A group of flashmobbers took to the slopes in south-eastern Kazakhstan on a crisp March morning this year to spell out a heartfelt SOS with their bodies.
In this case, SOS could have stood for “save our slopes:” the 70 activists who lay down in the snow to form the letters were protesting controversial plans to build a ski resort in an area of pristine natural beauty near the commercial capital, Almaty. Opponents were also calling attention to apparent conflicts of interest that surround the project and raise the potential for corruption.
The dispute over plans to develop the pristine slopes of Kok-Zhaylau (“green summer pasture” in Kazakh) pits the city government and powerful business interests against environmental activists and concerned citizens, who are fighting to preserve a beauty spot inside the Ile-Alatau national park. Despite the official designation, development in protected territory is legally possible in certain cases.
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Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specializes in Central Asia.