‘His family robbed the country’: personality cult of ex-Kazakh leader crumbles | Kazakhstan

Walking by way of the home-town museum constructed to honour Nursultan Nazarbayev, the former Kazakhstan president who constructed a personality cult round his rule, there are few indicators of the anger that swept throughout the central Asian nation earlier this month.

Guests to the imposing three-storey constructing in Shamalgan are handled to a maquette of the home the place the younger Nazabayev grew up, a Mercedes that was half of his presidential motorcade in a glass field in the museum’s grounds, and family artefacts together with a go well with worn by his brother.

A Mercedes that was part of Nursultan Nazarbayev’s motorcade in the grounds of the museum.
A Mercedes that was half of Nursultan Nazarbayev’s motorcade in the grounds of the museum. {Photograph}: Pjotr Sauer

Shamalgan, the place Nazarbayev was born in 1940 and grew up in the shadows of the snow-capped Tian Shan mountains, is an hour’s drive from Kazakhstan’s greatest metropolis, Almaty, and at first sight not a lot units Shamalgan other than the different poor villages in the space the place a lot of the younger individuals have left to search out work.

However flip a nook and there are a stretch of luxurious mansions, hidden behind tall gates, that belong to Nazarbayev’s brother Bolat, his sister, and the different family members of a president who was in workplace from 1990 and 2019 and who retained affect. Hello-tech cameras and safety guards give the road the really feel of a high-end gated group.


“This city is a residing reminder of how his family has robbed the nation,” stated Erbol Murzulayev, a neighborhood mechanic. “He doesn’t even care about the place he was born, he has forgotten about us. How can we nonetheless belief him with the relaxation of the nation?”

Erbol Murzulayev, a mechanic in Shamalgan.
Erbol Murzulayev, a mechanic in Shamalgan. {Photograph}: Pjotr Sauer

The museum opened in 2017, two years earlier than Nazarbayev handed the presidency to his successor, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, broadly seen as a transfer to safeguard Nazarbayev’s legacy and hold him near energy.

However outdoors the museum’s partitions, after a wave of protests, Nazarbayev’s future appears to be like unsure. The capital – Nur-Sultan, renamed after Nursultan Nazarbayev – could even be returned to its authentic Astana.

The protests, the largest and deadliest in Kazakhstan’s historical past, broke out on 2 January in the western oil metropolis of Zhanaozen over an increase in gasoline costs however rapidly become wider unrest over corruption and financial inequality. Greater than 200 protesters reportedly died with greater than 10,000 individuals nonetheless detained.

A lot of the anger was directed at Nazarbayev and his family, with protesters chanting “previous man out!” in reference to the 81-year-old former leader. Protesters additionally toppled and smashed a monument to Nazarbayev in Almaty, an ominous sign up the post-soviet area.

Nazarbayev disappeared from view throughout the unrest, solely reappearing in a video deal with on Tuesday, through which he described himself as a “pensioner” and stated Tokayev now held full energy.

The mayor’s office in Almaty was damaged in the protests.
The mayor’s workplace in Almaty was broken in the protests. {Photograph}: Gavriil Grigorov/Tass

After the protests Tokayev seemed to have tightened his grip on energy, at the expense of the former president, by arresting Nazarbayev’s key allies and voicing uncommon criticism of his former mentor.

Observers have pointed to Kazakhstan’s rampant inequality as the fundamental cause behind the unrest. The typical month-to-month wage in Kazakhstan is less than £450, whereas in accordance with a 2019 report by KPMG, 162 individuals in the nation own more than 50% of its wealth. A lot of the elite property is in the palms of Nazarbayev’s prolonged family, and they’re estimated to personal at the very least £530m of luxurious property in the UK, in accordance with a report by Chatham Home.

Few locations appear to embody higher the present financial grievances many Kazakh’s have with the previous regime than Nazarbayev’s residence city. “We don’t actually have a future right here. Our nation has been caught in time,” stated, Amina, 27, an English-language instructor at the native faculty in Shamalgan.

She stated she didn’t be part of the protests in Almaty however was sympathetic to those who protested peacefully.

For a leader who has fastidiously developed his personality cult for many years, renaming airports, universities, and even the nation’s capital after himself, the sudden downfall almost certainly got here as a shock, stated the Central Asia specialist Alexander Cooley.

“Nazarbayev actually began to consider in his personal cult that he created. That’s what 30 years of isolation from the public can do to you,” Cooley stated. “[He] fully misjudged the temper in the nation, which is ironic for somebody who cares a lot about his public picture.”Now, nevertheless, Nazarbayev cuts a completely totally different determine from the image-conscious leader, and his video deal with will solely additional de-mystify him in the eyes of the Kazakh inhabitants, stated Dossym Satpayev, a political analyst based mostly in Almaty.

A large banner in Aktau depicting Nazarbayev.
A big banner in Aktau depicting Nazarbayev. {Photograph}: Isa Tazhenbayev/Tass

“In the video, we noticed a defeated, deflated, drained man. Kazakhs have by no means seen him like this earlier than,” stated Satpayev, including it’s going to now be essential to look at how far Tokayev is prepared to go in his effort to differentiate himself from Nazarbayev.

“At the second, quite a bit of negotiating and bargaining is being performed between Tokayev and Nazarbayev’s group about his sources, his energy, and, of course, about the legacy of Nazarbayev,” Satpayev stated.

Nazarbayev’s three sons-in-law have already stepped down from influential positions, whereas on Wednesday Tokayev eliminated the rights of a non-public recycling monopoly linked to Nazarbayev’s daughter Aliya.

However, Satpayev argued, the actual fact that Nazarbayev appeared in the video in the first place seems to trace at the route of compromise between the two males slightly than a direct confrontation. At the similar time, specialists say, Tokayev might want to distance himself from Nazarbayev so as to enchantment to the wider public who will probably be anticipating tangible reforms.

“We would quickly see our personal model of the twentieth Celebration Congress,” Satpayev stated, a reference to the 1957 speech given by the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev denouncing Stalin’s cult of personality, which despatched shock waves throughout the Soviet Union.

No matter Tokayev chooses to do, museums like the one present in Shamalgan appear to be a product of a former period, stated Satpayev. “It’s clear his legacy left behind won’t be the one Nazarbayev had in thoughts.”

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