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Tag Archives: Protest

Racism and confusion

Queens, New York

A poor count by both the police and The New York Times greatly underestimated the “Millions March” that took place in New York on Saturday. At least 50k turned up, although participants who hung around, clapped from the sides, and came out of their houses at night in Brooklyn made even that figure seem too low.

I was there with friends, joining chants and carrying signs. It was almost too peaceful, with the crowd respecting the lame opening up of the streets, one block at a time, as if the protest was less important than Christmas shopping. But the tranquil action was accompanied by the enraged voices of those in the crowd, who didn’t always find catchy ways to express their anger. It wasn’t a poetry contest, it wasn’t a stadium.


All came out well and one must expect follow up actions soon, but this is just the backdrop of my reflection here. On the other side of the country, a place that I can claim to know well, something interesting was happening.

In the middle of the UC Berkeley campus, someone hung and displayed effigies of lynched black victims from decades ago with the hashtag #ICantBreathe. At first, passersby were shocked, especially black students, who felt mocked by a disgusting joke. Uninformed observers shouted: “Racism hits one of the liberal capitals of the country!!” as if racism respects zip codes. Others took care of tearing down the effigies and started enquiring about the possible perpetrators.

An art collective came out (without naming names in their flier) and said the action was an artistic, albeit possibly offensive, attempt to link the past and the present, making sure to underline that racism is as systemic now, as it was then.

The identification of the collective as “queer black and POC artists” did not stop critics. “Black and POC have different histories, they can’t claim to have a common history with the slavery era” is the summary of the common reply on twitter. Defining and detailing the identity of those who dared show this “art installation” on academic soil became the pet peeve of observers behind virtual keyboards. They started classifying, cataloguing, and assigning rights of speech. If you’re such-and-such you can say this, otherwise it’s wrong.

I see racism as a political threat, a choice. You’re not born racist, society makes you one (or not, that’s why it’s a choice). Politically it should be countered and called out every time. I agree with the art collective, racism is systemic and knitting past and present together only helps understand the causality and origin of some actions that can be thought of as isolated.

If an art collective of diverse racial background cannot use powerful, borderline-offensive imagery to portray what racism has done and is doing to America, then I shouldn’t have gone to the March. I’m white, why should I hold up a sign that says “Black Lives Matter”? That should be as illogical as a Latino artist hanging up portraits of lynched victims, in the critics’ eye.

Instead, this is ours, of all the people that take a stand. It’s about your political choice, not about your family tree.

Long live Berkeley, where artists are misunderstood and politics are confused.


Street Boy, I Think of You – Part 2

Croton-on-Hudson, NY

Well, Rodriguez has made it into my daily routine. I remember his lyrics, his riffs, his pauses. It’s time to post a review of his second and last album so far, “Coming From Reality”.

There is little doubt that if “Cold Fact” didn’t make it into the US charts, there would be no game for “Coming From Reality“, which came out only one year later in 1971. Rodriguez was playing around in Midwestern bars while Jimi Hendrix was already a legend and the Beatles had already disbanded. Johnny Cash was The Man In Black and Bob Dylan was living his fame. Rodriguez was to become only a musician by night: his new album sold only few copies in the US and his record label dropped him… two weeks before Christmas, as he mentions in “Cause”, although the song was recorded months before the release and the sacking. He would move on to work in factories in pre-crisis Detroit.

