on the personality of the person who  ends up in power. It is hard to assume that the person who ends up in this place, will be a decent, principled individuals, capable,  like Saakashvili or Roza Otunbaeva, do their work and walk away. It is more of an exception from the rule, when people stick to the power and stay in it until the end.

From the article: Theoretically it is possible to bring out 100 thousand people, even in the country with underdeveloped civic society. You just need money, good management and better yet charismatic leader. In Kyrgyzstan, for example it was enough to had five thousand in order for power to fall in a few hours. However, it is just one side of the issue. Other, more important one is that the absence of strong, capable of controlling the power civic society, lets the new administration quickly appropriate the entirety of power and with a new name reanimate an old authocratic system.This in essence was the case with Ukraine and the two Kyrgyz revolutions.

You say that it is impossible to change people, and nurture responsibility for what is happening in the country and civic bravery, on negativity alone, and other approaches are needed. Which ones?

In other words how to make citizens out of servants? That is the main question! Theoretically there is nothing simpler. Give me one public channel and in a year there will be three times more liberally-democrat oriented Kazakhs. This is on the issue of counter-propaganda. At the same time I won’t even call for changing of power and won’t critique the authorities. I will be simply telling the TRUTH about democracy really is, and not the way it is presented to people today. Of course this wouldn’t be allowed here. And not only on TV but also in the press. All that remains is internet. For now, its influence in Kyrgyzstan remains insignificant – not everyone knows how to use it, and those who do are very selective, and most aren’t interested in politics. But this is a temporary situation. Soon it will start changing. So the main ideological and political battles are carried over to social media, and whoever wins there, will eventually end up as a winner in reality. The extent of my rightness will be able to gauge based on how the events will unfold in Russia, where the first to fully utilize social media was Navalny. I understand that my answers to the questions may seem one-dimensional. But that is the only way to answer them in an interview like that. Thus, I will redirect those who want more elaborate and argumentative answers to my book called “Don’t step on the lawns”. In it I answer them fully.

Thank you for your comments.


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