Kazakstan


Kazakstan
▪ 2000

Area:
2,724,900 sq km (1,052,090 sq mi)
Population
(1999 est.): 15,348,000
Capital:
Astana
Head of state and government:
President Nursultan Nazarbayev, assisted by Prime Ministers Nurlan Balgimbayev and, from October 1 (acting; official from October 12), Kasymzhomart Tokayev

      Kazakstan's Pres. Nursultan Nazarbayev was reelected on Jan. 10, 1999, to a further seven-year term. He received the votes of almost 80% of the electorate in a contest against three other candidates. The election was criticized by the international community because Nazarbayev's strongest potential challenger, former prime minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin, was refused registration as a candidate on procedural grounds. Election legislation was subsequently revised, which improved the fairness of the parliamentary elections held on October 10. Preliminary results indicated that at least four political parties would be represented in the new Assembly.

      A new law on information media was adopted in July after a lively debate that included charges by the head of the Assembly that the media were subject to illegal censorship. In accord with its policy of promoting the development of the Kazak language, the Assembly included in the law a requirement that half of all broadcasting be in Kazak. This requirement was much criticized by the media on the grounds that surveys of listening and viewing habits indicated that most of the population, regardless of nationality, preferred Russian-language broadcasts.

      The Economic Association of Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan suffered a setback in February when Kazakstan put a 200% import tariff on certain goods from the other association members. The tariff was lifted when the Kazak currency was devalued in early April in an effort to improve the competitiveness of the country's industry.

      Concern grew over the activities of Islamic extremists in southern Kazakstan. At the request of Uzbekistan, Muslim fundamentalists suspected of involvement in a February bombing in Tashkent were arrested in Kazakstan and extradited to Uzbekistan.

      In July the explosion of a Russian rocket led Kazakstan to shut down the Russian-leased space centre at Baykonur. Russian officials persuaded the Kazak government to rescind the ban on space launches partially, but there was considerable public indignation over the environmental damage that was popularly believed to have resulted from the accident. A joint Kazak-Russian commission reported finding no evidence of environmental contamination.

      Kazakstan's international reputation suffered as a result of a lengthy scandal over an attempt by government officials to sell a number of old MiG fighters to North Korea. The illegal transaction came to light in March, but an investigation ordered by Nazarbayev had no result until August, when international publicity led to the dismissal of Kazakstan's defense minister, chairman of the National Security Committee, and several other defense officials.

Bess Brown

▪ 1999

      Area: 2,724,900 sq km (1,052,090 sq mi)

      Population (1998 est.): 15,797,000

      Capital: Astana

      Head of state and government: President Nursultan Nazarbayev, assisted by Prime Minister Nurlan Balgimbayev

      Kazakstan's new capital, Astana (formerly Aqmola), was formally dedicated on June 10, 1998. Parliament and most of the government had begun working there in the first half of the year. The move was unpopular with civil servants, who dreaded the severe weather in the north, and with opposition politicians and others who objected to the expense involved in refurbishing the shabby Soviet-era city.

      At the end of February, several major opposition parties and political movements founded a coalition to contest parliamentary elections scheduled for 1999. The new People's Front of Kazakstan included the Communist and Socialist parties, the liberal Azamat Movement, the nationalist Azat Movement, and the Slavic interest group Lad. The legislature in October approved constitutional amendments that increased the president's term from five to seven years and moved the election up to January 1999.

      Unpaid salaries and pensions fueled popular dissatisfaction in many parts of Kazakstan in 1998. Although some sectors of the economy grew, the benefits were not widely evident, and some cities reported unemployment levels near 100%. At the beginning of the year, inhabitants of the southern city of Zhanatas staged a hunger strike to protest unpaid wages. The purchase by a French firm of the phosphorite mine and mill on which the town depended seemed to defuse the tension, but by the end of the year, the city of Kostanay was reported to be dying as its population left in search of jobs.

      Government efforts to counter the country's economic problems included a much-publicized war on corruption, which was declared a threat to national security, and a decision announced by Prime Minister Nurlan Balgimbayev in August to reduce state budget expenditures by 25% in 1998. The budget cut was blamed on the falling world prices for many of Kazakstan's exports such as oil and nonferrous metals and the Asian financial crisis. Balgimbayev promised that pensions, state salaries, education, and health care would not be affected by the cuts.

      At the beginning of July, the former capital, Almaty, was the site of a summit on regional security at which the foreign ministers of Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Russia, and China confirmed their commitment to the confidence-building measures set forth in the Shanghai Agreement of 1996. During the summit Kazakstan's Pres. Nursultan Nazarbayev and Chinese Pres. Jiang Zemin signed an agreement ending a border dispute between the two countries. Under the agreement Kazakstan received slightly more than half of two disputed areas. Relations between these two countries, particularly in the sphere of trade and joint ventures, improved significantly in 1998. Kazakstan's relations with Russia improved with the signing in July of an accord dividing the northern part of the Caspian Sea between the two countries and an agreement on fees for use of Kazakstan's Baykonur Space Centre by the Russian space program.