“Coming From Reality” is a dark album. There are almost no cheerful lines in Rodriguez’s poetry here. Climb Up on My Music seems a call to the listener, it’s about trust, Rodriguez says: there was a girl named Christmas, / Did I tell ya she drank gold?. Not much sense, just blind trust is what Rodriguez needs from his audience. At least at a first glance. His guitar laments his way into the next track A Most Disgusting Song, which is perhaps the cleverest, reflecting on the craft and the stress of being a musician. The simplicity with which he treats his audience is reflected in the casual name-dropping (Jimmy “Bad Luck” Butts, old playboy Ralph, Mr. Flood, Linda, Tim, Tom, Martha…). The message targets the routine, the dullness, the literally disgusting never-ending present: everyone’s drinking the detergents / that cannot remove their hurts … every night it’s the same old thing / Getting high, getting drunk, getting horny. Then, oh, a sweet love song… about a lost love; I Think Of You is not a song about the break up, but tracks the nostalgic feeling that comes months, years after the end of a relationship. A psychedelic trip starts suddenly thereafter with Heikki’s Suburbia Bus Tour, a crazy ride, with verses that chase each other in a hectic and messy manner: Rodriguez warns to look out for the cops and the itchy trigger fingers, but no-one disagrees that happiness is free on Heikki’s suburbia bus tour ride. A lullaby-like love song turns the mood back to sad-mode: Silver Words? is about the odd feeling of having a chance with the person that made you fall in love. The violin gets introduced by the end of the song and comes back in the next track Sandrevan Lullaby – Lifestyle, back to the real blues, but with string instruments resounding like an orchestra. “America gains another pound / Only time will bring some people around / Idols and flags are slowly melting” – it’s always winter in Rodriguez’s calendar. To Whom It May Concern is actually addressed pretty accurately, despite the title, to those who are waiting for love. The song would thematically fit perfectly in between “Silver Words” and “I Think Of You”. Then It Started Out So Nice throws you into a magic world… of sorrow and melancholy, of course, but still magic. Again some name-dropping, this time mythical: Genji, the Ixea mountains, Orion, etc. From the sea to the skies, it was a great love, remembered with the words of somebody who knows, that love is lost. Coming from fantasy, back to reality, Halfway Up The Stairs is another song about missed opportunities, half-baked ideas, unfinished tasks. Here comes the masterpiece of the album: Cause. From his oft-cited inner city to the local factory, the working class seems to cry through Rodriguez’s voice: Cause they told me everybody’s got to pay their dues / And I explained that I had overpaid them. The album ended here with an Estonian Archangel, Molly McDonald, Willy Thompson, and Annie Johnson, the common names of common people, exceptional figures of the constant, flat present.

Three more songs were added in later editions of the album, particularly in the bootleg version distributed in South Africa, where Rodriguez was a constant feature on the radio (the few allowed tracks) and in basements. I’ll Slip Away, Can’t Get Away and Street Boy are about journeys, of course. In the first track, Rodriguez communicates the uneasiness of conformity and the inability to continue a relationship, be it a sentimental or a political one: Now I’m tired of lying and I’m sick of trying / Cause I’m losing who I really am / And I’m not choosing to be like them. In the second song, Rodriguez explains his origins with a touch of color: Born in the troubled city / In Rock and Roll, USA / In the shadow of the tallest building / I vowed I would break away, but he can’t. Then, my personal favorite, Street Boy, which speaks of a nomadic and innocent life, perhaps naive. The singer gives some grown-up advice to the boy, but acknowledges his need to get away and find himself. The last word is a warning though: you’ll never find or ever meet / Any street boy who’s ever beat the streets.

This concludes my two-part praise of my new favorite musician and songwriter. Click here for the first part and here for more guesses on the meanings of his lyrics.

Street Boy, I Think of You – Part 1

Croton-On-Hudson, NY

I met Rodriguez only three weeks ago, on a lazy post-graduation morning. It shattered my views on American ballads and protest songs in one, jaw-dropping experience. I wanted to watch the documentary Searching for Sugarman for a year, since I saw the poster and the mysterious aura around it in the streets of Tallinn. Only three months ago, I was concentrating on Viktor Tsoy’s Russian lyrics, which are bare-boned and melancholic. Then Rodriguez blew my mind.

Rodriguez, Sixto, Jesus, whatever his name, is better than Bob Dylan, better than Johnny Cash. Who’s Neil Young? Why is Paul Simon not showing up, overshadowing this little known songwriter? How does a blue-collar working man-turned musician (and/or the other way around) get to #1 in someone’s 2014 ranking by releasing only two albums in 1970 and 1971?

