EurasiaChat: As miners die, officials talk assets
In Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, governments are at work taking over important assets. Also in this edition of the EurasiaChat podcast, we talk about how the Gaza war is being viewed.
An explosion at a coal mine in central Kazakhstan last month claimed the lives of 46 workers in what has been described as the deadliest industrial accident in the country’s history.
This week on the EurasiaChat podcast, co-presenters Alisher Khamidov and Peter Leonard opened by dwelling on how the public agenda has been dominated by speculation over who will end up owning the company that controlled the mine.
Its current owner, ArcelorMittal Temirtau, scrambled after the blast to inform the public that it had just signed a preliminary agreement on the transfer of ownership to the state.
For many, this was too little and too late. According to official figures, more than 100 people have died at ArcelorMittal Temirtau facilities over 15 years.
Alisher wondered if this precedent might prompt the government to explore other important industrial assets privatized in less-than-transparent manner.
What is getting less public attention from officials, oddly enough, are questions of safety and worker rights. As economist Kuat Akizhanov noted in an article for Vlast, the Indian manager of ArcelorMittal Temirtau, Palavathu Krishnan, was on a 31.3 million tenge ($67,000) salary, while rank-and-file metals workers had to make do with 300,000 tenge.
A redistribution of assets is happening in Kyrgyzstan too, albeit in very different circumstances. The target of the expropriations are said to be associates of the late crime kingpin, Kamchybek Kolbayev, who was killed in a security services sweep.
The unaddressed question, though, is the process by which assets are being nationalized and then redistributed.
“Where wealth will end up at is more important than the legality of the issue,” Alisher concluded.
While these shenanigans are happening away from the scrutiny of the public, there are other areas in which governments in Central Asia like to be seen as responding to sentiment on the street.
There is no better example of that than how various authorities are reacting to events in the Gaza Strip. In Kyrgyzstan, a pro-Palestine rally of hundreds of people took place in Bishkek. Activists tried something similar in Uzbekistan, but were prevented from proceeding by the authorities. The Uzbek government, however, is adopting unusually bold language – by the standards of often quite anodyne Central Asian standards – in its support for the Palestinians.
This episode was produced and edited by Aigerim Toleukhanova.
Aigerim Toleukhanova is a journalist and researcher from Kazakhstan.
Peter Leonard is Eurasianet’s Central Asia editor.
Alisher Khamidov is a writer based in Bishkek.