Is the Father of the Nation Big Enough to Expand Freedom in Kazakhstan
December 9, 2010
Huffington Post, by Sam Patten
For a year now, Kazakhstan has chaired Eurasia's regional diplomatic talk shop, called the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Given that the one-year rotating chair is about to change hands, it's fitting to take stock of Kazakhstan's performance as the first former Soviet nation to hold the position. Sadly, the consensus that I observed at a senior-level OSCE summit last week in Astana was that Kazakhstan's stewardship was a success for the mere fact that it appeared to do no harm -- there was no apparent backsliding in human rights among the 56 member nations. But that standard of success simply isn't good enough. In fact, Kazakhstan did a lot less than it could and should have.
Kazakhstan won the chairmanship after much lobbying -- member nations were nervous for the simple reason that Kazakhstan and almost no former Soviet nation had ever run a fair election, and arbitrating those elections is a primary OSCE function. Freedom House has long rated Kazakhstan "not free." But Kazakhstan pledged to fairly fulfill OSCE duties, including serving as a moral authority.
As the summit on the frigid, wind-swept steppe came to a close last Thursday, one was reminded of a remark by the late Russian statesman Viktor Chernomyrdin: "We wanted something better, but got the same as we always do." Given how far Kazakhstan has come economically in the last two decades, it is reasonable to ask if President Nursultan Nazarbayev, now known by law as the "Leader of the Kazakh Nation," isn't capable of meaningful political reform.
"This was," a coalition of non-governmental organizations from OSCE member states concluded, "a summit without results." Given the extraordinary effort and substantial resources the Kazakhs committed to hosting this summit, one can't help wondering at the point of the exercise. Was it truly to re-affirm the noble, albeit dusty, principles around which the OSCE was formed? Or rather was it to provide a stage for Nazarbayev to flaunt himself as a 21st Century statesman? The gaping abyss between the liberal-sounding words parroted throughout the summit and the repressive actions taken by many of the OSCE leaders present at the summit made the group's hard- fought final declaration ring rather hollow. Read more.
Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.