Мukhtar Ablyazov on the Kazakh student protests
Interviewed by the independent portal Republika Mukhtar Ablyazov talked about December 1986 and the so-called ‘Kazakh young people’s revolt’.
The influence of society and youth on politics was marginal. Because of that, the student protests of 1986 were, in Ablyazov’s opinion, controlled from the top – by Nazarbayev himself. The aim was to get rid of Kolbin, supported by Moscow, and occupying the position of 1st Secretary of the Kazakhstan Community Party’s Central Committee. To support his statement, Ablyazov pointed to the apathy and inertia amongst young people today – “if they are silent today when the country is allegedly free, during the times of the USSR they could not have organised themselves as a group of several thousand to go out into the square on their own”.
According to the dissident, Nazarbayev was orchestrating the riot, yet publicly declared support for Kolbin. A message was therefore sent that Kazakhstan wanted a change in leadership, but that, at the same, it would continue to be loyal to Moscow. Repressions later followed, many of the protesters were removed from schools of higher education. But there was no shooting – which wasn’t the case in 2011 in Zhanaozen, Ablyazov noted.
Read the full interview:
- Mukhtar Kabulovich, do you remember the time - December 1986? Where were you at that time and what did you do? And how do you assess what was later to be labelled the ‘youth rebellion’?
- In 1986, I was 23 years old and I worked in the Kazakh State University after my graduation from the Institute in Moscow. It was still the Soviet Union. At that time, young people of Kazakhstan, as well as those of the Soviet Union as a whole, were far from real politics. Except, perhaps, such cities as Moscow, Leningrad, Kiev, and possibly, several other major cities of the USSR, where students were active. But Almaty wasn’t among the list of those active cities, in my opinion. ’Politics’ in the Soviet sense of the word was run solely by a narrow group of party leaders.
- But, then, there was the Komsomol...
- The Young Communist League, represented by its top leadership, helped and served this party elite. There was no public policy or politicians with their manifestos, visions of development of the country or any searches for supporters. There was only one party - the Communist Party and party functionaries, bureaucrats, not politicians.
Dissent was nipped in the bud. Of course, there were dissidents, but they were isolated or, like Andrei Sakharov, imprisoned, or expelled from the country. Therefore, the demonstration of students in 1986, obviously, was organised by local Communist Party leaders, including Nazarbayev. These party functionaries fought for power, they wanted to oust ‘foreign’ Kolbin.
- So you think that the demonstrations of young people were provoked by those who wanted to get rid of the Russian Kolbin from the leadership of the national republic?
- The problem did not consist in the fact that he was Russian. He was not from Kazakhstan, he was a protégé of Moscow. That is, he could not allow himself not to focus on Kazakhstan's political elite, not to enter into an collusion with them and not to consider their interests. Therefore, the local political leadership was interested in eliminating him so that they would have their own ‘man’ in the authorities, through whom they could solve their problems, exerting influence on him.
- But why are you so sure that the rebellion of young people is the work of party functionaries?
- I’d suggest that you try to bring the youth of Kazakhstan to a picket for the defence of their interests today. Not a few thousand, but even as few as 100-200 people. And not with political demands, but simply to state the problems associated with their life: bribery in schools, the shortage of dormitories. There are many issues that they might raise.
The current government declares democracy, arguing that, in comparison with the Soviet Union, we have full freedom in Kazakhstan today. But the youth and students do not speak up at all in these circumstances. Why? This is a separate issue. Here, something else is important: if they are silent today, while we reportedly have freedom in the country, then in the Soviet Union in 1986, they could not have gathered a few thousand people, and taken to the streets on their own.
Obviously, even for 100 people to come to a rally or demonstration, preparatory work needs to be done. And in order to bring several thousand people, especially with such political demands, as in 1986, very serious propaganda work and the exploitation of administrative resources is needed. After all, it happened against the backdrop of a complete lack of interest of the majority of young people in politics.
And so, I have no doubt that it was all organised by party members in the struggle for power. And Nazarbayev participated in this.
- They say he tried to persuade young people to disperse. Was it pre-orchestrated to be done this way?
- Yes, as he was standing in front of the young people in the square, he tried to persuade them to disperse. In this way, he showed his loyalty to Moscow and his dedication to the Politburo. Kolbin was not present in the square and Nazarbayev and others showed the Kremlin that they know how to talk to the people. That is, the local elite thus made it clear to Moscow that the Centre made a wrong decision by choosing Kolbin and that they were ready to carry out the will of Moscow, they were loyal, and the local population was going to be obedient to them.
And in 1986, the party leadership did not protest against the oppression that protesters were subjected to. Moreover, they led the harassment in order to show their loyalty and devotion to Moscow.
- Today, Nursultan Nazarbayev himself perceives his role in those events somewhat differently.
- They say that, reportedly, Nazarbayev supported the demands of the youth in 1986, he reportedly marched in the column of protesters. But we know that's a lie. Nothing like this happened. He was at the forefront of the government which persecuted the protesters.
I remember those years very well. Communists and Nazarbayev especially, labelled the young people who went to the protest drug addicts, alcoholics, nationalists and chauvinists. Students could have been expelled from universities just for coincidentally walking past the square or going there out of curiosity. Various commissions were set up which acted contrary to the law and common sense. And Nazarbayev was in charge of the oppressive machine, regardless of what he is claiming today.
At the Faculty of Physics of the Kazakh State University, dozens of students who just happened to be on Shevchenko Street that day, suffered. They did not even have time to get to the square, but still, they were excluded from the Komsomol, the Institute and couldn’t find a job for a long time after that.
Giving the people who suffered in 1986 their due, I am nevertheless convinced that these rallies were organised by the party leadership that fought for power, and used those young people for their own purposes.
- It turns out that the party leadership first provoked the youth to take to the streets and, having seen the desired outcome, punished participants of the protest?
- Yes. By the way, I would like to underline that in 1986, the Soviet regime did not shoot on protesters, though their demands were political. The striking oil workers in Zhanaozen did not put forward any political demands, they fought for their economic rights, but at the hands of the very authorities controlled by Nazarbayev, they were shot and thrown in prison. And it all happened on Kazakhstan’s Independence Day, on the very same day which the youth held their rally in Soviet Kazakhstan.
That is, by shooting oil workers on the day that the country was celebrating the memory of those who in 1986 triggered Kazakhstan's independence, Nazarbayev revealed his true colours – to him, this day does not mean anything. And so, how can you listen to him or trust his words about the events of 1986?
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