Zhanaozen is close: lessons of Kazakh rebellion for Ukraine

Yruiy Romanenko

Let us try to discuss the reasons of social instability in Kazakhstan and how it correlates to the situation in Ukraine.

We are going to start with statistical data.

Macroeconomic situation in the country is definitely better than in Ukraine.

Within January-October 2011 the Kazakh economy has increased by 7,2%. At the same time during the tenth month monetary incomes of population have increased by 6,8%, while the inflation — by 7%.  Contrary to Ukraine Kazakhstan has foreign trade surplus ($39,8 bil for the first 9 months 2011). It oversteps the last year showings by 41%. Export has increased by 49,9% and totals $65,8 bil., import has increased by 23,5% and totals $26 bil.

From the sociological point of view the situation in Kazakhstan also looked better than in Ukraine. For example, the research made in 2011 in 14 big cities of Kazakhstan shows that social feel of citizens has improved after the beginning of economic crisis and according to the certain characteristics it has improved significantly.

Comparing to the beginning of the year the social feel of citizens has improved 1,4 times (41,9%); adaptation reserves have increased by 1,2 times (85,8%); the level of tolerance has increased by 1,3 times (86,3%).

At the same time comparing the concrete answers to the certain questions you understand that the situation in Kazakhstan is similar to Ukrainian one. Thus, the thesis “I have enough money to purchase food, clothes and public utilities” was approved by 50,4% citizens in big cities. “There is not enough money for public utilities” agreed 18,6%. «There is always lack of money even for the food, we live on credit” said 3,9%. Only 17,5% of Kazakh respondents did not feel difficulties with “purchasing of durable goods” and only 5,1% deny themselves nothing. The correlation between income groups among the city citizens during the last year has almost not changed: low-income — 50,4%, sharp needy — 22,5%, well-provided — 22,6%. Thus about three fourth of the country population belongs to the poor and needy groups. It is very similar to Ukraine.

However the oil Zhanaozen belongs to the rich region of Kazakhstan. Official statistics says that oilmen working there have salary $1500-3000 and this is quite well even for Astana where the average official salary is about $800. Though oilmen stroke and it led to the conflict grew into rebellion.

There were several reasons for that. According to the oilmen the owner of oil field “China Investment Corporation” paid high salaries only on paper. In the reality the oilmen were often bilked out of money, they were hired for the test period and then dismissed without any payments. According to Ainur Kurmanov, one of the leaders of the socialist movement in Kazakhstan, “the labor conflict flared up at the end of the last year when employees started demanding bonuses for hazardous work conditions. People work at depreciated equipment, contact with toxic substances, radiation. There are a lot of death facts because of hydrogen sulfide but the employer hides them thoroughly”.   

«Chinese owners from the corporation «China Investment Corporation», owning 50% shares of oil production at the affiliate company insisted on opening a criminal case against the lawyer and leader of independent labor union committee Natalia Sokolova. The proceedings were instituted under “rouse national hatred”. She was sentenced to 6 yearsimprisonment. One of the key requirements was a release of Natalia Sokolova. But then the employer dismissed 2600 oilmen because they took part in the strike” – said he.

As one of the local citizens wrote in LiveJournal “it was a Chinese management of the company who dismissed the strikers. They pay much more to Chinese workers than to Kazakhs although both do the same work. This is a root of the conflict”.

It is important to stress that “oilfields are given to the foreign companies for a long lease but under the term that the biggest part of the income they transfer to the national budget. Roughly saying – 80% to the state and 20% — to the company. But even these 20% are crazy amount”.

Here is a situation that we pretty often have in Ukraine. Enough to say that in Akhtyrska department of drilling operation which formerly provided half of produced in Ukraine oil there were dismissed 300 workers from 800. The others are also under the threat of layoffs.  At the same time controlling functions over the oil production are fulfilled by the company “Ukrnafta” which is under the direction of the group “Privat”. That is why the main part of profits goes even not to the state but to the oligarch Kolomoysky. Akhtyrsky oilmen have the same problems as Kazakh colleagues – outdated equipment, increased radiation level, water resources exhaustion etc.

