William Echols https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/20061/all cached version 08/02/2019 16:23:53 en Alexey Navalny and the moral pillars of democracy https://www.opendemocracy.net/openeconomy/william-echols/alexey-navalny-and-moral-pillars-of-democracy <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">Will the restoration of democratic institutions in Russia usher in a liberal paradise? The answer could very well be “no”.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Navalny-Mayor-Sticker.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>“For Navalny! Let’s change Russia, starting with Moscow!” reads this sticker. Pro-Navalny rally in Moscow, during the opposition leader’s campaign for Moscow Mayor in 2013. Photo CC BY-NC 2.0: Vladmir Varfolomeev / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Liberal eschatologists have long been convinced the end times belong to them. It’s hard to romanticise those who fight for the status quo — after all, history is moving forward. What could possibly be positive about putting the brakes on progress?&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Whatever their politics, Gandhi, Martin Luther King and anyone else worth a Hollywood biopic have been firmly ensconced in an idealised discourse. When figures rise up to reinforce the messianic narrative of hope and transformation, a certain class is primed to raise that stranger’s banner, however distant the land (or cause) is from their own. Cue Alexey Navalny, the Russian anti-corruption campaigner and presidential hopeful <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anna-arutunyan/who-ll-make-russia-great-again">hoping to take on Vladimir Putin for the throne</a>. Just mentioning Navalny’s name sets off accusations and recriminations. Woe to the naive westerner looking to pour their own ideas into Navalny’s distinctively conservative casting, the critics say. <br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />The critics may have a point. For the screenwriter already writing the first draft of Navalny’s triumph over tyranny, one key point is in order: a democratically restored Russia without Vladimir Putin (or Navalny, for that matter) will likely remain a conservative country. Take the work of Jonathan Haidt, who outlined the social-psychological roots of man’s moral intuitions in <a href="http://righteousmind.com/">“The Righteous Mind”</a>.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-center">Maybe, in the “post-truth” era, the progressive’s enemy is not on the other side of the political divide, but the institutional one</span>While not a complete determinist, Haidt argues that our political leanings stem from our genetics, shaped in a millennia-long waltz with group adaptation. He believes that human beings are equipped to exist in dominance hierarchies, though not in the alpha male “might makes right” model. We are social creatures who cooperate to survive. Rights forgone for the sake of the hierarchy also imply responsibilities for those who rise to the top, lest they be overthrown from within, or are crushed by more cohesive groups from without. <br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />According to Haidt, human civilization is based on six moral foundations: Care, Fairness, Liberty, Loyalty, Sanctity and Authority. Adherence to this moral matrix can explain our “spectacular rise to planetary dominance”. It might also illuminate the creeping shadow of revanchist conservatism worldwide. <br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />Why? Because it appears that liberals, especially those in the west, have forsaken loyalty, sanctity and authority in their political messaging. For those with high levels of threat sensitivity but little predisposition to novelty, diversity and variety, progressives appear to be razing the very foundations that make broad social cohesion possible.</p><h2>Russia as testing ground for Haidt’s ideas</h2><p dir="ltr">Haidt’s theories, of course, aren’t some perfect perfect tool for decrypting human cognition, but a mélange of social scientific theory, western philosophy and evolutionary psychology. Critics call him a conservative masquerading as a liberal, cagily trying to turn social norms into empirical truth. <br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />With those caveats in mind, Russia might prove the perfect place to put Haidt’s theories to the test. A power-obsessed nation where the state narrative <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ksenia-polouektova-krimer/unearthing-russia-s-dead-over-and-over-again">sacralises the military fetes of its forefathers</a>, idolises the iron fist and mythologises itself as the “Third Rome” certainly demonstrates the role of loyalty, authority and sanctity in politics.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-center">Any new leader will have to reclaim the Great Patriotic War and the arch of Russian history, girded by the Orthodox Church, “conceived” on the Crimean peninsula, as their own</span>Perhaps one need look no further than the punk rock group Pussy Riot, who called themselves “the children of Dionysus, sailing in a barrel and not recognising any authority,” to bring that point home. Pussy Riot’s punk rock prayer, staged in Russia’s main Orthodox cathedral in 2012, gambled on stomping on sanctity, loyalty and authority for the sake of care, liberty and fairness. According to the Levada Center, It managed to attract the sympathy of <a href="https://www.levada.ru/2013/09/12/otnoshenie-k-bolotnomu-delu-kirovlesu-i-aktsii-pussy-riot/">six percent of Russians</a> one year after the women were locked up in a quasi-ecclesiastical show trial. The Russian authorities, for all of their love of graft and general incompetence, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/nelli-babayan/truthiness-in-russia">cannot