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Kazakhstan: The fight goes on
Workers' leaders will not be cowed by persecution
Elizabeth Clarke recently made a visit to Kazakhstan. There she met with the leaders of 'Kazakhstan 2012', the increasingly well-known movement that unites workers and communities in struggle across the length and breadth of the country, and workers and campaigners.
Extracts from an article by her are carried below. A full version is available on socialistworld.net, the website of the Committee for a Workers' International.
Hardly a day goes by in Kazakhstan without a protest, a court case, a press conference or a planning meeting involving the leaders of the resistance movement against the dictatorship of president Nazarbayev.
A worried regime resorts time and again to repression; the movement fights back on every issue. On 24 June four women were in court for leading an illegal protest. On 25 June journalists at the state news agency, denied pay for months on end, announced a strike. On 26 June, when a street demonstration in Almaty in support of miners was banned, a meeting was held and press statements made.
On all such occasions 'Kazakhstan 2012' issues a press release in support; sometimes it holds a press conference.
Its target is to remove from power the apparently all-powerful president, Nazarbayev, in or before the year the next election is due.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev boasts of tremendous progress being made in the Kazakh economy. In a (very expensive) six page advertising supplement of the International Herald Tribune on 2 June he wrote of a fast-growing GDP, low public debt levels and falling unemployment.
Tell that to the millions without any stable employment or income in Kazakhstan, facing mounting prices on essential goods and with massive housing debts resulting from the 'credit crunch' crisis!
In the early years of this century, workers and middle class people, including small, close-to-the-margin businesses and traders, were bombarded with offers of what amounted to sub-prime loans and mortgages.
Now, since the credit bubble burst, their dreams have turned to nightmares. They find themselves owing ten times more than they borrowed in the first place!
In mid-June we met men and women of the movement in the city of Shimkent. Angry women regaled us with tales of what they called their 'folly'. "But why should we be taken to court to pay up, or told to get out of our houses, some of which we have not even finished building, when the bankers have had massive hand-outs from the government?"
In a warm and lively meeting, events in Europe were touched on and the women identified immediately with the plight of the Greek workers.
They spoke of their fight for justice and a different life. "For a while, some of our women who could not cope were taking their own lives. There were said to be over 1,000 in one city suffering from a kind of depression known as 'mortgagee syndrome'.
Then we organised and began to get victories. Now we fight every case to the end and will not give up."
"The old system was better than today's 'market-place'. We had free schooling, free medicine and hospitals, low cost flats and controlled prices of basic goods.
Of course we had Stalin then. It would be better if we had all that without dictatorship!" So why not? One woman simply said, "Lenin got it right. We need revolution!"
A medical worker building an independent union pleaded with the visiting speakers, including Ainur and Esenbek from Kazakhstan 2012, to give an idea of how to take the struggle further than just the mass movement and new trade unions.
Igor from Moscow explained clearly the need for a mass workers' party and the struggle for socialism internationally.
In Almaty, too, there are fearless women involved in almost daily protests demanding the annulment of their debts and the right to keep their homes.
Women are less likely to get imprisoned than men, but they can be taken to court and fined.
On 9 June an unstoppable force of over 100 women stormed the headquarters of the ruling party, Nur Otan.
Identical protests were held in two other cities at the same time. They got press and TV coverage for their noisy and colourful demonstration. They promised to return if they got no satisfactory reply, and they did return!
The following week, on yet another demo, they dangled noodles from their fingers and ears in a traditional manner of pointing out and mocking liars.
Four of their number got arrested and charged with unlawful behaviour. When they were brought up in court, they made fun of the whole procedure, pretending to be unable to hear the charges against them and unable to speak in response! The officials shook with rage and handed down totally arbitrary fines.
The women make light of their struggle and seem actually to enjoy it, but every day they are risking their homes, their livelihoods, their liberty and their health.
They are proud of their achievements and have no intention of giving up the struggle. There is more on the CWI web-site about the struggle of the miners, the campaigns for independent unions, the government's repression and relentless harassment of activists.
The movement against the Nazarbayev regime and against capitalism in Kazakhstan is gathering momentum.
Kazakhstan 2012 has at least 10,000 of the 40,000 members needed to formalise a political party. They have a youth wing - 'Zhastar 2012' - and are reaching into every corner of the country with their political and trade union campaigns.
But they face a brutal enemy. When activists are physically attacked and jailed, as they have been on many occasions and will be again, messages and protests are of vital importance.
And they do have an effect. All the activists in the movement in Kazakhstan deeply appreciate the support and solidarity from abroad.