Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 119

Kazakhstan’s media are relatively free of censorship–at least, by comparison with those of Central Asian countries such as Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Recent measures, however, may threaten the media’s modus vivendi with the authorities. On April 30, Prosecutor General Yuri Khitrin announced that he was launching criminal proceedings against the media for publishing material that discredits the honor and achievements of the Republic and “defames various citizens, state institutions and officials.” The media are also, Khitrin claimed, guilty both of disseminating pornography and racist propaganda, and of engaging unauthorized advertising. (Karavan [Almaty], May 8)

Khitrin’s complaints follow the appearance of two particularly controversial articles in Kazakhstan’s most popular weekly newspaper, the Russian-language Karavan. In March, Petr Svoik, leader of the leftist opposition movement Azamat, published an article in which he questioned Kazakhstan’s ability to survive as an independent state. Titling his article “Kazakhstan and Russia: A New Union?,” Svoik argued that Kazakhstan is fated to dependence on Russia, not least because of “the likely revival of Russian political and business interests in Kazakhstan which would strengthen the role there of Russian parties and the Russian mass media.” (Karavan [Almaty], March 20) Svoik’s article attracted special attention because of its criticism of President Nursultan Nazarbaev and its allegations that the Kazakhstani authorities are building an ethnocratic state. Khitrin has since complained that Svoik’s article represents “a threat to destroy our state.” (Focus Central Asia [Almaty], June 16)

Karavan also aroused controversy with another article, published in April, which consisted of extracts from a new book by former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin. In it, Kazhegeldin disparaged Kazakhstan’s leadership for its tendency toward “weak authoritarianism” incompatible, in his view, with an open economy. The present regime, Kazhegeldin stated, threatens the country with “economic and political collapse.” (Karavan [Almaty], April 24)

The prosecutor general is now urging the Ministry of Interior to set up a committee of experts–consisting of historians, philosophers and philologists–to analyze what he deems are controversial texts appearing in the republic media. Meanwhile, Khitrin said, he does not favor the closure of Karavan. He will instead urge the courts to impose a substantial fine on the newspaper. (Focus Central Asia [Almaty], June 16) –SC

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