Ablyazov on Nursultan Nazarbayev’s rise to power
© mukhtarablyazov.org 13.02.2015

Ablyazov talked in an interview for the Respublika portal about privatisation in Kazakhstan in the 1990’s, which only established the positions of the ruling elites, and about how Nazarbayev granted himself more privileges before ultimately bestowing upon himself the title “Leader of the Nation”.

Read the full interview:

Mafiosi against Mafiosi

- You have known Nursultan Nazarbayev for a very long time - since the 1990s. Can you remember your first meeting?

- For the first time, I met him personally in the spring of 1993 at the congress of businessmen in Almaty. Before that, we had only met as part of a large group of businessmen. In those years, Nazarbayev talked much about the future of a democratic and independent Kazakhstan. Power had not yet been monopolised, and he tried to please everyone; he was implementing a lot of populist steps in the economy, which, incidentally, only raised the inflation rate by 1000%.

In May 1993, at the Congress of Entrepreneurs, Nazarbayev promised to carry out voucher privatisation of the industry, the essence of which was that citizens of the country would receive a share of the total state ownership in the form of special vouchers. The business sector created special investment funds for this purpose.

But Nazarbayev privatised all profitable industries to his own benefit – ‘Kazakhmys’, the ‘Sokolovo-Sarbaisky’ plant, the ferroalloy plant with Mashkevich’s group, MangistauMunaiGaz, the Pavlodar refinery and a range of other enterprises, while loss-making and bankrupt plants were assigned by him for privatisation through vouchers, and he accused the investment funds of deceiving the population.

In fact, the reason for the failure of the voucher privatisation scheme was precisely the fact that the best businesses were simply not given to citizens of Kazakhstan, but instead, they were quietly privatised by Nazarbayev and Co. for a very insignificant amount of money.

- Now, it is already clear to many, but at that time, many believed in Nazarbayev’s words. Did you also?

- You know, I have never had illusions regarding his democratism. I still remember him, for example, refusing to be head of the commission established by the Supreme Council of the USSR to investigate the heinous crime in Georgia in 1989, when 9 women who had protested peacefully, were beaten to death with shovels by the Soviet Special Forces. He refused, arguing that, in his opinion, the women who had been killed were to blame for what happened. I was outraged to hear that, like many others. It is one thing to hear and see  things like that from a distance, and quite another thing when you are directly confronted with an issue like that...

So, in the spring of 1993, a small group of businessmen, myself included, met with Nazarbayev in Almaty. We came to him with a specific question. At that time, various criminal groups from among former athletes who were engaged in racketeering, became active in the country. Their activities were covered up by top police officials with whom they were sharing their income. These groups were extorting money and shares in businesses from entrepreneurs; they behaved insolently, openly and were not afraid of anything.

We presented the problem to Nazarbayev, and we said that we could handle it ourselves. We have money; we will create our own security services and, if necessary, will defend ourselves with weapons. But then, the country would turn into a paramilitary camp. We then told him openly that the government does not fight with criminal groups, but rather covers up for them.

- And how did the president respond to it?

- Nazarbayev replied that within a month there will be results, and offered to meet with us in his office a month later. And after a while, assassinations of the leaders of the criminal world began. For example, the infamous Bakha Festival was killed in Almaty. He himself, his accomplices and other ‘criminal group leaders’ were shot by people in black masks. And the same began to happen nationwide. Racketeers hid, many fled the country.

A month later, Nazarbayev invited us to his office and asked if we were still being harassed by racketeers. We told him what was happening. And suddenly, he said, in a satisfied voice: "What did these thugs expect? Did they really think they could act as thugs, but must we act in accordance with the law? We can also act like thugs!"

- This is a very scandalous revelation...

- This is true. Nazarbayev wasn’t building a legal state, and he acted as the head of a larger mafia, shooting small Mafiosi who invaded his territory. Perhaps there are people who support such means of fighting, but then you should not be surprised that we have built a gangster state in Kazakhstan, and now the government fulfils the role of a racketeer.

Personally, I was not surprised with the shooting in Zhanaozen and I am not surprised with the arbitrariness of the police. In the same way, I am not surprised with the arbitrariness of the authorities in general, with Nazarbayev at the helm.


An illustrative example

- When, in your opinion, did Nazarbayev decide to concentrate all the power in his hands?

- You know, here, the example of dealing with Mars Urkumbayev is quite illustrative, as it reflects Nazarbayev’s methods and techniques in the struggle for power, even with hypothetical political rivals. Mars Urkumbayev was a university chancellor in Taraz. Then, after Sergey Tereschenko became Prime Minister, he was made the Akim [Governor] of South Kazakhstan Province, and in 1993 - the Minister of Economy.

