Kazakhstan Minister Gets Egg on His Face
Kazakhstan’s social affairs minister was pelted with eggs Friday while addressing the government’s controversial pension reforms at a lively press conference.In a show of protest rare for Kazakhstan, Minister of Labor and Social Protection Serik Abdenov was targeted as he attempted to explain why the government is seeking to raise the pension age for women from 58 to 63 over the next decade. The reform, which would bring the female retirement age into line with the male one, has passed its first reading in the lower house of parliament (with several more stages to go before it becomes law), raising a storm of controversy.Abdenov called the briefing in Almaty on April 26 to douse the flames of the dispute – but one protestor was not in the mood for listening. Activist Andrey Tsukanov got up and hurled two eggs at the minister, Tengri News reports. A video posted by Radio Azattyq showed Abdenov batting away the make-do missiles. Abdenov has become the target of vilification and ridicule in the past week after another unsuccessful attempt to defend Astana’s pension reforms to a group of workers in Temirtau, an industrial city in eastern Kazakhstan, fell flat. Asked why women should work for five more years, Abdenov got a little lost for words. “You have to work and work,” he said, to guffaws of laughter from the audience,” because, my dear fellow countrymen, because, because.” At this point the laughter turned into an angry buzz from the audience, but Abdenov – the cabinet’s youngest member at age 36 – persevered: “Why should we be thinking about a pension aged 50? When we retire we will simply catch more sicknesses. We will get old more quickly. That’s for sure.”That turned Abdenov into an “Internet star,” as KTK TV put it. The video went viral on YouTube and sparked an Internet campaign in which women are posting photograph of themselves online holding up a poster saying, “I have to work to 63 because… because” – with the word “because” spelt incorrectly in Russian for comic effect.The government says Kazakhstan simply cannot afford to keep supporting women when they retire at 58 and will phase the change in gradually. But Abdenov’s cause has not been helped by a statement he made last September, immediately after his appointment to the cabinet: He said he saw no reason to raise the retirement age. Tsukanov was detained and faces a fine or a 10-day prison sentence on hooliganism charges, Almaty police told Tengri News.
Joanna Lillis is a journalist based in Almaty and author of Dark Shadows: Inside the Secret World of Kazakhstan.
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