Washington Babylon — February 3, 2010, 3:39 pm

Congressman Issa’s Joke: Dictatorship in Kazakhstan, and Washington D.C.

A bizarre congressional hearing yesterday, as Kazakhstan’s Foreign Minister, Kanat Saudabayev, testified before the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is co-chaired by Congressmen Benjamin Cardin and Alcee Hastings. The Kazakh government is forever trying to give the impression that President Nursultan Nazarbaev is keen on democratic reforms, even though human rights groups and the media find no evidence to support that. “Rather than loosen its hold on media, internet is being increasingly censored,” Peter Zalmayev of the Eurasia Democracy Initiative told me. “Rather than cooperate with civil society to improve its laws, the government continues to throw its critics in prison.”

Even on the day of the hearing came news that Kazakh officials had “seized editions of at least five opposition and independent newspapers that contain an article alleging corruption by President Nursultan Nazarbaev’s son-in-law.”

Other than contingents of Kazakh government officials, beltway lobbyists hired by the government and a few human rights activists, hardly anyone turned up for the hearing. Hastings and Congressman Eni Faleomavaega, American Samoa’s non-voting representative in congress and an ardent ally of the Kazakh government who once suggested that the Kazakh dictator be nominated for the Nobel Prize, were on hand and Congressman Darrell Issa dropped by. According to someone at the hearing, Issa said there was basically no problem with Kazakhstan being a one-party state because Washington was now one as well.

Update:

Frederick Hill, a spokesman for Issa at the House Oversight & Government Reform
Committee, says that transcript of the hearing “doesn’t back up the angle and criticism in your story and headline regarding Rep. Issa.”

Here’s the relevant section from the transcript:

[T]hroughout the region, not just in Kazakhstan, not just in Afghanistan, there has been a difficult time in the democratization of producing competing parties, although in your country – and I’ve had the honor of visiting, and I have a former staff member who works on democracy in Kazakhstan – there are competing movements. They seldom – the seeds don’t sprout, and so you don’t have a two-, three-, four-party system in which they have representation in your parliament.

I want to share with you something here today. Washington, D.C., is exactly the same. This is a one-party town, even though there are people who are not Democrats. And this town has decided to have representation, at least one member of the council, who is chosen simply to represent minorities. And I might plant that seed, that throughout the emerging democracies, even though it would not usually fit in the U.S. democracy system, we all have to struggle to find a way to ensure that those who cannot get enough votes, but who represent other forms of diversity, find a way to actually get representation within parliaments, city councils, and other bodies.

Issa added, “[Y]ou are not by any means the greatest democracy, nor are you least democracy (sic), but a struggling democracy trying to find the right way to lead your country in a post-Cold War period.”

Hill said that Issa has traveled to Kazakhstan “and on each visit has met with democratization and human rights advocates not only to gain their perspective but to show his support for their work. I’m concerned that your story will be used by opponents of democratic change in Kazakhstan to falsely press the point that Congress doesn’t care about these issues when this simply isn’t the case.”

However, an article at Eurasianet echoed my criticism of the hearing:

The US Helsinki Commission in recent months has been a frequent and vocal critic of Kazakhstan’s record on human rights and democratization. But commission members gave an enthusiastic welcome to Kazakhstani Foreign Minister Kanat Saudabayev on February 2…

The three members of the commission who were present during Saudabayev’s appearance asked no questions about, and offered no criticism of Astana’s internal situation….

Darrell Issa — a Republican congressman from California who has nominated Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, for a Nobel Peace Prize — used the occasion for partisan political purposes, attempting to equate the political situation in Kazakhstan with that of the United States.

Share
Single Page

More from Ken Silverstein:

From the November 2013 issue

Dirty South

The foul legacy of Louisiana oil

Perspective October 23, 2013, 8:00 am

On Brining and Dining

How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy

Postcard October 16, 2013, 8:00 am

The Most Cajun Place on Earth

A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits 

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

January 2015

Come With Us If You Want to Live

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Body Politic

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Problem of Pain Management

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Game On

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Love Crimes

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
The Body Politic·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“‘He wrote all these love poems, but he was a son of a bitch,’ said a reporter from a wire service.”
Illustration by Steven Dana
Article
Love Crimes·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“If a man rapes a woman, she might be forced to marry him, because in Afghanistan sex before marriage is dishonorable.”
Photographs © Andrew Quilty/Oculi/Agence VU
Article
Game On·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union had posed a truly existential threat.”
Illustration by Taylor Callery
Article
Come With Us If You Want to Live·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“I was startled that all these negative ideologies could be condensed so easily into a positive worldview.”
Illustration by Darrel Rees
Article
Christmas in Prison·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Just so you motherfuckers know, I’ll be spending Christmas with my family, eating a good meal, and you’ll all be here, right where you belong.”
Photographer unknown. Artwork courtesy Alyse Emdur

Acres of hemp grown by “patriotic‚” U.S. farmers in 1942 at the behest of the U.S. government:

36,000

A study suggested that the health effects of exposure to nuclear radiation at Chernobyl were no worse than ill health resulting from smoking and normal urban air pollution.

Greenpeace apologized after activists accidentally defaced the site of Peru’s 2,000-year-old Nazca Lines when they unfurled cloth letters reading “time for change” near the ancient sand drawings. “We fully understand,” the group wrote in a statement, “that this looks bad.”

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

In Praise of Idleness

By

I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Subscribe Today