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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.
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.
More from Ken Silverstein:
Commentary — November 17, 2015, 6:41 pm
The Clintons’ so-called charitable enterprise has served as a vehicle to launder money and to enrich family friends.
Flor Arely Sánchez had been in bed with a fever and pains throughout her body for three days when a July thunderstorm broke over the mountainside. She got nervous when bolts of light flashed in the sky. Lightning strikes the San Julián region of western El Salvador several times a year, and her neighbors fear storms more than they fear the march of diseases — first dengue, then chikungunya, now Zika. Flor worried about a lot of things, since she was pregnant.
Late in the afternoon, when the pains had somewhat eased, Flor thought she might go to a dammed-up bit of the river near her house to bathe. She is thirty-five and has lived in the same place all her life, where wrinkled hills are planted with corn, beans, and fruit trees. She took a towel and soap and walked out into the rain. Halfway to the river, the pains returned and overcame her. The next thing Flor remembers, she was in a room she didn’t recognize, unable to move. As she soon discovered, she was in a hospital, her ankle cuffed to the bed, and she was being investigated for abortion.
Average number of new microwave food products introduced every day In 1987:
Cocaine addicts prefer $500 in cash now to $1,000 worth of cocaine later.
Scientists in the Galápagos Islands credited an endangered giant tortoise named Diego with saving his species by fathering more than 800 offspring.
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“Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'”