In the official narrative of Kazakhstan’s post-Soviet history, President Nursultan Nazarbayev is lauded for fostering widespread prosperity while maintaining inter-ethnic harmony. Lately, though, the official paeans to Nazarbayev’s virtues haven’t been able to drown out voices of doubt about Kazakhstan’s development path, voices that reflect an ever-widening rich-poor gap and urban-rural divide.
One relatively minor, but illustrative incident occurred in January: authorities jailed a young man who made a rude gesture at an official motorcade in the northern city of Pavlodar. Outside official circles, the incident was seen as an outgrowth of the frustration felt by the considerable segment of society that is being bypassed by the country’s energy boom. This is precisely the type of sentiment that provided the fuel for violent protests last month in Azerbaijan, another oil-rich country with a gaping social divide.
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Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specializes in Central Asia.