be accused of not knowing their own people</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">That isn’t to say that Russian citizens are mere supplicants at the altar of power. Appeals to care and fairness also have weight, as seen through the <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/aida-mirmaksumova/dagestan-s-truckers-are-out-to-fight-russia-s-predatory-state">underreported truckers’ protests in Russia</a> or growing unrest over the <a href="http://intersectionproject.eu/article/politics/renovation-politics-moscow">enormous demolition and resettlement scheme</a> slated for Moscow. But for anyone seeking democratic reform, whereby care, liberty and fairness are respected (if not through equal rights for minorities, then at least through less corruption and the rule of law), one thing is abundantly clear: other moral foundations will have to play a critical role in propping up one’s political platform.</p><p dir="ltr">Any new leader will have to reclaim the Great Patriotic War and the arch of Russian history, girded by the Orthodox Church, “conceived” on the Crimean peninsula, as their own. They cannot merely seek to turn Russia into another European-style democracy. Rather, they will have to “make Russia great again,” projecting authority, engendering loyalty and safeguarding the sacred.<br class="kix-line-break" /></p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/uchiel-bastui.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="293" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Teachers at a May Day demonstration in St Petersburg. Photo (c) “Teacher” Inter-regional trade union of education workers. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Only then can the authorities properly be targeted for neglecting fairness through the systematic elimination of democratic institutions and civil society; for letting the country’s healthcare, social services and infrastructure be degraded for the sake of their laundered money and European villas.</p><h2>Who is Navalny, really?<br class="kix-line-break" /></h2><p dir="ltr">This brings us back to Alexey Navalny, who, it seems, has his finger on the pulse of the nation, setting off alarms among his peers along the way.<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />Prominent journalist Oleg Kashin <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/03/opinion/russia-putin-aleksei-navalny.html?_r=0">has warned</a> on the pages of the New York Times that Navalny, with an authoritarian leadership style and past participation in nationalist causes, may actually be another iteration of Putin rather than his foil. Leftist Ilya Budraitskis has <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ilya-budraitskis/alexei-navalnys-campaign-effective-management-or-grassroots-movement">argued</a> that Navalny’s “vertically organised” protest movement is like a “political machine” coldly indifferent to input from the little guy. Alexey Sakhnin and Per Leander went as far as to brand Navalny <a href="https://www.jacobinmag.com/2017/07/alexey-navalny-putin-opposition-movement-trump">“the Russian version of Donald Trump”</a>. Bloomberg’s Leonid Bershidsky has likewise referred to his political platform as <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2016-12-14/a-populist-challenge-to-putin">“Trump-like”</a>.<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />So what does Navalny actually believe? A bizarre <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjbQdbJUibc">recent debate with Igor Girkin</a> — a key figure in Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and a dyed in the wool monarchist — left that question mostly unanswered. Navalny skirted the hard questions during the debate, all the while attempting to recast Russian nationalism as less of a 19th century imperial redux syndrome and more of a “corruption is undermining our ability to be great” crusade. Who cares if we have Donetsk if hospitals are crumbling in Saratov, Navalny asks. This, however, does little to clarify whether Navany believes Donetsk should remain under Russian-backed rule if the price is right. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2017-08-10 at 11.59.37.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="241" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Alexey Navalny and Igor Girkin hold a debate online. Source: Youtube. </span></span></span>Navalny seems content to leave the big questions within the purview of European technocrats and not moral necessity, hoping, vaguely, that the Minsk Agreement will sort the Ukraine situation out. He is equally vague on Crimea. The Syrian intervention is portrayed by Navalny as a waste of financial, and not moral capital. Navalny, in short, takes a utilitarian approach that is right in Haidt’s wheelhouse.<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />To be fair, Navalny is clearly stuck between scylla and charybdis. What is demanded of Navalny from his nebulous western supporters is likely antithetical to what would put him in power back home, if he is actually allowed to run.</p><h2>Good people are divided by politics, not institutions</h2><p dir="ltr">Maybe the true slant of Navalny’s political leanings are not the most important matter at hand anyways. Maybe, in the “post-truth” era, the progressive’s enemy is not on the other side of the political divide, but the institutional one. It may be less important if Navalny believes in gay adoption and more important if he’d respect a court’s ruling to that effect; whether such a court would be allowed to exist in the first place under his government.