That is why the idea that the rebellion in Zhanaozen is supported by some conspiracy powers searching and hunting all over the plant for the future victim, is beneath all criticism. There is present a classical class conflict between hired employees and structures of a big capital and the state behind it. Video, appeared on 21. December in Internet leaves no doubts – people in Zhanoazen were shot down without any sentimentality.   

It results only one conclusion – supporters of conspiracy forget a simple thing – breaking of political systems does not occur at those places where the regime was strong. The attempt to shake the situation in such countries as Singapore or Norway is condemned to failure. The act of terrorism by Breivik in Norway showed it brightly – the royal family and the government has not lost their positions but also strengthened them having revealed to the society the best human qualities in the crisis situation.

That is why the sociologist Pitirim Sorokin was absolutely right when he said “downfall of regime is usually the result of powerlessness and disability of the regime itself to the constructive activity rather than efforts of the revolutionists”.

The wave of instability started before our eyes is being formed under the impact of constantly worsening situation in the world economy. Crisis in Eurozone, uncertainty in American and Chinese economics are forming bad economical weather for 2012.  At the same time the fall in economics radicalizes political agenda at the diverse countries. Political regimes all over the world face smaller amount of resources they need to support the order and stability within their states. This requires the search of compensation mechanisms allowing to keep their nations in obedience. At those countries where it is impossible to do the political systems get into a spin and such social cataclysms as rebellions, revolutions etc. take place.

From this point of view the CIS countries are the ideal space for the birth of unrest. 20 year period for reforming led to the appearance of deformed hybrid regimes with huge social inequality and dominating oligarchy this or that way. All these years the regimes mastered the legacy of USSR but did not create much new by themselves. And even more successful countries as Kazakhstan owning great resources which could allow reducing inequality did not manage to create stable mechanisms for smoothing contradictions and “let off the social steam”. From the other side social misbalance mixes with ethnical, religious, geopolitical and other factors forming explosive mixture which sooner or later explodes the political structure. Sharp growth of terroristic activity in Kazakhstan is turning this country to one more hot spot. At the same time Nazarbaev was trapped into his own regime. Within 20 years he did not manage to create stable institutions who could secure continuity of the power and further development of his project. This leads to a certain discord as Nursultan Nazorbaev seemed to be one of the most intelligent and advanced leader at the territory of CIS countries.  It promises to Kazakhstan and Central Asia nothing but bad as the internal problems of the countries of this region will inevitably involve external more powerful players – Russia, the USA, China, EC, Iran, Turkey who will fight for their resources.

Thus the events in Zhanaozen are not a ring for Ukraine but a bell. Why?

1. Contrary to Kazakhstan Ukraine has worse macro economical showings. If Kazakhstan has proficit in amount 40 bil USD in its trade balance, we have minus 10 bil. Ukrainian power has no oil cushion which it could direct to the securing of interests of the lower classes.

2. In contrast to Nazarbaev, Viktor Yanukovich enjoys significantly less authority and the authority itself possesses very low legitimacy which is decrising at the moment. Deficit of trust is going to be critical in the Ukraine nowadays. Sharp growth of protest activity in 2011 reflects the growing dissatisfaction of the mass and disability to protect own interests within the legitimate field.

3. As opposed to Kazakhstan, Ukraine has wider and more developed middle class and relatively independent mass-media able to provide the consumer with critical information.

4. Contrary to Kazakhstan Ukraine has enough powerful opposition, formal and informal. Its influence will grow as the situation in the country is going worse.

5. As opposed to Kazakhstan, Ukraine has large capital that presents other interests but Presidential ones. Potentially in case of situation destabilization the resources of large capital can agree with the support of counter systematic powers.

6. In contrast to Kazakhstan Ukraine has more interest from the side of big players so the attention to its domestic affairs is more precise. It could lead to the extremely fast fall of external support of the existing regime if there is a rebellion in Ukraine. At the same time the regime of Yanukovich is limited in such a support because of the number of false steps.

The totality of these and those factors makes the prospects to repeat the Zhanaozen’s events more than real. The rebellion cannot be planned out it just happens once. The avoidance of such a situation is possible only in the case if the authority fulfills the real steps to smooth social inequality. Nowadays it sounds like a fantastic utopia.

Research&Branding Group

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