The former Prime Minister of Kazakhstan would like the case of the "former son-in-law of Kazakhstan" to set a precedent and be a lesson for the country as a whole
The Central Asian democratic opposition activist best known in the West is the former Prime Minister of Kazakhstan, Akezhan Kazhegeldin, who was put on trial in absentia in Kazakhstan in September 2001 and sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment. In the summer of 2002, the European Parliament in Strasbourg granted him a "Freedom Passport," issued to those who are recognised as free-thinkers and are persecuted for political reasons in their own countries. Now another fugitive from Kazakh justice, Rakhat Aliyev, is trying to gain similar status in the West, but Akezhan Kazhegeldin is trying to have Aliyev sought throughout the European Union so that he can be put on trial. Is this for personal reasons, or a matter of national significance?
Akezhan Kazhegeldin speaks about this and many other matters in an exclusive interview with Novaya Gazeta - Kazakhstan.
Vitaliy Volkov: Akezhan Magzhanovich [Kazhegeldin], has Kazakhstan moved closer to international norms since independence or moved further away from them?
Akezhan Kazhegeldin: I can't say that Kazakhstan isn't moving at all. When we gained our independence 20 years ago, we got back on the same horse, i.e. the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic, and set off in a completely new direction. All Kazakhs could foresee a large, bright place where there was space for everyone and everyone would have equal opportunities. There were two people riding the horse: Nursultan Abishevich [Nazarbayev] was up front, the people behind him. Every now and then we called over his shoulder to ask where he was taking us. On such occasions he would answer fairly straightforwardly and tell us where we were going. But things have changed drastically over the course of 20 years. A third person got on the horse: Nursultan Abishevich [Nazarbayev] remained, as did the people behind him, but now there was the bureaucracy in between them. The people were shaken further back towards the tail and could no longer shout to the horseman up front. Everything had to go through the third horseman.
So we were heading somewhere but whereas in the past we had thought that we all had a common goal, the various horsemen now had different aims.
The fact that we want to move towards a civilised society is something of a consolation. Our Soviet past and our large neighbour which, for all that happens there, is still a country with a Western way of life, both play a role in this. We have achieved less than we might have. We have lost some things but gained others. We have retained our territorial integrity and statehood. Nobody in the world has any doubt that we are an independent entity.
The Bolsheviks marked 20 years in power with wholesale purges, massacres and Stalinism, which still exerts an influence over Russia's development. The question now is where are we heading: do we carry on falteringly in the same direction or – God forbid – go backwards?
V.V.: But the world has also moved on, and is now in a state of confusion. What seemed self-evident five years ago – focusing on constant economic growth, for example – is now viewed by leading thinkers as something of a dead end. Isn't there a risk that in its haste to catch up with "all of progressive humanity", Kazakhstan will miss the turn that the rest of the world has taken?
A.K.: The good thing about what happened 20 years ago and what is happening now is that we are part of the global world and we couldn't shut ourselves off from it even if we really wanted to. There is a hope that the ability to communicate in the globalised world will change all countries that fall under its influence (like enormous China, which now has 300 million internet-users). That gives me hope that we will move dynamically. The question is how we will rise to challenges. As it turns out, for various reasons, including massive levels of corruption and indiscriminate theft in our large companies, not even the existence of natural resources and the industry left over from the old regime have helped us. It would appear the funds we receive from selling these resources are insufficient. We need to modernise. We don't just need to change the focus of our economy. We need to restructure it completely if we want to live in anything bordering normality. The engine for Europe as a whole is Germany, and not England, for example.
Why is that? Because Germany has hung on to its industry, even if it has to import its natural resources. Unlike our neighbours, we are in a very advantageous position to have a similar type of economy, but the question is whether the country's political elite will be able to work out how to make the most of our stock resources. And then in Kazakhstan people like to talk about a first crisis, a second crisis. They don't exist. Since the start of this millennium, we have been in a state of ongoing political, economic, social and philosophical crisis. Not just in Kazakhstan. The world is pumped full of expectations and is waiting for change. It expects change when it comes to elections in the US, and elections in France. You'd think everything was fine in Germany, but people expect change there too. Japan has gone for modernisation, and people expect change to come from it. Nor can Russia, among the list of political players, get away without change. People expect new ideas from China, reform in India. The Arab world has put the idea of Islamic fundamentalism on the back burner. People there simply want a dignified life. They no longer want stagnant government. And the youth are at the forefront of these movements. These new challenges can't be ignored in Kazakhstan.
V.V.: What is the main challenge facing Kazakhstan?
A.K.: This hateful and unjustified war in Afghanistan will, of course, end with the withdrawal of coalition forces. But who will replace them and what will happen there? Might it not be the same thing that happened when Soviet forces withdrew? How would we live with that, if so? The main challenges facing Kazakhstan at the moment don't come from the East or the West. They come from the South. Society has to be prepared for that, as does our economic potential. We have to choose our strategic partners and allies well.