The quick answer is: I have no idea, but it did.

I saw the documentary, almost in tears for both the story and the depth of the lyrics in his songs, masterpieces of songwriting. I’m of course not a musician or a songwriter, but my brain and my ears keep exchanging high-fives. Every word is spelled out as if it was the last one coming out of Rodriguez’s mouth. Every song has a rhythm that fits the verses, which are built carefully, like a domino structure: once you hit play, something beautiful unravels. Here’s my take on “Cold Fact“, released by Sussex in March 1970 in the United States, which sold only a few thousand copies until success hit back in the 90s and after the release of the documentary. Thirty minutes of awesomeness buried deep in radio station archives, until better PR got it to the masses.

The repetitiveness of Sugar Man closely resembles the addict hailing the pusher for more. This song is the formal entrance by Rodriguez into your veins. Only Good For Conversation brings you to a harsher sound of protest towards some customary behaviors, more to come, undoubtedly. Crucify Your Mind is the masterpiece: Was it a huntsman or a player / That made you pay the cost / That now assumes relaxed positions / And prostitutes your loss? Again, the entrance punches you at each pause. Then a long title that would never make it through radios, charts, or memories This Is Not A Song, It’s an Outburst: Or, The Establishment Blues, a protest song that reminds me of Simon & Garfunkel’s The Only Living Boy In New York only because it has a better weather-related verse: Public gets irate but forget the vote date / Weatherman complaining, predicted sun, it’s raining […] I opened the window to listen to the news / But all I heard was the Establishment’s Blues – try to get more contemporary than that. Hate Street Dialogue is against the state’s monopoly on the use of violence against its own citizens: A dime, a dollar they’re all the same / When a man comes to bust your game. / The turnkey comes, his face a grin / Locks the cell I’m in again. There’s one or two things Johnny Cash could learn from Rodriguez’s crude images here. Thanks for your time, then you can thank me for mine, that’s the first verse of Forget It, about love that has worn out. No begging, like to the local sugar man, just forget it. Inner City Blues is another angry song which repeats the album title Cold Fact over and over, while building clever braids with lyrics that could make sense even if you listened only to one every two verses. Will it ever all be straight / I doubt it, says Rodriguez, while making again Christian references. Then comes the bass. The supporting band for his first concert in South Africa played the riff for minutes, while the crowd was cheering  their idol, before he could finally open the song with the now-famous verse I WonderI wonder about the love you can’t find / And I wonder about the loneliness that’s mine – an uneasy song, less lyric-focused but an incredibly catchy tune. Like Janis is again a great ballad with snappy and clever verses that are better served with the music. A bit more disturbing to the ear is Gommorah (A Nursery Rhyme) is a surprising blues track with an actual nursery rhyme within. Help your kids to dream with a Biblical tale about hate, says Rodriguez. Once more, a protest song follows. Rich Folks’ Hoax has an ironic take on the class-system: Rich folks have the same jokes / And they park in basic places. Jane S. Piddy is a weird song that will be repeated in its concept in the second album. Among incredibly poetic lyrics, random name-dropping happens. Who are all these people, nobody knows and nobody cares, I guess that’s the message.

I saw my reflection in my father’s final tears
The wind was slowly melting, San Francisco disappears
Acid heads, unmade beds, and you Woodward world queers

If this has not been enough for you, then don’t bother to wait for the next post, which will take on Rodriguez’s second and last (so far) studio album.

Acephalous Violence is Beheaded again in Kazakhstan

I have been writing this article over the course of a week. Partially because of my phisical move from San Francisco (my last activity at the Java Café on Ocean Avenue) to Oakland (the first effort in a house that keeps getting busier with much needed stuff). But also because the unraveling of the events shows how illusive is the first set of news that pops up from the papers. I guess Gutenberg was not happy of the first sheet that came out of his press. And he didn’t even write the Bible! Nowadays, instead, we read freshly-puked articles from mainstream media as if they were the Bible. Why not getting a new perspective, or just imagine there is another one?

