asiaNet Q & A
EurasiaNet: What happened in Italy? What is your version?
Akezhan Kazhegeldin: It has been a common occurrence, unfortunately, for the last few years of my life. The Kazakhstan authorities issued a warrant with two items on it: detain and extradite. Late one night an official was surprised that I have such an unusual passport. (It contains one unusual detail that I don't want to describe right now.) So he checked the computer, saw the [arrest] requestand that was the beginning of an affair that lasted about 24 hours. The case reached the Ministry of Justice. Everything was resolved in favor of democracy.
EurasiaNet: How do you assess the political impact of this whole affair?
Akezhan Kazhegeldin: The public was compelled once again to discuss the human-rights situation in Kazakhstan and in general. People remembered right away that many newspapers have been shut down. Lawyers and human rights activists have lodged a great many complaints from independent and official international human-rights organizations. Everyone remembered the latest law about the first president and the latest articles. This was yet another reminder of what kind of country we live in and what is happening there. No more than that.
EurasiaNet: If the situation has become so difficult and unsafe for you, wouldn't it be better for you to abandon the political struggle?
Akezhan Kazhegeldin: Interesting question. I'm sometimes told this by my associates, observers who are both unready to fight and seem to be for us in their hearts. They asked me literally today: wouldn't it be better to take a rest? I think that this is precisely what the ruling regime is seeking. So many people have responded and support me today, even in Kazakhstan with their oppressed society, it is clear that they are still closely watching the struggle between two men: the ruling president and yours truly. It would be unfair to disappoint all of them. I think I must fight. Then I have a specific goal. That goal is not the office that the other man now occupies. My goal is the system. It must be changed. So that everyone can live peacefully in the country, leave it, and do everything that is not prohibited by law, without looking over their shoulder at anyone, without sharing money with anyone, without being afraid of anyone. That is my goal. I would like it to be that kind of country.
EurasiaNet: What needs to be done to achieve this goal? How do you want to change the system?
Akezhan Kazhegeldin: It is very important to this end that at least several people want and continue to fight against the regime. It is very important to this end that there be news media through which they can convey their views to society. We must preserve ourselves for as long as possible, and people will see that all is not lost. Our citizens absolutely disagree with what is happening in the country. Now they are afraid of losing their last hope. They may not be ready to march en masse against the regime, but at the same time, my colleagues have told me that this [detention] has stirred up society again. There have been several days of anxiety and street conversations. I have received a whole stack of letters. You know, this inspires me.
EurasiaNet: But are you aware that specific people who were once close to you are suffering for you?
Akezhan Kazhegeldin: Of course I'm aware. The only thing that consoles me is that I'm not living comfortably in this situation, either. I am forced to live in such a manner that I'm constantly moving around. My family is suffering because of this, too. I understand what has happened. The trouble is that if I halt my activities, it will not improve the situation in my country in the least, but will only make it worse. The regime will just feel that it can confuse and fool everyone and join the Council of Europe, just as it has signed an agreement with the OSCE. It may again promise the Western countries that it will develop its own democracy, and then it will violate human rights almost every day. Doesn't someone have to report this? I think the latest event has demonstrated once again exactly what is happening in the country. From this standpoint it was a victory for the opposition. It may have been achieved at a high price, in terms of nerves and health. I understand all that. I never forced anyone. I have always told all my friends and associates and continue to tell them that that they are all free, they can stop right now, because I cannot suggest to anyone that he risk his life. Especially now. But it seems to me that many people are getting involved in this quite deliberately. And I am going to talk now with my colleagues. I think we must continue our work. I will always do what I have done, as long as I'm alive.
EurasiaNet: So you are still counting on coming to power?
Akezhan Kazhegeldin: I think "we" will, not "I." If you read the program material that the RNPK [Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan] has put out, you must have noticed that we have never set and are not setting president-for-life goals. We believe the president in Kazakhstan should be elected for only one term. And for a short one. The parliament's powers should be expanded. Society should fight for the program's points, for a coalition, for the confidence of the majority, and govern the country in this manner. And the president should be a man who is elected for one term. Who has a short list of very rigid powers that are enough to guarantee constitutional rights and no more than that, so that no one is tempted to stay for another term, and then not be able to resist the parliament's demands that he be re-elected for another term, and so forth and so on.