I was quite familiar with Mars. He often asked me for advice when he was the Minister of Economy. He was completely loyal to Nazarbayev. But the president decided that Mars posed a threat to him, because in the western media he was cited as one of Nazarbayev’s five main competitors vying for supreme power in Kazakhstan.

A criminal case was instituted against Urkumbayev. He was reminded of the time when he worked as a university chancellor in Taraz; they accused him of building a house worth 20 thousand dollars at the time. During the investigation, Mars resigned as minister. In the end, they didn’t find anything against him, but he was forced to step down.

- Did you try to stand up for Mars Urkumbayev?

- Yes, within a small group, after the Congress of businessmen in Almaty ended, we had dinner with Nazarbayev. We asked him about Mars. Nazarbayev tried to convince us that the prosecutor's office had opened a criminal case against Mars on their own initiative and that he personally supported Mars because he was a good minister, and so on.

But we all, despite our young age (we were all 30 years old at that time), knew very well that the prosecutor’s office only took action when instructed to do so by Nazarbayev. Therefore, his lie was apparent to us. We realised that this is how Nazarbayev eliminates his competitors.

- But Mars was not thrown in prison, was he?

- No, he wasn’t. But he was deprived of the opportunity to work, his reputation was undermined, trampled, if you will. Later, Nazarbayev started to imprison and even kill his competitors, as was the case with Nurkadilov and Sarsenbayev.

- Let's go back to the meeting with the president. The conversation was not only about Urkumbayev, was it?

- We talked about the problems in the economy and about things that the government should do. And I personally was very surprised by Nazarbayev. At that time, there was an extremely difficult situation in all sectors of the country, and he suddenly stated that the twentieth century should not be marked by traditional animal husbandry and agriculture, but rather by the solution of man-made proteins. He told us about his meeting with Clinton (the then US president), to whom he explained that today, humanity must be concerned with the production of proteins which, as he claimed, would solve the food problem and the problem of poverty.

Then I thought: Who is Nazarbayev to compare himself to Clinton? If he, as Lee Kuan Yew (the first prime-minister of the Republic of Singapore, one of the creators of the Singapore ‘economic miracle’ - Ed.), had had some successes in the development of his country, then, of course, the entire world would heed him. But what had Nazarbayev done in Kazakhstan which entitled him to ‘explain’ anything to Clinton, while our economy, and science in particular, were in state of full collapse? Then I began to consider him just a delusional man with inadequate self-esteem.

- And this opinion hasn’t changed since, right?

- I only became more certain about it. Kozy-Korpesh Esenberlin was with us at that meeting. For a long time, they were persuading him to come into the government as a representative of business. As a result, he became the head of the State Property Committee of the country. Nazarbayev persuaded him to leave business, promising support and assuring him that the entire privatisation process would be transparent and honest. But Esenberlin held the position of Chairman of the State Committee for only four months.

- Why was that?

- All his attempts to hold fair tenders were blocked. It was during this period that Nazarbayev himself and his close associates distributed the country’s property amongst their own people, and Kozy-Korpesh refused to help them in this. Eventually, he was ousted from the government, his business collapsed while he was working for the government, because he had not left a reliable management team in place, as the invitation to enter the government had come to him unexpectedly.

In fact, Nazarbayev deceived and betrayed Esenberlin. Having been the major businessman of the new wave before joining the government, Esenberlin came out of it flat broke; he lost his business, friends - everything. Now you don’t even hear about him. And he was a very talented man. His company ‘Alem System’ was famous throughout the country.

So, I’ll repeat myself: I had no illusions. Very early in the relationship with Nazarbayev in 1993-94, I realised what kind of a person he was. Over the years, all his negative traits only developed and strengthened.

The path to absolute power

- Do you think that even then, at the dawn of Kazakhstan’s independence, Nazarbayev dreamed of becoming a ‘national leader’? Or was he a different person at that time?

- The world is so constituted that a businessman earns as much as the market allows him. As regards a politician, he strives to get the maximum power. But the West's political system is designed so that no president or prime minister would be able to get absolute power, even if they dearly desired it.

- You mean the checks and balances?

- Yes, in the form of judicial, executive and legislative branches of government. No one can gain absolute power, as at all levels there is competition, laws are implemented, the judicial system is truly independent, and the press is free from censorship.

- Why hasn’t Kazakhstan succeeded in building such a system?

- In Kazakhstan, Nazarbayev had enormous power as early as in 1993. The legacy of the Soviet Union was a dependent judicial system, the media largely being controlled by the state, a weak parliament, and the interests of society not structured in the form of parties or represented by genuinely independent candidates.

In fact, Kazakhstan has never had a strong and independent parliament, which would actually support the people, otherwise Nazarbayev couldn’t have dissolved parliament without consequences for himself in 1993 or 1995.

