Kazakstan: Soviet Tactics Making Comeback

Government appears to be resorting to old-style Soviet methods to keep the population and the opposition in line.

Kazakstan: Soviet Tactics Making Comeback

Government appears to be resorting to old-style Soviet methods to keep the population and the opposition in line.

Natalya Petrova was shocked when the Almaty authorities told her they were refusing to register her at her new address in the city because she hadn't subscribed to the region's official newspaper.

The municipal service worker had recently bought a house in the former capital, and had no idea that she was obliged to buy the local paper, Ogni Alatau, to keep her bosses happy.

The publication publishes mainly official information and often reprints lengthy legal documents. Its circulation has significantly declined over the years - its print run is now around 12,500 copies.

Official newspapers are facing similar problems across the former Soviet republic, and this has led to the practice of "forced subscription", where state employees are pressured into purchasing official publications whether they want them or not.

One teacher at the al-Farabi Kazakstan State University, who did not want to give her name, told IWPR that none of her colleagues read the titles they're obliged to buy. "I don't bother with them because you can't get truthful word from their pages - yet my money is used to fund them," she said.

Tamara Kaleeva, the president of the Adyl Soz international foundation for protecting freedom of speech, voiced her concerns about the practise. "Forced subscription was a remnant of the Soviet past, and is now on the rise. Poor state employees are very angry about the whole thing."

Democratic Choice of Kazakstan, DCK, member Guljan Ergalieva called the ruse "mass extortion" which meant "that we have no rights and freedom to choose what information we receive".

Independent journalist Andrei Sviridov sees it as a sign that the state media is on the run. "The practise is pitiful," he said. "It suggests that these publications and their owners - the authorities - have realised that they are unable to compete with non-governmental media."

As well as forcing official publications on workers, there is also evidence that the authorities trying to mobilise the nation's youngsters. Speaking at the Congress for Kazakstan Youth, held in the capital Astana on November 13, President Nursultan Nazarbaev said, " Young people make up a third of the country's population, and because of their energy they can be an important force in all social and political reforms," he said.

Independent political scientist Maxim Shevchenko is concerned by Nazarbaev's eagerness to unite young people around him. "It seems he wants to encourage them to accept government policies - it was a typical Soviet-era tactic," he said.

DCK press secretary Vladimir Kozlov told IWPR that the authorities are using one particular youth organisation - Talapker [university entrant] - to put pressure on the opposition.

He claims this was evident last year when members of Talapker opposed a demonstration in Almaty, called by opposition groups demanding the resignation of the current regime.

The same group also participated in a pro-government rally two months later - which other students were apparently forced to attend - and could be heard chanting, "We are the youth of Kazakstan, and we support our president Nursultan Nazarbaev!"

Analysts say they're concerned about the forced subscription to government publications, but they're far more worried about the authorities' eagerness to recruit politically inexperienced young people.

"The opposition can attract youngsters to its ranks with democratic slogans," Shevchenko told IWPR. " The authorities see this as a potential danger and are clearly trying to do something about it."

Evgenia Sidorova is an independent journalist in Kazakstan.

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