In going back to the drawing board to work on fresh ways to foster democratization in Central Asia, civil society advocates need to pay more attention to property rights, a leading rights activist contends.
Yevgeniy Zhovtis, a prominent human rights advocate in Kazakhstan, gave the keynote address at the annual Central Eurasian Studies Society conference, held at Columbia University in New York on October 24-26. He painted a bleak picture of the existing social and political landscape in Central Asia. Outside of Kyrgyzstan, Zhovtis noted, authoritarianism has taken deep root in Central Asia, with governments implementing extensive measures to squash basic freedoms.
“Single-party parliaments, … special forces exercising total surveillance, law-enforcement [bodies] protecting the interests of the ruling elite at all times – this is reality in Central Asia,” Zhovtis said.
Hopes for reversing the current trend rest mainly on solving dilemmas relating to property rights in Central Asia, Zhovtis suggested. He noted that 70-plus years of communism in the former Soviet Union completely skewed the way citizens in the region understand the concept of private property, adding that the sanctity of property rights is the fundamental building bloc of any civil society.
“In modern societies, the evolution of economic and legal foundations for private property facilitated ideas of individual rights and freedoms. In post-Soviet countries, this process never took root,” he said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks to the Valdai discussion group. (photo: Kremlin)
Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the United States of sponsoring terrorism in Russia and Central Asia,
Putin spoke October 24 at the annual meeting of the Valdai Club, where foreign policy experts from around the world gather to talk about Russia. Although its major themes were previewed by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov a few days before, the Russian website slon.ru said that the speech "could confidently be placed in the same rank as the 2007 Munich speech" (his first substantial criticism of the U.S. and the unipolar world it led) and was "the most anti-American speech Putin has given since coming to office 14 years ago."
The entire speech is fascinating, and certainly will be studied as much as the Munich speech or his post-Crimean annexation speech by those trying to figure out Russia's foreign policy. But one section of this speech is of particular interest to Bug Pit readers:
Armenia's parliament is something of a millionaire-hangout, according to local media reports. Nineteen members of the 131-seat assembly have incomes of over $1 million, the reports say, citing the most recent official income declarations.
Tamada Tales could not immediately double-check the reports since the English-language version of the income-disclosure website is not fully functional. But if the reports are true, then one influential opposition party, Prosperous Armenia, certainly lives up to its name.
The populist party and its boss, tycoon Gagik Tsarukian , rank as the richest party and lawmaker, respectively. For good measure, Prosperous Armenia allegedly boasts another eight millionaires as well, with the grand total of the MPs’ net worth coming to $163.6 million, reported the newspaper 168 Zham (168 Hours), which came up with the original report on the millionaire-lawmakers.
Another nine millionaires in the legislature belong to the ruling Republican Party of Armenia, while one independent MP, Araik Grigorian, who doubles as president of the board of a wine-factory, ranks as the legislature’s millionaire-maverick.
In grand total, Armenian lawmakers are worth $235 million, 168 Zham said. By comparison, average monthly salaries in Armenia rank the dram-equivalent of just $424.
Local critics long have argued that the country’s legislature largely functions as a good ol’ boys’ club, with business and political interests mingling seamlessly, and members essentially seeking seats only to further their business interests.
Newly appointed defense minister Imangali Tasmagambetov. (photo: MoD of Kazakhstan)
Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev has removed the country's defense minister Serik Akhmetov after only six months in service, replacing him with the current mayor of Astana, Imangali Tasmagambetov. Nazarbayev gave no explanation for the move, but analysts and inside sources seem to suggest two explanations for the reshuffle: Akhmetov's connection to a corruption scandal and Tasmagambetov's ability to steer the military in what is becoming a difficult time.