</p><p dir="ltr">Haidt, after all, argues that good people are divided by politics, not their belief in institutions. And it appears that robust institutions, in Russia and elsewhere, are the key to a brighter future. A successful Navalny presidency would reassert the independence of the judicial and legislative branches, reduce wealth inequality, fix crumbling infrastructure in the regions, invest in education and pensions, significantly reduce graft, relinquish state control of the fourth estate, respect Russia’s neighbors within a 21st (rather than 19th) century framework, significantly develop the role of civil society, focus on leading through soft power and seek to bolster the sclerotic post-war global order rather than disrupt it.<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />Political voices relegated to the wilderness would be allowed back in from the cold, onto the airwaves, and relatively free from state-sponsored harassment. More importantly, the exact date on which he would step down would be known and constitutionally determined.<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />But Navalny’s rule could also result in the type of curb on immigration that Trump could only dream of, with issues related to LBGTQ rights being left to die on a regional level. The gay propaganda law might go, but will there be gay marriage? Don’t count on it yet. A secular state will be enshrined, but the Orthodox Church, cleaved from the state’s grip but cosseted by officials all the same, might end up taking a larger role in society than ever before, granted people actually start believing in society again.</p><p dir="ltr">In reality, however, Putin is likely primed to lay the foundations for his third decade in power next year. Navalny will likely become a footnote in history — a Decembrist rather than a Bolshevik to inform the next generation of rebels to come. <br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />But the issue of Russia’s future, political and otherwise, <a href="https://jacobinmag.com/2017/08/russa-alexey-navalny-anticorruption-movement-left">goes far beyond Navalny</a>. Activists looking to prioritise gender equality, minority rights and protection of the most vulnerable members of society in Russia today will probably not succeed tomorrow. For those issues to have their day in court, an institutionally sound Russia will first have to be built on foundations not reflecting what Russia “should” be, but rather, what it is. <br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" /></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/editors-and-gudkov/in-russia-sociology-not-just-figures">In Russia, sociology isn’t just about figures</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ilya-budraitskis/alexei-navalnys-campaign-effective-management-or-grassroots-movement">Alexei Navalny&#039;s campaign: effective management or grassroots movement?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/alexei-kozlov/what-can-we-learn-from-russia-s-spring-of-protest">What can we learn from Russia’s spring of protest?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/nelli-babayan/truthiness-in-russia">Truthiness in Russia</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tom-junes/russian-youths-are-taking-to-streets-but-lets-not-over-hype-revolt-of-putin-gene">Russian youths are taking to the streets, but let&#039;s not over-hype the revolt of the “Putin generation” just yet</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/odr-editors/fighting-back">Fighting back, in the back of beyond</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia William Echols Russia Fri, 11 Aug 2017 05:02:46 +0000 William Echols 112787 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Kazakhstan's quiet balancing act https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/william-echols/kazakhstans-quiet-balancing-act <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="https://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/UgL3A_1-P8t7Mn-ESE3Zjq2PTHH6aAJhA3eL5-B5khI/mtime:1441017344/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/2575543604_b269837054_z.jpg" alt="" hspace="5" width="160" align="right" /></p><p>Alongside partners east and west, Kazakhstan has learned how to play a quiet balancing act—with lessons for the Kremlin.</p><p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span>With a ‘president for life’, poor human rights record and hydrocarbon-dependent economy, Kazakstan often appears a mirror image of its northern neighbour, Russia.</span></p><p>Scratch beneath the surface, and you find a post-Soviet state, which, though similar in behaviour to its Russian counterpart, is making its own path. </p><h2>Temporary free fall</h2><p>Over the past ten days, the business world has overwhelmingly been focused on <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/08/20/us-kazakhstan-tenge-idUSKCN0QP0PN20150820">Kazakhstan’s record 23 per cent currency plunge</a>, which followed Astana’s decision to float the tenge. The situation recalls the fate of the rouble after the Russian Central Bank allowed it to float in November 2014.</p><p>By that time, the Russian currency had already fallen 50 per cent against the dollar. But the once-maligned 45.6 rouble-dollar exchange rate would soon seem a dream. On December 16, 2014, Russia was hit with its own ‘Black Tuesday,’ when the rouble dropped by 20 per cent —hitting almost 80 to the dollar and inciting panic among a populace no stranger to economic collapse.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/RIAN_02681694.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="271" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Exchange office in Alma-ata, Kazakhstan. (c) VisualRIAN.</span></span></span></p><p>Perhaps used to the shocks, perhaps fatigued with bad news, the Russian public has been less swift to react as the rouble hit a seven-month-low last Monday, reaching 71 to the dollar. Some analysts believe the Russian currency could hit 85 by year’s end. Having less and expecting less is perhaps the new norm. 

