EurasiaChat: Kazakh horror hit, strikers marching on, Kyrgyz media in peril
Diving into Dastur: A record-breaking horror film is bringing the conversation around gender-bases violence into the open. This and more in our latest podacast.
Dastur, a newly released horror movie in Kazakhstan, has been smashing box office records.
And so, in this latest edition of our EurasiaChat podcast, we decided to speak to our producer, Aigerim Toleukhanova, to find out what all the fuss is about.
First, the plot: the narrative revolves around the fallout that ensues after the wild-child son of a rich businessman rapes a school-leaver walking home after the last day of classes. Her family initially reports the crime to the police. But then social pressure kicks in. To paper over the scandal, the mayor brokers a deal for the girl to marry her assailant.
What follows is a descent into madness and horror that lays bare all manner of decay at the heart of Kazakh society.
As Aigerim explained, it was this unflinching aspect that made Dastur an unlikely holiday season hit.
“The reason why it was so popular … is that the timing was right,” Aigerim said. “The country has had a lot of shocking news about gender violence.”
The topic of gender-based violence is particularly resonant in Kazakhstan at the moment, following the killing in November of Saltanat Nukenova in a restaurant in Astana. Her husband Kuandyk Bishimbayev, a former government minister, is in jail awaiting trial for the murder, which dominated the headlines for weeks.
Another seemingly irresolvable aspect of life in Kazakhstan is industrial disputes.
This week, Alisher Khamidov walked us through a situation that has been unfolding in the Mangystau province, which has been the site of numerous confrontations between oil workers and their employers over the years.
In the first half of December, around 500 workers at an oil services company called West Oil Software went on strike. Their demand was to be employed in subsidiaries of the state oil and gas company KazMunaiGas, which they believe would secure them more secure conditions and higher salaries. The company has since fired several dozen people, but the hardcore strikers are holding out.
These disputes are always about more than just the troubles of any single company, though.
Alisher reminded listeners that the government inevitably views such developments with unease as memories of the bloody culmination of the 2011 Zhanazon protests are still fresh.
Eurasianet’s Central Asia editor Peter Leonard, meanwhile, broadened the conversation to consider what these standoffs say about how the state is dealing with its western Kazakhstan predicament. This part of the country is rich in oil and gas, but the local economy remains underdeveloped and signally unable to meet the growing demands of a fast-expanding population.
Finally in this edition of EurasiaChat, we turned to the increasingly alarming situation around media freedoms in Kyrgyzstan.
Readers of this website will know that two separate outlets in Bishkek were last week subjected to raids by the security services and the police in quick succession. These events are troubling, although almost certainly not unexpected.
“We journalists, we are operating in this mindset that we're still a somewhat free country,” Alisher said, speaking from Bishkek. “But the reality is different. I think that officials are operating in a different mode… Journalists need to quickly recognize that there's no more freedoms here in this country.”
Aigerim Toleukhanova is a journalist and researcher from Kazakhstan.
Peter Leonard is Eurasianet’s Central Asia editor.