An analysis on the Kazakhstan news site TengriNews noted that "The fighting in Ukraine has demonstrated the inadequacy of the Ukrainian army, which led the Kazakh leaders to seriously examine the state of its own army.... Being an apt economic manager, Tasmagambetov was chosen to solve the problems in the Ministry [of Defense]." It quotes political analyst Aidos Sarym: “Apparently, there is a need for a person with strong charisma and good organisational abilities to manage the army. Now the army is experiencing very unpleasant processes that suggest that our defenses are very low. It is clear that this very large corporation needs efficient people to deal with it.” Similar theories were promulgated by a number of other experts.
Georgians’ fascination with cars is only surpassed by their ardor for vanity car plates. The South-Caucasus country may be strapped for cash, but it turns its pockets inside out to get the right car and personalized plates to go with it. As of early this month, Georgian car owners had paid a good 8,9 million lari ($5.6 million) over the past month and a half for some 30,000 car plates, Peradi.info reported, citing police records.
And all this in a country where the average monthly salary amounts to just over 773 laris, or $442, according to official data.
But, apparently, those low incomes didn’t stop these drivers. The most hardcore paid 10,000 laris ($5,718.53) to adorn their vehicles with their full names or some slogan. Less fancy plates that have repeated numbers and letters — such as 111 - AA - 111 — cost about 1,000 laris or $570, BHN reported. If you are a Georgian girl called Rusa, for about 250 laris ( $142), you can get a RU - 000 - SA plate.
By comparison, ordinary license plates cost 35 laris ($20). But, of course, who notices those?
After the government recently changed the format of the plates, drivers now have all kinds of messages to tell the rest of the traffic, too: Amen, Drunkard, Kisses. Several years back, one Georgian government-minister got himself MCCAIN plates in honour of his favorite US senator, Republican John McCain of Arizona, wrote Foreign Affairs.
The web page for Russia's joint SCO/BRICS summits next year in Ufa..
Russia's Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, gave a tour d'horizon of his country's rapidly evolving foreign policy, including some of the most explicit hints to date that the country is reorienting away from Europe and toward Asia -- especially China.
In an October 20 speech to members of the country's ruling party, United Russia, Lavrov addressed familiar topics like the need for a multipolar world and perfidy of the West. But in the past Russian officials tend to elide the details of what an alternative to the Western-led world would look like.
Particularly striking in Lavrov's speech was the attention given to China. This was in his introduction:
The realignment, or, I would even say, the deconcentration of the global balance of forces, is a hallmark of our time. Most clearly, this can be seen in the greater economic power and increasing political clout of the Asia-Pacific Region. These countries have largely assumed the role of a driver of global economic growth, a role which was traditionally performed by the United States,Western Europe and Japan. As we can see, China achieved the greatest success on this path and, according to the latest report issued by the International Monetary Fund, has for the first time become the world’s largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity Based on the findings of the IMF experts, the seven largest so-called “emerging economies,” including our country, outdid the seven industrialized Western countries in terms of combined GDP. That’s a totally new picture of the world that does not fit into the centuries-old notion of Western dominance in the global economy, finance and politics.
Azerbaijan’s government had been pushed hard to free several jailed young activists, but their release last week left a bitter aftertaste in the repressive Caucasus republic. The European Union welcomed the October-17 amnesty, but government critics say Azerbaijani officials made an unsavory show out of it.
Four young democracy activists had to address a letter of repentance to their President Ilham Aliyev to be included in the list of 80 prisoners pardoned by the president. Upon release, two of the young men, Bahtiyar Guliyev and Elsevyar Mursalli, brought flowers to the grave of President Aliyev’s father and predecessor, Heydar Aliyev.
The civil-rights group NIDA said its members were pressured to write the apology-letter since the authorities are trying to exonerate themselves for arresting “young people, political activists, rights defenders, bloggers for their civil activism.”
There is hardly an international democracy watchdog left that has not accused the Azerbaijani government of rounding up critics on trumped-up charges. Its chairmanship of the Council of Europe’s committee of ministers notwithstanding.
