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The Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan will be holding parliamentary elections this August and is hoping to make a positive impression with the international community about its progress towards democracy. If the past is any guide, that won’t be easy. Since it gained independence from the former Soviet Union in 1992, Nursultan Nazarbayev, a crooked ex-Communist Party hack, has ruled Kazakhstan. Recently the Great Leader oversaw the passage of constitutional amendments that effectively allow him to rule for life.
Kazakhstan has held a number of presidential and parliamentary elections since independence, all of which have been marred by gross fraud. The State Department’s most recent human rights report on Kazakhstan reports “severe limits on citizens’ rights to change their government; an incident of unlawful deprivation of life; military hazing that led to deaths; detainee and prisoner abuse; unhealthy prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention, particularly of government opponents; lack of an independent judiciary; increased restrictions on freedom of speech, the press, assembly, and association; pervasive corruption, especially in law enforcement and the judicial system; restrictions on the activities of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs); discrimination and violence against women; trafficking in persons.”
So it’s safe to say that the conditions are not auspicious for this August’s election, which will be monitored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). But Erlan Idrissov, Kazakhstan’s Ambassador-Designate to the United States, has a public relations plan to ensure that no matter how rigged the election, it will be perceived to be free and fair.
“I have arrived in Washington, DC and pending the presentation of my Credentials I am happy to start looking around and making my first informal contacts with our friends,” Idrissov recently wrote in a letter I obtained. “My Embassy colleagues have told me that you are one of them and that you have made a remarkable personal input into promoting cooperation and understanding between Kazakhstan and the United States.”
I’m not sure who received the letter, but recipients very likely include lobbyists, local academics, and think tank representatives favorable to Kazakhstan. The purpose of the letter, Idrissov went on to tell its recipients, was “to offer you an opportunity to enrich your experience related to our country as well as to assist in further development of a fledgling democracy in Kazakhstan.” The opportunity he referred to was to apply to be an observer to the August election as part of the OSCE team, which allocates twenty percent of its positions to Americans.
Idrissov said his government was “doing our utmost to guarantee [the] success” of the election, and believed that it was important that the observer team be made up of “experienced and knowledgeable representatives capable of making broad-based, well-balanced and forward-looking observations.” In other words, people in the tank for the Nazarbayev regime.
“Having been told that you are such a person who does care about the sustained economic and political growth of Kazakhstan, I decided to write to you to ask if you could kindly consider joining the OSCE observer team through the US quota,” Idrissov continued. Interested parties should apply, he said, through Pacific Architects and Engineers, a private security contractor owned by Lockheed Martin that is recruiting the American observers. He urged would-be observers to contact Deputy Chief of Mission Talgat Kaliyev or Counselor Askar Tazhiev if they needed “additional assistance” or “visa support.” (I emailed both to ask for the name of recipients of the letter and to learn more about how one might apply as an observer but as of yet have not heard back.)
Incidentally, Idrissov’s prior posting was as his country’s ambassador to the United Kingdom. His most notable achievement there was taking on Borat, “By all means laugh at Borat if you will, but I suspect that once you know something of the true Kazakhstan his antics will leave a nasty aftertaste,” he wrote in The Guardian. “Indeed, you may not laugh at all.” He was right. The more we see of the true Kazakhstan–its nuclear ambitions and political corruption–the less we feel inclined to laugh.
More from Ken Silverstein:
Perspective — October 23, 2013, 8:00 am
How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy
Postcard — October 16, 2013, 8:00 am
A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits
On a Friday evening in January, a thousand people at the annual California Native Plant Society conference in San Jose settled down to a banquet and a keynote speech delivered by an environmental historian named Jared Farmer. His chosen topic was the eucalyptus tree and its role in California’s ecology and history. The address did not go well. Eucalyptus is not a native plant but a Victorian import from Australia. In the eyes of those gathered at the San Jose DoubleTree, it qualified as “invasive,” “exotic,” “alien” — all dirty words to this crowd, who were therefore convinced that the tree was dangerously combustible, unfriendly to birds, and excessively greedy in competing for water with honest native species.
In his speech, Farmer dutifully highlighted these ugly attributes, but also quoted a few more positive remarks made by others over the years. This was a reckless move. A reference to the tree as “indigenously Californian” elicited an abusive roar, as did an observation that without the aromatic import, the state would be like a “home without its mother.” Thereafter, the mild-mannered speaker was continually interrupted by boos, groans, and exasperated gasps. Only when he mentioned the longhorn beetle, a species imported (illegally) from Australia during the 1990s with the specific aim of killing the eucalyptus, did he earn a resounding cheer.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A tourism company in Australia announced a service that will allow users to take the “world’s biggest selfies,” and a Texas man accidentally killed himself while trying to pose for a selfie with a handgun.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”