San Francisco and Oakland (on the move), California

(a) The Logo for the Celebrations

Kazakhstan has been independent from the late Soviet Union for 20 years now. It has become the friendliest post-Soviet economy for the West and has actively participated in many international organizations. In the past couple of years, it has diversified its hydrocarbon export routes and has developed a great international reputation in the energy sector (including nuclear). Power is firmly in the hands of Nursultan Nazarbayev and his extended family since 1987 and nobody questions it. There is a caste system that dates back to the pre-Imperial Russia period and only thanks to a presidential push, the Kazakh language is spreading within all sectors of society – although the diplomatic community speaks Russian. From the West, the view of this immense country  is filtered through dollar-shaped lenses and dazed by the smell of oil. Only the facility of filing taxes, just a touch away from your mobile phone [1], and the convenient investment environment for foreign firms have drawn attention.

Welcome to the Nineties

Kazakhstan is the country where Chevron could lead a consortium of firms for the exploitation of the “giant” oilfield in Tengiz (see green pin on the map below), the contract being signed i 1993, just over a year after independence, with negotiations starting already in 1988. Later in the Nineties, TengizChevrOil was the leading force pushing for th first privately-owned pipeline project in the post-Soviet space, the Caspian Pipeline Consortium, which saw the light in 2001, linking Tengiz with the Russian port of Novorossiisk. The OECD was fast in labeling Kazakhstan among the fastest transitioning countries, allowing presence of western firms and holding seemingly “contested” elections. However, Nazarbayev knew that a full-fledged laissez faire approach would have pleased the West and risen tension among its neighbors, chiefly Russia, headed by Nazarbayev’s personal adversary, Boris Yeltsin.

(b) December 16, 2011 – An Arc de triomphe replica is unveiled in Astana.

When Kozyrev the “Westernizer” left Moscow’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to make room for Primakov, Nazarbayev understood that the time was ripe for a clear sign of detachment from the giant neighbor. When Moscow unveiled that the presence of many Russian citizens – who were provided passports during the first half of the Nineties – could become an anchor for revanchist programs, [2] Nazarbayev acted decidedly and in 1997 moved the capital city from Almaty (Alma Ata) to Aqmola, in the Aqmolinsk province [3], renamed Astana, “capital”, for the occasion. The northbound move was a clear sign of Kazakhstan’s unwillingness for any attempt of annexation, not just an emulation of Ataturk’s abandonment of Istanbul and its spiritual charge, in favor of the more secular Ankara.

The 1998 crisis that hit the Russian Federation mitigated the revanchist threat on Kazakhstan. Western development programs were at pace and easily shaped the institutional friendliness of a country in much need for customers to buy its immense energy endowment.

2000s: The Party is Over and Mixed Emotions Arise

Around the turn of the century, while Putin was rising to power in Russia, an exploration off the Kazakh Caspian coasts prospected the existence of a relevant oil basin. Kashagan became the new Tengiz and foreign firms jumped on their boats and poured money in for winning the bid to administer the project. The western excitement, however, was to be countered by a novel strong stance by Kazakh authorities in terms of natural resources ownership. In 2002, the various state-owned agencies that were assigned with energy-related tasks fused into a single body, KazMunaiGaz, chaired by Nazarbayev’s son-in-law, Timur Kulibayev [for a recent update, see below]. This move created an energy ogre that became the main interlocutor for foreign firms to secure contracts in the Kazakh territory. Moreover, in 2005 Kazakhstan scrapped the Production Sharing Agreement legislation and became more hostile to foreign intervention, especially in the energy realm.

Meanwhile, the Parliament put forward the proposition to grant Nazarbayev lifetime presidency. Nursultan Abishevich’s NUR-OTAN party was in control of the national assembly, of the polls, of every election, and it had already suggested that the capital were renamed Nursultan, but the president himself called for a de-personalization of Kazakh politics, to counterbalance the Turkmen example. As though it wasn’t plain and clear that there was only a few, related individuals in charge of the fate of the country.

