Kazakhstan: Astana's Sticky Crime Problem
On the heels of a police operation to clean up Kazakhstan's capital, Astana, by cracking down on unwashed vehicles, President Nursultan Nazarbayev has outlined plans to deal with a growing crime wave in the city.At an April 11 discussion on the future development of the city, the president bemoaned the fact that the crime rate in his dream capital is rising. He said crime in Astana is 1.7 times the national average, while detection rates are the lowest in the country. The Leader of the Nation singled out a proliferation of bookmakers and gambling halls as a root cause of the growing problem. He urged police to focus on the problem of petty crime in Astana, instructing them not to overlook simple misdemeanors such as leaving chewing gum at street crossings. He suggested that the punishment for such an infraction should include fines and up to three days in jail. His hope is that cracking down hard on petty crime will lead to reductions in more serious crimes. Crime-wise, 2011 was a bad year for Kazakhstan, as it saw both simmering industrial unrest that led to at least 17 dead in the west, and the growing threat of domestic Islamic terrorism. It seems unlikely, however, that targeting the twin menaces of gambling and chewing gum will deter Islamic militants or help solve industrial disputes in the future.
Paul Bartlett is a journalist based in Almaty.