How Tito Explains Kazakhstan

He gave them a good life. Most of the people in Yugoslavia were peasants who had moved to cities after World War II but remembered their hard lives in the villages. The Marshal spoiled them. Like him, they enjoyed life far beyond their means. That is why the political opposition never blossomed in this country. People were satisfied with their lives, with their standard of living. they were happy to travel abroad. To wear blue jeans and Italian shoes. To read foreign books and newspapers, watch movies and TV programs from the West. With these crumbs of freedom Yugoslavia differed from the Soviet bloc countries. How little a difference it was – and how big at the same time!

Slavenka Drakulic in A Guided Tour Through the Museum of Communism

The above quote is about Josip Broz Tito, leader of postwar Yugoslavia until his death in 1980. Reading about his life, it’s hard not to draw a few comparisons with President Nazarbaev. Both are unifying paternal figures dominating large and diverse countries. Both also lead/led countries through relative good times, especially compared to their immediate neighbors. Nazarbaev likes to compare himself to Ataturk, or Lee Kuan Yew, but its interesting that Tito never pops up, perhaps because of what happened to Yugoslavia after his death. The quote also helps explain the tolerance (as perceived by the west) of repressive regimes by their societies. Relations are complex. They are not black and white as the media often portrays, instead most people fall into a grey middle zone.

So instead of a power/opposition binary system, let’s try to divide society in a ‘soft authoritarian’ country like Kazakhstan into four groups:

1. The Cynics (C), The core elite. They are out for themselves and will do what it takes to stay in power.

2. The Cynical Pragmatists (CP): Also out for themselves, and thus willing to go along with sometimes immoral practices and corruption. But they don’t decide these practices and would gladly do the opposite if it were for their benefit.

3. The Cynical Idealists (CI): They would prefer a fair and democratic country, but as long as they get basic rights and economic fulfillment they will tolerant some corruption, mild repression and theft. Commonly referred to as the apathetic masses.

4. The Idealists (I) : The active hard core of political dissidents. Includes some (but not all!) opposition and human rights activists.

Let’s say the Cynics and Idealists each comprise 5-10% of the population (just making that up, it’s quite possibly smaller). The other two groups (the middle) are then 80-90% of the population. Bureaucrats (Homo Astanus), educated youth (Homo Bolashakus) and rural migrants are just part of this so far politically inactive middle. Yet when the system opens up, after Nazarbaev, they may aim to make their mark. Isn’t that worth looking at?


3 Comments Add yours

  1. Mukhtar says:

    What makes you think the system will “open up” after NAN leaves the stage? With his protoges and “mini-clones” like Dzhaksylbekov and “serie kardinali” like Abykaev populating the decision-making circles in Astana, it leaves very little room for optimism, in my opinion.

    1. molapse says:

      Hello Mukhtar, thanks for the intelligent question, you raise an excellent point. You are right that those benefitting from the current regime will try to maintain best they can it after NAN; and they certainly will have the advantage. Even so, the optimist in me thinks there will still be more space for other groups (outlined above and in other related posts) to push for their own. So by ‘opening up’ I don’t exactly mean liberalize, just that the current complete monopoly will end. Then the current lag between social reality and the political system will lesson (for better or worse). I’ll try to address some of these ideas in my next post.

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