The European Union chose to focus on the positive, however. “We greet this amnesty as a positive first step in reversing the trend of recent months. We urge the authorities to build upon this step by extending the amnesty to other individuals belonging to civil society organization who currently face imprisonment,” the EU said in an October 20 statement.
What to get the oligarch who has everything? How about a caviar spa experience on the shores of the Caspian Sea?
Billed as a “black caviar spa for real gourmands,” this is one of the leisure experiences that will be available at the upmarket Kenderli resort in Kazakhstan when it opens its doors in a few years. If immersing your body in a bath of fish eggs is not to your taste, how about “dances with seals?”
These and other once-in-a-lifetime experiences are being touted to lure tourists to a part of Kazakhstan not known for bringing in the holiday hordes: the eastern shores of the Caspian Sea, where, if developers get their way, a high-class resort will soon spring up out of the desert, reports Tengri News.
The development blueprint expects that by 2020 over half a million tourists will be flocking to Kenderli every year, with foreigners making up over half of the projected 642,000 visitors. Russia is considered the most promising market, but the resort will also target holidaymakers from other parts of Central Asia and the former Soviet Union, and visitors from Turkey and the Middle East.
Developers have an ambitious vision for Kenderli as “a superb 21st century tourist coastal resort” that will become the “best” on the Caspian, “the perfect destination for domestic and international tourists, generating wealth for the region and wellbeing for our people.”
Protesters on October 21 held a protest-performance in front of the country's government headquarters in Tbilisi to demand a response to a recent series of murders of women by their ex- or current husbands...
English teacher Maka Tsivtsivadze was instructing a class in downtown Ilia State University on October 17, when her ex-husband, Lasha Maghradze, peeped in and asked her to step out into the hall. He shot her with a gun he had concealed, and then killed himself. Tsivtsivadze died of her wounds in the hospital.
It was the most brazen in a wave of femicides that has shocked Georgia this year, but it was not the last one. Just two days later, a 60-year-old man killed his wife in a remote village. Earlier, an ex-husband shot dead his former wife on a street in Tbilisi and also killed her brother who tried to rescue her.
The number of women killed this year is believed now to stand at 23, based on an earlier assessment by human rights defender Ucha Nanuashvili .
Amidst the search for an explanation -- and a solution -- to the series of wife-murders, a group of activists on October 21 held a protest-performance in front of the country's government headquarters in Tbilisi to pressure officials to come up with a response. The demonstrators, mostly women, blindfolded themselves, taped their mouths shut, and clanked spoons on saucepans. "The government has not even taken in the problem, much less is doing anything about it,” one of the participants, art critic and feminist activist Teo Khatiashvili, said.
President Giorgi Margvelashvili called for making 2015 a year of women, and Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili promised to prioritize tackling domestic violence, but nothing concrete has been offered. A comment from female Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani that Georgia’s crime level has not increased, "it's just husbands are killing their wives,” has hardly helped to reassure critics.
With a cold, dark winter inching closer each day in Kyrgyzstan, the government is desperately trying to strike bilateral energy-import agreements with anyone and everyone. But as policymakers go hunting around Central Asia to plug an estimated deficit of over 2 billion kilowatt-hours, prices and political differences are potent sticking points.
Any bilateral deal would require the differential in electricity costs be borne either by the insolvent government, or by ordinary Kyrgyzstanis, who are accustomed to paying $0.015 per kilowatt-hour. That’s far below the cost of production and substantially less than citizens pay in any other Central Asian country.
So Kazakh electricity, which costs around four times as much for Kazakhs, is expensive to most Kyrgyz, although that didn’t stop Astana and Bishkek agreeing to an import deal in principle last week. Tajik electricity is over one-and-a-half times as expensive as the Kyrgyz version and it is doubtful whether a country whose own rural residents spend a lot of time in the dark has any power to spare.
The perfect cure to a Kyrgyz winter of misery, then, could come from gas-rich Turkmenistan.