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Commissioners Voice Concern Over Condition of Democracy in Kazakhstan

WASHINGTON — “We view the situation regarding democracy in Kazakstan with great concern,” said Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), “and that’s with a capital C.” Smith was responding to the testimony of Bolat Nurgaliev, Ambassador from the Republic of Kazakstan to the United States, wherein Nurgaliev laid out the official position of the Government of Kazakstan.

Despite assurances from the Ambassador that elections have been and would be democratic, the media are independent, and that Kazakstan is building a free market, Chairman Smith and the other attending Commissioners were skeptical.

“I’ve read your statement that commits to democracy and a free and open economic system.” said Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD). “Clearly that cannot be accomplished in a unitary system. But I must emphasize that the impression amongst the members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is that there is not an open system in Kazakstan, but a closed one.”

Commissioner Rep. Michael P. Forbes (R-NY) said, “ I share my colleagues’ concerns. While I appreciate the economic advances of the last few years in Kazakstan, true democracy is not reflected in Kazakstan’s actions. You need more openness.”

Ambassador Nurgaliev followed Ross Wilson of the State Department who also voiced concerns about recent developments in Kazakstan, but was hopeful that U.S. cooperation with Kazakstan in democracy building would bear fruit.

Also testifying were two opposition politicians and one human rights advocate from Kazakstan: Akezhan Kazhegeldin, former Prime Minister of Kazakstan and Chairman of the Republican Party; Pyotr Svoik, Chairman of Azamat; and, Yevgenyi Zhovtis, Director of the Kazakstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law. They described in detail the deteriorating situation in Kazakstan, in particular the failures of the Nazarbaev regime to implement Helsinki Commitments. They called for full implementation of these commitments, including free speech and access to the media for private citizens and political opposition, a commitment to the rule of law and removal of arbitrary sentencing used to harass the opposition.

The final witness was Dr. Martha Olcott, Professor of Political Science at Colgate University specializing in Central Asian affairs and inter-ethnic-relations in the Soviet successor states. After itemizing the components of Kazakstan that gave them a head-start over other post-Soviet states in moving toward democratic rule-of-law, she concluded, “We do not recognize that certain systems are more predisposed to democracy than others. Kazakstan has no historic, cultural or ethnic excuse for lagging in this regard. They should and could be a vibrant democracy.”

Before the close of the hearing, Commissioner Rep. Benjamin L Cardin (D-MD) commented, “This is clearly a country that has not lived up to its OSCE obligations.” He suggested that Kazhegeldin, Svoik and Zhovtis should consider coming to St. Petersburg in July to discuss these developments with the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s members.

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