Kazakhstan: Birthday Spoiler for Nazarbayev as Sting Cancels Astana Concert
Pop star Sting has been stung yet again by his musical machinations in the Stans.After agreeing to wow an audience in the Kazakh capital on July 4 as part of Astana’s annual city day celebrations, which just happen to coincide with the birthday of strongman President Nursultan Nazarbayev on July 6, he abruptly announced the day before the concert that he’s pulling out. It seems Sting has had an attack of conscience over the treatment of protesting oil workers in western Kazakhstan, which he said was brought to his attention by Amnesty International.“Hunger strikes, imprisoned workers and tens of thousands on strike represents a virtual picket line which I have no intention of crossing,” Sting said in a sanctimonious statement. “The Kazakh gas and oil workers and their families need our support and the spotlight of the international media on their situation in the hope of bringing about positive change.”This isn’t the first time Sting has brought “the spotlight of the international media” onto the conduct of the authoritarian Central Asian states – and onto his own conduct, too. He was caught up in an embarrassing controversy for performing in Uzbekistan in 2009 for Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of dictatorial President Islam Karimov. He agreed to perform in spite of being, he said later, “well aware of the Uzbek president’s appalling reputation in the field of human rights.”Kazakhstan’s human rights record is nowhere near as bad as Uzbekistan’s, but if Sting had done a bit of research before agreeing to the concert he’d have learned of a few problems in a country ruled by a man feted as the Leader of the Nation. Nazarbayev can stay in power for life if he feels like it, helped along by a single-party parliament and an iron grip on much of the media.Nazarbayev’s reaction to the cancellation hasn’t been reported, but it’s an embarrassing blow to him and his administration, for whom international reputation really matters.For them it might be an example of Can’t Stand Losing You, but for Sting it’s obviously more a case of Don’t Stand So Close To Me.
Joanna Lillis is a journalist based in Almaty and author of Dark Shadows: Inside the Secret World of Kazakhstan.
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