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Kazakhstani Chessboard - Part 2 - From Spontaneous Demos to Rampant Riots

What exactly happened last week in Kazakhstan? This is a question that many people have. Was this a genuine protest, or a western-led American jab in Russia’s soft underbelly? Was this a working-class movement or yet another post-Soviet attempt at a color revolution? It appears that there was a little bit of everything. The context is one of deep contradictions in Kazakhstan’s ruling class and society as a whole.


Boyan Stanislavski and Maria Cernat carefully examine the chronology of last week’s events in Kazakhstan, highlighting the most doubtful moments and carefully explaining what conclusions can be drawn based on facts that are now public record. The hosts of “On the Barricades” also mention some possibilities for which there is only circumstantial evidence and which cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt at this time.

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  1. No one yet is close to an adequate analysis. My analysis is at http://www.wspus.org/2022/01/upheaval-in-kazakhstan/. The most important omission of Boyan and Maria is ignoring the fact that the upheaval began in Jazaozen, a city with a long history of workers’ struggles, as a strike movement. The increase in the price of LNG was the straw that broke the camel’s back but it was by no means the only grievance. The oilmen demanded higher wages, safer working conditions, the right to organize, etc. Another nationwide grievance was the raising of the pension age, which protestors wanted reversed (a big source of protest in Russia too). The multiplicity of grievances helps to explain why the movement did not just fizzle out when Tokayev promised to lower the price of LNG.

    The strike/protest movement did not suddenly jump from Janaozen to Almaty at the other end of the country. It spread first through the oilfields of western Kazakhstan, from there to the coalminers and metalworkers of central Kazakhstan, and so on, reaching the Russian-speaking cities of the north and east last. This all happened fast, within the space of a few days, but it did follow the logic of geographical and sectoral connections. What makes such rapid development possible is social media, perhaps facilitated by underground networks with emigre leadership.

    I gathered info on the strike movement from anarchist and Trotskyite websites — in particular, socialismkz.info. It seems that in most places the protests were non-violent. Almaty is a key exception: here I agree there was an attempt at armed insurrection.

    There is said to be video evidence of SOME police officers changing sides, and there may also have been instances of Kazakh soldiers refusing to fire. As it turned out, there were too few such instances to change the outcome, but such reports may help explain why Tokayev appealed for foreign troops instead of relying on his own forces.

    The ‘Color Revolution’ scenario is not the only one raised by the Kazakh and Russian leaders. Both Putin and Tokayev have claimed there is evidence of involvement by Islamist forces abroad. Some insurgents allegedly have experience of participation in Islamist armed groups abroad (Afghanistan?). I am skeptical about this, although there has been something of a religious revival in Kazakhstan. But it is a possibility that needs to be considered. I agree that clan politics is crucial. It may well underlie the transfer of the capital to Akmola/Astana/Nur-Sultan, the local clans in the Almaty area having been always hostile to Nazarbayev.

    Much as I admire the efforts of these two journalists, I would like to hear from people who have specialized in the study of Kazakhstan, lived there for long periods and acquired familiarity with the people and their culture.

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