Crossroads Asia

The Neverending Centerra Gold Story

Networked authoritarianism in Kazakhstan, vulnerable labor migrants, and other recommended reads.

The Neverending Centerra Gold Story
Credit: Gold bars via

Friday Central Asia links:

Kazakhstan’s networked authoritarianism: Modern communications technologies play a powerful role in connecting people, not just to each other but to their governments. The connection goes both ways however, and in Kazakhstan “networked authoritarianism,” Luca Anceshi wrote this week, “is a powerful system of media control, but it leaves little room for the regime to maneuver.”

Anecdotal stories, such as the case of Ainura Seitaky — a young mother who complained on Facebook about the terrible state of an Almaty hospital’s toilets, leading eventually to the governor showing up and dismissing hospital heads — tell one part of the story. The other side is darker, such as the recent jailing of Igor Sychyov for posting a politically sensitive poll and the detention of two activists for circulating material critical of the government on social media.

As Luca writes, “Using social media to criticize low-level officials or reporting police abuse is therefore permitted; writing a deliberately anti-Nazarbayev post on Facebook can lead to imprisonment.” But as economic troubles persist, social media will continue to provide an outlet for the middle-class to voice their consternation.

Vulnerable migrants: Central Asian migrant workers — mostly from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, but also Uzbekistan — have never had an easy life in Russia. A recent incident illustrates just how vulnerable they are. Eurasianet pieces together the story in more detail, but the gist is this: a young Tajik mother working in Russia was detained by Russian police in October. She was separated from her five-month-old son and later informed that he had died. This week she was finally deported, shipped with the body of her child in a small coffin back to Dushanbe.

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Reactions in Tajik society have been emotive, but official ties between Tajikistan and Russia are of existential importance to the impoverished Central Asian nation, so few will air their criticisms openly, beyond online commentary boards and social media. Given the Tajik government’s authoritarian tendencies, citizens are reluctant to speak out.

The neverending Centerra Gold story: In the latest iteration of the neverending Centerra Gold story, Valeri Belokon, a Latvian businessman with fingers in a variety of pies — banking, newspapers, football — is battling Centerra Gold in an Ontario court for shares in the company’s Kyrgyz gold mining business. Centerra is embroiled in several legal suits in which investors claim Kyrgyzstan owes them money. Canada’s Globe and Mail dipped into the story this week, noting that “in each case, a key legal question that remains unanswered is whether courts in Ontario will deem those shares Kyrgyzstani government property, as they are owned indirectly by a state-owned company called Kyrgyzaltyn JSC.”

Belokon’s troubles are linked to his association with former President Bakiyev’s son Maxim, widely despised in Kyrgyzstan. In 2010, Bakiyev was deposed and Belokon’s bank in Bishkek seized. Belokon was accused of being party to money laundering for the Bakiyev’s. Ultimately, an arbitration panel in Paris ruled in Belokon’s favor, ordering Kyrgyzstan to pay him about $25 million in compensation — Bishkek is appealing.

Looks like the Centerra mess won’t be solved any time soon.

Uzbekistan’s terrorists: Since the end of October, more than 160 people have been quietly detained around the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, on suspicions that they were involved with Islamic State (IS or ISIS). As Bruce Pannier, of RFE/RL, comments “Uzbek authorities have a history of casting a very wide net when security operations are initiated and there is already reason to believe many of the people being incarcerated are not from IS, though they are from an outside Islamic sect that has grown popular in Central Asia.” Tashkent, in statements, calls them ISIS members or “salafists” but members of Hizb ut-Tahrir have told RFE/RL that the arrested were members of their group.

Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is banned in Uzbekistan as an extremist group, is not banned in the West — it has offices in Britain and the United States. As Pannier notes, the group’s ideology is distinctly non-violent, though it seeks to establish a caliphate and is quite conservative. The group has never been reliably linked to violent activities, though Uzbek authorities repeatedly have attempted to link it with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (which is a violent group). “Now,” Pannier writes, “ it seems Tashkent is linking Hizb ut-Tahrir to the IS group.”

Too old: Lastly, this week Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev drew raised eyebrows from regional analysts when he made comments that public servants should step aside after 25 years. Joanna Lillis for Eurasianet details the irony in full: “At the Cabinet meeting, Nazarbayev warned that there was no place for life-long appointees in his country. Senior public servants should not think themselves irreplaceable and stop telling him ‘stick with me — the next person will be even worse,’ Nazarbayev said, in remarks that are assumed not to have been a reference to himself.”