V.V.: You are currently in Brussels with regard to the so-called "Aliyev Case". His being in Europe is also a consequence of the very globalisation you spoke about. When you, the former Prime Minister of Kazakhstan, came to Europe from your country as a refugee, it was an exceptional case characterised by your being granted a "Freedom Passport". Now there are a number of people in Europe who are being pursued by the Kazakh law enforcement agencies who are vaunting themselves in the West as serious reformers and opposition activists. What does the "Aliyev Case" mean to you and to Kazakhstan?
A.K.: I said in an interview with Deutsche Welle last week that Aliyev has long since taken up standpoints and held economic interests in Europe. Furthermore, he had every good reason to believe that the Kazakh justice system's reputation is thoroughly sullied and that he therefore would not be extradited. After all, he did a lot himself to make sure the law in Kazakhstan was used as a knuckle-duster. If you go through the archives it is easy to see how Aliyev's own actions are directly responsible for this. You can see how administrative law and legal procedures changed. So he should know better than anyone that he can't expect a free and fair trial in Kazakhstan. On the other hand, there has never been a refugee from the CIS like Rakhat Aliyev before. This is a former high-ranking official with extraordinary, multifaceted criminal energy.
But now the victims of Rakhat Aliyev – the people whose rights he violated when in power – have stepped into the picture. A presumption of innocence applies here until he is convicted in Europe. But there are people who accuse him of committing the most terrible crimes. These people live in the EU and are using all legal avenues to show who Mr. Aliyev really is. But it takes a huge effort to initiate criminal proceedings in Europe. At the same time, Aliyev now has the opportunity to prove his innocence in an impartial court in any European country. He is innocent until proven guilty in court.
V.V.: The press have written that you came to Brussels, the political capital of the European Union, to file your own lawsuit against Rakhat Aliyev. Is that true?
A.K.: I understand where that false impression comes from. It comes from the idea that you can go and complain to the authorities and criminal proceedings will be initiated. Things are different in Europe. Luckily for the people living here, Brussels cannot simply dictate to another country how its law enforcement agencies should act. Every country has its own justice system. I haven't yet filed a lawsuit because the jurisdiction hasn't yet been settled. Should the lawsuit be filed in Malta, in Vienna or in another EU country where Aliyev happens to be? I need Brussels' help to answer that question. We're waiting for an answer from the Maltese authorities as to whether he is there and, if so, what his status there is. If they tell us that he isn't there, then we – in this case I mean the lawyers representing Petr Afanasenko and Satzhan Ibrayev – will tell the Austrian authorities that their information regarding Aliyev being in Malta is incorrect and that as Austria was the first country which accepted him, it should declare that he is wanted.
The search for him would then be the responsibility of the authorities, not private individuals. Of course I haven't forgotten that my unfair trial and sentencing were initiated by him! I also want justice to prevail and am therefore seeking jurisdiction in Europe, as Mr. Aliyev is here.
The "Freedom Passport" which you mentioned gives me the right to ask the European institutions for political or legal help whenever I need it. I would like Europe's legal bodies to focus their attention on the fact that Mr. Aliyev should either prove his innocence in an impartial court or be punished if the same court finds him guilty of crimes committed in Kazakhstan. EU countries are obliged to search for people who are directly accused of committing crimes against humanity and that is precisely what a number of victims accuse him of.
V.V.: Is your active role in the "Aliyev Case" down to a worry that he might be used to stir up the situation in Kazakhstan, general hints of which we are already seeing in a whole spate of terrorist attacks and other signs?
A.K.: That's a difficult question, both from a political and legal point of view. As regards stirring up the situation, a lot of money is of paramount importance if there is indeed that motive and desire. In a small country like Kyrgyzstan, where everything is concentrated in the capital, you can destabilise the situation without a lot of money. But in big countries like Kazakhstan, non-political methods of regime change are impossible without it.
That's the theory, at least. But I don't have any facts. My political interest in the "Aliyev Case" lies in him getting his just desserts for actual crimes, and not on trumped up charges, and that this be a precedent and lesson for the country as a whole; you can't violate the constitution or the people's rights because payback in the form of justice will come sooner or later. Justice can catch up with anyone, even beyond their own borders. The world has changed.
V.V.: It's worth pointing out that Rakhat Aliyev has links to the Hourani family, whose members are currently taking legal action against Astana in England, France and the US, and that Aliyev is appearing as a witness defending their position. Yet the press has spoken of direct links between the Houranis and Arab terrorist organisations. What do you have to say on the matter?