OSCE finally admitted that electoral results with 90% or more of all casted votes in favor of just one party or one person were not to be labeled “free and fair”. However, its retaliation was to defer by two years its gift to Astana: the Vienna-based organization honored Nazarbayev with the first post-Soviet chairmanship in 2010.

Oil Workers: When Were We Socialist?

(c) The Coat-of-Arms of the Kazakh SSR

Socialism was superimposed in the lands of post-Tsarist Russia as a natural consequence of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. However, a few countries in the Caucasus and Central Asia had seized the opportunity of the fall of the Romanov dinasty and created their own independent sovereign states. These were “taken back” by St. Petersburg shortly after and to their administration, the Politburo often assigned native Russian cadres. Without attachment to the population and in direct contact with the central organization of the USSR, the local secretaries were in charge of administering the division of labor within the Union, which became stricter and faster-paced with Stalin’s plans, especially around the period of the Second World War. While Khrushschyov was rising to power, Leonid Brezhnev, the future Party Secretary, was assigned the highest post in Kazakhstan. The Khrushchevian “Virgin Land policy” accompanied by Brezhnev’s corrupt practices initiated a whirlwind mechanism that brought in a strong re-personalization of local politics in Central Asia and a rigid and corruption-ridden economic structure. Dinmukhamed Kunayev became the uncontested leader of the Kazakh Communist Party for decades upon Brezhnev’s departure to Moscow.

The fundamental question here is where to find Socialism, with capital “S”, within the experience of Soviet Kazakhstan. How and when did Kazakh workers emancipate themselves from the alienation typical of industrial economic relations?

To such a question posed by my Socialist imaginary interlocutor, I would respond in historical terms. Kazakhstan has been dominated by “hordes”, nomad dinasties descending from Mongol tribes that were charged, throughout history of different degrees of prestige. Upon annexation to the Russian Empire, tribal politics faded away, given the little of emphasis posed on it by Russian governors. Tribal politics however, managed to survive the neutral “Soviet” and “Kazakhstani” periods when the law did not treat citizens differently according to the horde they belonged to. In fact, today, even without a formal legal framework, a much stronger caste system permeates the Kazakh society.

Kazakh has also been the “storage compartment” for chemical, spatial, and nuclear industries, which constantly called for skilled Soviet labor, – besides Russians, many Ukranians and Germans settled in the northern regions, especially near the Baikonur cosmodrome – and for dissidents from the Caucasus, who, shortsightedly, hailed as liberators the Nazi army during the battle in Stalingrad and were sent to labor camps in the Kazakh steppes. St. Petersburg and Moscow have in turn operated as the deus ex-machina of the fate of the land of the Kazakhs, especially in terms of the working class.

When Marx was writing about his solution of the contradictions of capitalism, he had in mind English factory workers, not nomad peasants and foreign skilled workers installed in a man-made industrial complex. Lenin could not have forseen this either, notwithstanding his comprehensive study of the peasant question, because he came from a very European environment. What is here to be argued about what came to be “the Kazakh working class” is that it has never seen an original institution and the atomization of the country has led to a very stable country united under the flag of the main party NUR-OTAN and the figure of Nazarbayev, who was able to build a widespread cult for his persona and to become the dear leader of Kazakhstan.

(d) NUR-OTAN – Nazarbayev’s Party

The workers have had little chances to organize and to grow an understanding of their condition, especially in the oilfields. There, skilled workers earn from three to four times as much as the national average wage and are often protected by the immense structure of multinational corporations, who act as benevolent giants, as long as they can extract oil without hassle. The difficulties in building a class conscience has brought to a imperceptible movement against the violation of human rights and liberties that this one-man regime carries out every day, not least the very right to protest. One fact is certain: there has never been any hint of Socialism in Kazakhstan.