In other words, in 1995 the president had real, legally admissible and absolute power - because then, the country had already operated without a parliament for more than half a  year, only being bound by Nazarbayev’s decrees. And when Nazarbayev called himself the ‘leader of the nation’ in the 2000s, adopted exclusive laws for himself and his family, it was all merely public positioning of what he had achieved by 1995. Later, he just further reinforced his privileges and established publicly what had already been done in the legal realm by 1995.

- Can you say exactly what Nazarbayev was doing to strengthen his power?

- He strengthened the placement of his workers in key positions of the CEC; the posts of akims [regional governors], in the government, the parliament, courts, as he was engaged in the detailed and personal selection of the people who took the oath of allegiance to him personally.

And as early as in 1995, he had enough power to crush any individual businessman or politician, were they to pose a threat to him. Remember how Olzhas Suleimenov was ‘hobbled‘ in 1994? I think that if Olzhas Suleimenov had dared to oppose Nazarbayev at that time, he would be have been supported by many. He was very popular and well-known, not only in Kazakhstan. Nazarbayev would not have managed to eliminate him. But Olzhas retired from politics, he gave in to Nazarbayev.

From 1995, having received all the levers of power, he proceeded to seizing the key enterprises in the country and appropriating them, and he had completed this process by 1997. And later, he only pursued and strengthened his own influence and opportunities.

- But why was business silent? Did businessmen understand what he was doing?

- In the early 1990's, business had just started to develop, and Nazarbayev didn’t seek our support. He rather chose the support of the influential "red" [communist] directors, e.g. Vitaliy Mette, who was appointed first deputy prime minister; he was the head of the Ulba Nuclear Plant; Harry Shtoyk, also first deputy prime minister, the head of the zinc-producing plant, later ‘Kazzinc’; Issingarin Nigmatzhan Kabataevich, the head of the railway enterprise, also the first deputy prime minister.

In fact, these were his, Nazarbayev’s, allies and representatives of large state-owned businesses. These people worked in the USSR era, and they didn’t understand what the market was all about. They were soldiers of the party, and Nazarbayev had been their general since the days of Soviet Kazakhstan. They didn’t know or imagine any other way of existence of the authorities.

- That is, the root of this current evil must be sought in the Soviet past?

- In Soviet times, the country's parliament fulfilled a decorative function, and almost all the members believed that their leader was Nazarbayev. That is, the consciousness of people did not resist what Nazarbayev was building. Therefore, he was able to quickly gain absolute power, having built a prototype of what was in place in the Soviet Union, with the only difference being that the Politburo, Moscow, the party - everything was focused in the hands of one person.

But it was the same situation in the Stalin era. Nazarbayev did not create anything new, he just repeated what had once happened with centralisation, only building it around himself.

- But until 2004, there were still independent MPs in the parliament...

- Yes, some independent MPs managed to slip in, e.g. Serikbolsyn Abdildin and Tolen Tokhtasynov. But basically, they were in the absolute minority and could not change the path chosen by Nazarbayev. And subsequently, Nazarbayev’s power system destroyed any chance of independent people entering parliament.

- Do you mean that the ‘leader of the nation’ has outwitted everyone?

- Nazarbayev did not deceive businessmen or anyone else individually. He deceived all, the entire country. He has declared that he is building a democratic, rule-of-law state. In reality, we have an authoritarian country where everything is subordinated to the interests of Nazarbayev and his clan.

But it’s not just Nazarbayev’s fault; we are all to blame for this situation. We voluntarily gave him the power, resources, everything. We, the citizens, did not resist, did not fight in order to prevent this from happening. We were passive. The activity and struggles of the scarce opposition were not supported by the society en masse, and Nazarbayev has managed to deal with the opposition – some were imprisoned, some were killed, and others fled the country or completely stepped aside.

And now society should not be surprised to see that our life is so bad, even though the country is rich. Absolute power in the hands of a small group of people headed by Nazarbayev has led to a situation when the bulk of the nation's wealth has been distributed between them. They are the ones who are rich, and they are completely satisfied with the current government; therefore, they will seek to maintain the regime as far as the country's citizens allow them.

- Don’t you think that the difficulties in the economy will encourage the nation to yearn for a better life?

- But these issues, the difficulties, are not something Nazarbayev and his entourage are facing. They are doing fine, they are getting rich. And they will only pay attention to the problems of the main part of the population when these issues greatly threaten their power. And now, people live quietly in their misery, but they are not attacking the authorities, they just live their impoverished life. Why should the authorities worry if these issues are not dangerous to them?

Nazarbayev and Co. are no Mother Teresa, and no Moses who thought about the people. They only think about their well-being and also about those who prevent them from further governance. They are the people against whom Nazarbayev and Co. are struggling very consistently, not sparing any resources.

And do not expect that there will be some sort of a mythical hero, a new leader, who will swiftly change everything to favour of the main part of the population. Only when the people become active and start fighting for their rights en masse, will we see some real changes in the country.

Source: Respublika


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