A.K.: I don't know anything at all about the Hourani brothers apart from what I see in the files from the High Court in London, the Court of Arbitration in New York and the World Bank Commercial Court in Paris. Going on the testimony Rakhat Aliyev gave to the courts, it would appear that they were successful businessmen in Kazakhstan. I have grave doubts about that. I don't remember their surname featuring amongst the ranks of successful Kazakh businessmen. For what it's worth, nor do I consider Aliyev himself a successful businessman. It is plain to see from the court material that Aliyev missed the "how to live in a free society" lesson at the school of life. His testimony to those courts is full of lies. However, I don't have any facts to hand that would prove links between these people and terrorists. But perhaps it is worth journalists' while exploring that area.
V.V.: What is your solution for reducing corruption?
A.K.: The solution is simple. Sadly, I have to come back to Rakhat Aliyev once again. He worked his way up towards power with one specific goal. He knew that there was no position for him before 2000 but that one might be found, and he had no intention of using the usual political means to get there.
He pushed forward "his people". I have live witnesses who will testify that he also tried to get me to fulfil just such a role, but it didn't work in my case. I was working with Nursultan Nazarbayev and I can say now that we got a lot of things done. It was an incredibly arduous task to break up the USSR in a correct manner, without arguing. Divorce is a terrible thing. It was an extremely complex job, but few people remember that now. People trying to make puppets of state officials were a great hindrance. Aliyev was successful in this. For example, Mr. Musayev, the head of the NSC [National Security Committee], was a puppet 100%. Sadly, some members of the government were also puppets, and in 1998 he managed to start dismantling first economic and then political freedoms. To start with he achieved this by changing commercial laws, the licensing law and so on. The results are plain to see. Which is why I say that the first thing to do is to get bureaucracy out of everyday life as far as possible. Fewer permissive rights, more established rights. The consequence would be less corruption. The second solution sounds easy: strengthen the law. The third is the need for independent courts and to remove the Prosecutor General from investigations. A single body cannot both investigate and oversee. The fourth solution is the citizens themselves and their desire to protect their freedoms. There will always be people who will try to abuse executive power and take authority away from representative government. For that not to happen, they need the democratic press snapping at their heels. We need truly independent newspapers. It is no good if a newspaper or radio station is pro-government, but no better if it is exclusively pro-opposition either.
Journalists are in a very difficult position. Self-censorship, censorship by the editor and censorship by publication-owners have all begun. If we learn to protect our dignity and freedoms, we will have an accountable government.
V.V.: The Kazakh parliament has been dissolved. Does the democratic opposition have a chance of forming part of the next parliament and to what end?
A.K.: The opposition would like to take to the stand too but it's hard to say what their chances are. The greatest problem facing the Kazakh opposition has always been and remains their willingness to unite. This is especially the case when it comes to elections. Ablyazov has resources at his disposal;
he could tell his allies from the Alga and National Front parties to unite with others. There have been discussions along those lines. However, the words have never led to action. But at the end of the day, this isn't just about the opposition! Even the pro-government parties in parliament aren't foreigners;
they're Kazakhs too! They can't not be seeing what's going on in the country and can't just always turn a blind eye to it. I'm sure that a reformist wing is even growing within the ranks of Nur Otan, as one did within the CPSU in its day. I also have a feeling that the President intends to offer the people something new, although I don't want to make predictions. But there is no denying that the world is ripe with expectations of something new, regardless of the system.
V.V.: The Uzbek opposition is currently the most active in Central Asia. A new organisation – the PMU [People's Movement of Uzbekistan] – has been set up and its goals and activities have genuinely shaken Karimov's entourage. But even if it doesn't publicise the fact, the PMU largely falls back on fairly strong Islamic sentiment. Can we therefore draw the conclusion that a Central Asian opposition now has little chance of success unless it takes heed of the Islamic factor against a backdrop of disappointment with western efforts to democratise Afghanistan?
A.K.: In order to cultivate some sort of path to development, whether it is the western path or some other type, society has to be able to communicate freely. The difference between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan is that we both seem to be living in pressure cookers but in Kazakhstan, the president manages to lift the lid every now and then. Things are at boiling point in Kazakhstan, but the lid isn't screwed down. It is a different society. The Islamic factor has always been simmering away below the surface in Uzbekistan and has now boiled over because of overcrowding in the oases and cities. I have a feeling that Uzbekistan could become another Pakistan. There will be a façade of secular government, relying on force, with a huge religious influence on society. If they manage to strike that balance, that will be how life pans out in that country. I can't see any other solution there. Western values will only get through with extreme difficulty. And the preachers who say that Western democracy is rotten to the core and propose an Islamic democracy where everyone is equal and no-one is rich are actually propounding a fairy-tale reality which is 2000 years old. Yet people continue to believe in it. That kind of path might be taken in Tajikistan. But much will depend on what happens once coalition forces are withdrawn from Afghanistan.
A lot will be decided there.
"Novaya Gazeta [New Gazette] – Kazakhstan"