To draw a similitude, independent Kazakhstan at 15-20 can be compared to the People’s Republic of China at 50-60. There, dissent with the established power framework is causing riots and protests that are unknown to the media and of which there probably is no record. However, the protest is acephalous: a political direction of the struggle is lacking, and what is hailed as “democratic opposition” in the West is generally driven by wealthy businessmen that only maintain the objective of overthrowing the established power to replace the political figures with more friendly allies. [4] Meanwhile, there are widespread corruption and nepotism tackling workers’ rights with a clear distinction between local manpower and foreign skilled contractors – which has enhanced social unrest within the working class (see below).

In the Press and in Academia

On the day that marked Kazakhstan’s 20 year anniversary of the independence from the Soviet Union, clashes between workers and the police erupted in Zhanaozen, an oil town on the eastern shore of the Caspian sea (see yellow pin on the map below). At least 14 people are reported killed in the incidents, many more were injured and over 70 were arrested. The official source of information in Kazakhstan, KazInform has also pointed out that 46 sites were “looted and burned” during the mass protests, including one house pertaining to the director of the operating company UzhenMunaiGaz.

(e) – An Image from the Protest

One of the President’s Aides told the press that “All citizens of Kazakhstan condemn the events in Zhanaozen”, seizing the role of people’s spokesman. The Federation of Trade Unions, in cahoots with the structure of power, released a declaration condemning the incidents and assuring that none of their affiliates took part in “inconstitutional and illegal actions”. Kazakh authorities labeled protesters with the much worn Russian term хулиган, “hooligan”, often used to address naughty children, and established a three-week long state of emergency in the town. It must be noted that, during the clashes, state authorities acted with with an extraordinary firm fist against the spread of violence. Notably, “Kazakh telecommunications firm Kazakhtelecom turned off social media site Twitter, while phone service in Zhanaozen was reported to be unpredictable.”

(f) The Riot in Tengiz

Protests had arised in 2004 in the Caspian oilfield of Tengiz, and later in 2006, when oil workers from Kazakh origin came to clash with Turkish workers, all employed by the TengizChevroil consortium. This ethno-international confrontation was not a single case in Kazakh-Turkish relations [5]. Hardly just a personal quarrel, it is a sign of the careless approach to labor issues when multinational ventures are assigned energy projects in countries with lax legislation on workers’ rights. It is unsurprising then that in Nazarbayev’s latest condemnation of the Zhanaozen protests, he referenced the oralmany, ethnic Kazakhs from other countries, and asked them to “be grateful to the state.” [6] It is clear that more than an Arab Spring- or terrorist-inspired uprising, the government is trying to play the card of Kazakh authenticity in order to placate the spirits in the country.

Western and the Russian-based media, for different reasons, aim at the same objective. Kazakhstan is a good partner only when it is 100% stable. The first sign of instability triggers very harsh language, acrobatic comparisons, and evergreen allegations. The US Department of State did not hurry, but resolved to condemn the violence three days after, although with much more caution than the OSCE. RIA Novosti titled that the clashes could be a product of the Arab Spring, however fortunately the article itself was a much more clever read. European and American newspapers throw the “terrorism” buzzword in order to make up for their lack of understanding of such a remote region in their readers’ minds.

Thanks to a native scholar, Adil Nurmakov, we learn who financed the organization of the protest from behind the scenes. Mukhtar Ablyazov is a businessman that co-founded an opposition party in 2001, the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan, and was then arrested in 2002 and sat through a very political trial. Authorities released him after three months of prison upon the promise-obligation that Ablyazov would not be involved in politics anymore (the DCK was dissolved in 2005). The newspaper Respublika and the TV station K+ are directly linked to him and were the only source of information for the Zhanaozen events. How impartial this source could be is for the reader to judge. Be it possible to draw a middle line between governmental news agencies and not-so-democratic opposition, we would live in a logical, almost mathematical world. Alas, we cannot and our judgement must remain devoid of any quick resolution.