All these laws about an eternal president, about his special guarantees, all this is due to the fact that the term of office has been too long, too many rights have been violated, and hence there is a fear of responsibility. Well, who needs that?
EurasiaNet: The president has another six years left to run the country. And you said yourself not so long ago that only a serious ailment could prompt the head of state to resign ahead of schedule. What is your confidence based on then? What are you hoping for? By what means do you intend to go on struggling for power?
Akezhan Kazhegeldin: If we are not going to be confident that we will succeed someday in coming to power and changing the political system, then everyone will lose it for good, and we will already turn into not a formal, but an actual monarchy. I wouldn't like to see that.
EurasiaNet: What can you say about the accusations that the Kazakhstan side is making against you today? In particular, the accusation of terrorism.
Akezhan Kazhegeldin: This is a very interesting accusation. It comes from the usual arsenal of dictatorial regimes against their opponentslook at modern history. In every country people are accused of corruption, of money laundering, of abuses. But now a totally new portfolio, a new file, has been opened: I am being accused of international terrorism. I can respond to this by saying that the regime understands that it was wrong to bring up the subject of finance, because they have become enmeshed in financial scandals themselves. By doing this they want a) to divert attention away from the financial scandals and toward terrorist ones; and b) to scare the West with the line, "Be careful with him, who are you supporting, a terrorist?" But I don't think there have been any naive people left in the West for a long time. So it will be fairly easy to defend myself here. The problem is that there is no justice in my country. There is no equality between the sides in court. That's why the former government officers who guarded me merely because they were assigned to guard me ended up with a guilty verdict, although they are innocent, and were sentenced to such a long term. Absolutely distorted facts, planted evidence and weapons, and totally ignored witnesses not only for the defense but for the prosecution. In other words, the same thing I went through.
EurasiaNet: Now people are talking more about you as the leader of the opposition and the chief rival of President Nazarbayev. But at one time you were the prime minister, that is, in effect, the No. 2 man in the government. And today your name comes up in the case of the American [James] Giffen, who was a consultant to the head of Kazakhstan on oil sales and is now suspected of bribing high-ranking officials of the republic. What can you say about this?
Akezhan Kazhegeldin: That is something that did take place. It's hard to say now whether it was a bribe or not. That the country has a lot of different money abroad, in different places and with different statuses, is a fact that I have discussed many times. May God help us defend ourselves and may everyone uphold his honor and dignity when this becomes the subject of hearings.
I will just tell you one thing: it's impossible to be in the system and not to be like that. Maybe I was unable to be absolutely independent, but I did everything possible not to have anything to do with this as a person and as an individual. I didn't use anything for myself. This is a fact that still has to be sorted out.
As far back as three years ago I proposed to officials headed by the president that I would hold debates and, in general, report on the credit situation and the shady affair that constantly surrounds our country. I can hold open hearings in our country's parliament. And I am ready to speak on radio or on TV by satellite and give my evidence in order to sort things out and dot the i's. But Kazakhstan officials say this is a lie, this can't be. But it's impossible to conceal anything. Any secret comes out sooner or later. One must learn to answer for one's actions.
EurasiaNet: One Almaty newspaper surmised that you came out of this affair with the least damage because you agreed to assist the investigation.
Akezhan Kazhegeldin: I don't think the Almaty newspaper has an opportunity to investigate such scandals, because we live in this kind of country. We have virtually no possibility of having an independent press. If we had more transparent procedures in our society, our newspapers would conduct these investigations. But I think it's very naive to think that one can influence the opinion of large American newspapers that are known throughout the world.
Besides, I think it's very strange to come from the sidelines and offer someone my services as a witness just so I can come out of this affair with the least damage. The problem is that I really am a small part. This is a big iceberg that, to my regret, will still surface and break apart right before everybody's eyes. I am very much afraid that this is an affair that will continue into many chapters.