Friday, January 6, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Separatist Attitudes on the Rise in Western Kazakhstan, Specialist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 6 – The wave of violence in Zhanaozen in Western Kazakhstan over the last few weeks that has cost at least 16 lives has also led to the intensification of separatist attitudes among the population there, although there is little chance that this region will be able to split away from Kazakhstan anytime soon, according to a specialist on the area.

            Marat Shibutov, the Kazakhstan representative of the Association of Cross-Border Cooperation, says that separatist feelings have been sparked less by the authoritarian response of Astana than by the failure of the central Kazakhstan government to “consider the interests of regional elites” (

            He told the Regnum news agency today that there were always separatist feelings among people in the region for “one simple reason: the city of Astana at the present time is a parasite” which takes far more resources from the regions – and Mangistau oblast is a donor – than it gives back.

            That, “together with the isolated situation of the region, the dominance of a single family [from elsewhere in official positions], and the insignificant number of non-Kazakhs” means that “separatist attitudes will always be here and can even strengthen” if the central authorities continue to treat problems there merely as ones of control.

            But however strong such attitudes become, Shibutov argues, there are four reasons for thinking the separatists will never achieve their goal. First, the region does not have enough water on its own; second, it doesn’t produce enough food to feed its people; third, its oil is exported through other regions; and fifth, the region is “one of the smallest” in Kazakhstan.

            Those factors may not be enough to prevent more problems, he says, especially because oil production in the region is declining and reserves may even run out sometime in the next decade and because Astana appears to believe that only people from outside the region can be counted on to be loyal.

            What the central Kazakhstan authorities should be doing, Shibutov insists, is promoting local people into positions of power in the region itself and including more of them in the central bureaucracies of the Kazakhstan state.  But so far, Astana shows little interest in doing either, preferring instead to treat a political challenge as a law enforcement matter.

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