[UPDATE] To further blur the picture that many consider perfectly clear in the past few days Nazarbayev has decidedly beheaded the giant holding Samruk-Kazyna, which controls KazMunaiGaz and was chaired by his son-in-law Kulibayev. Dinara Nazarbayeva (or Kulibayeva, depending to the occasion), one of the most influential Central Asian women according to RFE-RL, must be very disappointed seeing her husband and future leader of the country being sacked just like two KMG board members after the Zhanaozen riots. The president perhaps thought that by giving a clear signal of holding the bridle, the raged horses rampaging the streets of western Kazakhstan would be hindered from more action.

The Headless Chicken Keeps on Running

Something holds true however. There is increasing unrest in many countries where capitalism has failed to concede enough protections to those that are being exploited. Capitalism has learned the lesson of crisis management and, due to the apt use of Cold War rhetorics, it has survived the most dire crises throughout the XX century. Nonetheless, debates within business, academic, and political circles seem to prove that capitalism has forgotten the lesson. The hurriedly defined “Arab Spring” [7], the “OccupyWallSt” movement, the white collar protests in Moscow illuminated by the LED light of twittering smartphones, and the Zhanaozen clashes are all offsprings of the same uneasy sentiment. An unconscious class is rising up against the financial system, the great protagonist of the post-Berlin wall era. An economy alienated by itself, where money is generated by money, has provoked a mass discontent vis-a-vis political structures that are unable to sustain themselves through election and welfare.

Where will this bring us to? A graphic similitude can be individuated between the protests and chickens that keep scurrying even after having had their heads cut off. This everlasting period of crisis hinders our ability to stop and think, gather together and design a better world. When you are striving for your daily share of bread or rice, it becomes very hard to reason on of the best way to end inequalities and reach a happy life among happy people. And, what’s worse, there is no room for confrontation and discussion in the highest form. It becomes very hard to share ideas on what to do and how to organize in order to transform will into action. Therefore, we witness confused and disconnected protests that the media is trying to tie back together but in fact have each a peculiar root. Should we finally realize that it is not the single issue but the whole system that is rotten and needs a revolution – in the scientific definition of the term – then we could finally understand that the path to follow has always been in front of our, shortsighted eyes.


[1] From a private conversation with a Kazakh diplomatic officer in Washington DC, March 2011.

[2] See  writings by Aleksandr Solzhenitsin (! – yes, the one known and praised in the West for writing “Gulag Archipelago”), Sergei Karaganov, Andranik Migranian, and Igor Ivanov.

[3] Interestingly, Aqmola means “white tombstone” in Kazakh and was renamed Tselinograd during the Soviet occupation. After regaining the original Kazakh name, Nazarbayev thought it would be nicer to change the name of the prospective capital in something more pleasant than marble-for-graves. This is where the name Astana, directly translating into “capital”, was drawn from. Too bad that, as it always happens in such complex, bureaucracy-ridden states, the name of the province could not be changed. Just like today’s St. Petersburg, Russia’s western jewel mounted in the Leningrad region, Astana lies in the Aqmolinsk province. The permanence of old jurisdiction names led to an awkward consequence for the “capital” of Kazakhstan, which sits in the “white tombstone”.

[4] See the cases of Khodorkovsky in Russia and Tymoshenko in Ukraine.

[5] See Saulesh Yessenova, her article on Central Asia – Caucasus Analyst “Worker Riot at the Tengiz Oilfield: Who Is To Blame?”, February 21, 2007 and her chapter “Tengiz Crude: A View from Below” in Boris Najman, Richard Pomfret, and Gael Raballand (Eds.), The Economics and Politics of Oil in the Caspian Basin: The Redistribution of Oil Revenues in Azarbaijan and Central Asia, Routledge, London, 2008.

[6] Source: Twitter account of Nate Schenkkan, @nateschenkkan

[7] Don’t read this article, please. It is a juvenile ethnocentric attempt at individuating an “Arab Spring” offspring in such undefined and incoherent protests in Kazakhstan.

Photo Credits:

(a) (d) KazInform

(b) kjfnjy album on

(c) Wikipedia