At the Vienna-hosted inaugural session of the OSCE Permanent Council on 14th January, Nursultan Nazarbayev, the president of Kazakhstan, currently chairing the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, addressed its participants in a video to air the republic’s top priorities as the Organization’s chairman. In short, Kazakhstan’s chairmanship will be based on four T’s: trust, traditions, transparency and tolerance.

It goes without saying the essence of these concepts is lofty, ambitious and topical for the world community. However it should be noted that Astana is assuming OSCE office amid controversial tendencies. Ahead of the event European media aired a lot of information presenting Kazakhstan as a state with a stiff police regime and its political leadership as democracy’s “choker”.

Photo: Bayterek Astana by Deniza Chalbash

Photo: Bayterek Astana by Deniza Chalbash

Such a statement hardly helps those adequately assessing political processes when it comes from parties with only a superficial knowledge of the situation in the country deemed as the Central Asian leader. With access to information about Kazakhstan limited, it is difficult to assess objectively the reality of the situation and the extent to which an overly active imagination has added fabrication to the truth. Undoubtedly such publications are damaging and likely to be the result of purposeful activities from various opponents now settled in Western Europe with only one topic on their agenda. It is also difficult to understand to what extent such opposition comes from genuine “political refugees” rather than those who have fled from punishment for crimes within their own country and for which they should be held accountable for. Many such people are often well-to-do, having previously held key positions in the political establishment for a long time with access to raw materials or financial resources that they “efficiently” tapped for their own benefit thereby breaching the law. Their present attempts to damage the republic’s image might simply be retaliation for their own personal losses as a result of having been discovered. If this is the case, it is difficult to judge the credibility of their arguments against an “undemocratic” nation.

It is a peculiar anomaly, if indeed Kazakhstan’s human rights situation is so deplorable, that the Madrid summit of OSCE member states unanimously backed Kazakhstan’s chairing bid in December 2007. Given this fact there must be a great degree of legitimacy behind Kazakhstan’s election from a panel of experts. Often the sensationalists win over such legitimacy, it does, after all, make for a good newspaper story. Not so long ago an apparently biased article “The wolf was set to guard the sheep” in “Tageszeitung” (04.01.10) once again raised an allegedly political persecution of Yevgeniy Zhovtis, a human rights activist well-known in the republic. The issue is often mooted by European media unwilling to consider the fact that Zhovtis killed a man in a road traffic accident. Such offences are subject to criminal responsibility and not only in Kazakhstan. Why so much excitement then? And why does the European media ignore entirely the noteworthy initiatives of the legitimate leadership of the country chairing the OSCE? Clearly there is a gap to be closed from both sides in order to understand the truth and enable independent observers to form their own judgement.

Photo: Round Square - KazMunaiGaz building by Anastacia Lee

Photo: Round Square - KazMunaiGaz building by Anastacia Lee

First we must consider why Kazakhstan was chosen to take up its chairmanship in the first place. At the Vienna session of the OSCE Permanent Council Kazakhstan’s role was clearly defined as being one to make a more sizeable input in regional and global security and promote a substantial rapprochement of the states east and west of Vienna. According to Kanat Saudabayev, Kazakhstan state secretary and foreign minister, the so-called Corfu process is to be developed in this context as well as Russia’s initiative to work out a Treaty on European security. Moreover, Astana is in favor of speedier solutions of “protracted conflicts”. In this connection the OSCE chairperson-in-office is set to pay his first visit this February to South Caucasus states. Kazakhstan must attempt to bring its own knowledge and experience of conflict, as a previously external observer, to achieve these goals where other Western European states have failed in the past. Perhaps it is time for a new approach from a fast-growing new player in the region.

Kazakhstan’s chairmanship has also been tasked to combat illicit drug trafficking, countering terrorism and other modern challenges. Taking into account the experience of former chairmanships’ the republic intends to closely cooperate with the Action against Terrorism Unit of the OSCE secretariat, provide donor backing to separate projects and facilitate thematic workshops’ running. Astana Conference on terrorism prevention is viewed as a basic event in this direction. The words are clear and sensible and Kazakhstan is positioning itself as a new mediator, where the foreign bodies it must consult and negotiate with have little previous negative interactions with the republic to prevent co-operation and progress. It is a bold move by the OSCE but one which could bring about great positive change to the region.

Today’s concept of European security is far beyond the bounds of the continent, it covers the vast space of Eurasia. Given this, one of Kazakhstan’s chairing priorities will be tackling the Afghan problem. The situation in this country is viewed through the prism of global security and Kazakhstan’s growing influence in Central Asia as well as its contacts and connections is a powerful tool to helping the Afghans transform their war-battered state into a peaceful, efficient and independent society based on democratic principles and values. The international conference on Afghanistan, hosted in London during January, was an important step in this direction. Additionally, Kazakhstan has been providing hefty humanitarian aid during the past years and is now training thousands of Afghans in civil professions at its universities. To this end Astana has allocated $50m despite the aftermaths of the world financial crisis.

Amongst the “second basket” priorities, the most topical is the third Astana economic forum this July devoted to “Crisis lessons and a post-crisis model of economic development in terms of globalization”, discussions of the Aral region problem, migration and energy security. All of these are important issues for Europe’s continued security, which are effectively on Kazakhstan’s doorstep and into which it has a great role to play.

The human dimension remains one of the current chairmanship’s uttermost priorities. The republic aired its preparedness for close interaction with ODIHR/OSCE, High Commissioner on national minorities and representatives on the freedom of media. In this vein a top-level Conference on tolerance and non-discrimination is to be held in Astana during 29-30 June and will certainly make a sizeable input in strengthening the interactions of various cultures and civilizations. In addition Kazakhstan has focused on people trafficking issues, especially with children, a problem that is steadily growing and turning into transnational crime. Kazakhstan has offered to discuss better mechanisms for fighting these evils in one of the OSCE human-dimension sessions. Along with the annual Warsaw Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, a conference on the 20th anniversary of the Copenhagen Document, co-sponsored by Kazakhstan, will include a review on performance of commitments to observation of fundamental human rights and freedoms, those of ethnic minorities and elections.

Nazarbayev’s offer to convene an OSCE summit is deemed as a most important task of the current OSCE chairmanship. It was unambiguously stated at the Athens CFM last December by K.Saudabayev, ‘We are aware this is not a simple task. But according to the great Sir Francis Bacon, “all rising to a great place is by a winding stair’”.

As Nazarbayev said in his video address to the Vienna-meeting participants, “the Organization’s positive historical resource has its limits”. Its member-states’ task is to make the OSCE more sought-after, efficient and renowned in the light of new challenges. Kazakstan’s priorities are topical for the world community and appear to be a more logical guide in achieving the goals of the OSCE than the dirty tricks of political outsiders. Of course, words and actions are two very different things and Kazakhstan has a long way to go to achieve its ambitions, but no-one can argue that if it succeeds it will lay the foundations for a brighter and more secure future for us all.

Author: Nick Rowan