BESS BROWN

▪ 1998

      Area: 2,724,900 sq km (1,052,090 sq mi)

      Population (1997 est.): 16,554,000

      Capital: Almaty until December 10; thereafter Aqmola

      Head of state and government: President Nursultan Nazarbayev, assisted by Prime Ministers Akezhan Kazhegeldin and, from October 10, Nurlan Balgimbayev

      The economy was the main focus of attention for the government and population of Kazakstan in 1997. Modest upturns in some industrial production figures indicated that government efforts to reverse the post-Soviet economic decline were paying off, but little improvement was visible in the living standard of the population. At the end of March, a coalition of political opposition groups held an unauthorized demonstration in Almaty to protest the continuing decline in living conditions; two weeks later the same groups demanded that the government resign for having caused the economic and social crisis in the country. Dissatisfaction with government economic policies continued to build throughout the year, and on October 10 Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin resigned following a massive demonstration by unemployed miners. He was replaced by Nurlan Balgimbayev, a former oil and gas industry minister, whose ministry had been folded into a new Ministry of Energy that was created as part of an effort to reduce the bureaucracy.

      Kazakstan's leaders discovered that efforts to overcome the economic crisis with the aid of foreign investment did not always have the desired effect; in September, Pres. Nursultan Nazarbayev complained that firms under foreign management were attempting to evade paying taxes, and he called for limits on the extent of foreign participation in existing enterprises. At the end of May, 2,000 pensioners took to the streets of Almaty to protest increases in the cost of gas, electricity, and water that put these services beyond their ability to pay. The government responded by demanding that the Belgian firm operating the Almaty power system install individual usage meters at its own expense; the firm then threatened to back out of its contract in Kazakstan.

      Human rights activists maintained that a newly instituted fee for broadcasting licenses was a government ploy to force independent radio and television stations off the air. By the beginning of May, 27 independent broadcasters had shut down because they could not afford the license fees.

      Relations with the Russian Federation cooled somewhat in 1997 as Kazakstan protested the use of Cossack troops to patrol the border between the two countries and President Nazarbayev rejected Russian demands that Russian oil firms be given preference in obtaining development rights to offshore oil deposits in the Caspian Sea. A group of parliamentary deputies criticized the leasing of weapons testing sites in Kazakstan to the Russian military. In June Nazarbayev warned that Kazakstan might have to fight for its independence if Russia tried to force the country into a union similar to that between Russia and Belarus. In a move widely interpreted as an effort to dilute Russian-majority regions in the northern part of Kazakstan, two Russian-majority oblasts were fused with neighbouring oblasts having Kazak majorities.

      Plans went ahead to move Kazakstan's capital to Aqmola, despite the expense involved in the move. The inauguration of the new capital took place on December 10.

BESS BROWN
      This article updates Kazakstan (Kazakhstan).

▪ 1997

      A republic of Central Asia, Kazakstan borders Russia on the west and north, China on the east, Kyrgyzstan on the southeast, Uzbekistan and the Aral Sea on the south, and Turkmenistan and the Caspian Sea on the southwest. Area: 2,724,900 sq km (1,052,090 sq mi). Pop. (1996 est.): 16,677,000. Cap.: Almaty (formerly Alma-Ata); capital-designate: Aqmola (formerly Tselinograd). Monetary unit: tenge, with (Oct. 11, 1996) a free rate of 69.87 tenge = U.S. $1 (110.07 tenge = £ 1 sterling). President in 1996, Nursultan Nazarbayev; prime minister, Akezhan Kazhegeldin.

      Throughout 1996, Western-style democracy made few gains in Kazakstan as the country floundered both politically and economically. The World Bank censured Kazakstan's failure to fully utilize the Bank's loans and warned that its level of assistance might be revised downward. Many foreign businessmen, disappointed by their investments in Kazakstan, turned to neighbouring Uzbekistan as a more promising partner.

      At the opening of the new bicameral legislature's first session at the end of January, Pres. Nursultan Nazarbayev called on the deputies to support his vision of economic reform, as their predecessors had failed to do, and warned that he would dissolve the body if it attempted to exceed its authority. Despite the president's efforts to convince the parliament that it was supposed to approve his and the government's actions automatically, the Majlis (lower house of the legislature) indicated that it retained at least some of the concern for the social effects of economic reform that had brought its predecessor into conflict with Nazarbayev. In early summer the Majlis rejected a government proposal for pension reform, on the grounds that it would be too hard on the elderly. After Nazarbayev appeared on Kazak television with a plea for standardized pension benefits and for raising the legal retirement age, the Majlis passed a vote of confidence in the government.

      In March leaders of Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus, and the Russian Federation officially inaugurated a customs union that was intended to create a common market in goods, capital, and labour; to integrate transportation networks, electric power grids, and information systems; and to ensure minimum standards of social welfare. Kazakstan's leadership, however, decisively rejected proposals for the resurrection of the U.S.S.R. that emerged during the presidential election campaign in the Russian Federation.

      Relations with China, one of Kazakstan's major foreign policy concerns, were put on a new footing with the signing in April of an agreement resolving disputes over state borders and providing for the partial demilitarization of border areas.

      (BESS BROWN)

      This article updates Kazakstan (Kazakhstan).

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Universalium. 2010.

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