</p><p>In contrast, the tenge has begun a slow, though turbulent recovery. Kazakhstan has no plans to intervene to prop up the currency should the situation deteriorate. The central bank claims there is no specific devaluation target they are aiming for. </p><p>As Bloomberg reports, Kazakhstan’s Prime Minister Karim Massimov claims the free float ‘will create the necessary conditions for a recovery of economic growth, increased lending and investment activity, creation of new jobs and a decrease in the inflation rate to between three per cent and four per cent in the medium term.’ Such high hopes, however, may be wishful thinking.

</p><h2>Stability pegged to the price of oil?</h2><p>With roughly 8.3 times fewer people and an economy 8.5 times smaller (<a href="http://data.worldbank.org/country/russia">$1.861 trillion</a> versus <a href="http://data.worldbank.org/country/kazakhstan">$212.2 billion</a> according to 2014 World Bank data), Kazakhstan is often thought of as a scaled down version of Russia. </p><p><a href="https://atlas.media.mit.edu/en/profile/country/kaz/">According to the Observatory of Economic Complexity</a>, crude petroleum accounts for over 55 per cent of Kazakhstan’s $83.9 billion in annual exports, with petroleum gas and refined petroleum accounting for another 4.9 percent and 4.2 percent respectively.
</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/2575543604_b269837054_z.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="308" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Early morning in Almaty. Irene2005 / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Technically, the EU is <a href="http://ec.europa.eu/trade/policy/countries-and-regions/countries/kazakhstan/">Kazakhstan’s number one destination for goods and services</a>, accounting for nearly 40 per cent of total exports. Italy (8.7 per cent), The Netherlands (7.4 per cent), and France (6.9 per cent) lead the pack, with imports dominated by oil and gas. 

</p><p>But when it comes to individual countries, China is Kazakhstan’s number one export partner, purchasing some $16.4 billion (or 20 per cent) of Kazakhstani goods sold abroad. Russia, meanwhile, comes in second place with nine per cent. 
</p><p>In total, Kazakhstan is the second largest exporter of crude oil in the region after Russia, whose $470 billion in annual exports are also dominated by crude petroleum (39 per cent) refined petroleum (15 per cent) and petroleum gas (9.1 per cent.) Russia also counts the EU among its largest trading partner, though political tensions have seen Moscow attempt an eastward pivot (<a href="http://www.themoscowtimes.com/business/article/russia-sees-fall-in-chinese-investment-as-ruble-slumps/528440.html">which have thus far come with limited results</a>). 
</p><p>With oil accounting for 25 percent of Kazakshtan’s GDP and 60 per cent of its balance of payments, the Central Asian state has seen its fortunes rise and fall on the price of oil. It is only natural that its currency would reflect such fluctuations. 
</p><p>During the boom years when the price of oil rose significantly between 1999 to mid-2008, Kazakhstan experienced an average annual GDP growth of eight per cent.</p><p>After slowing down during the 2009 financial crisis (crude oil plummeted to $30.28 a barrel in December 2008), the Kazakh economy bounced back with the price of oil, hitting a robust 4.6 per cent growth in 2014. </p><p>On the back of falling oil prices growth is expected to cool to 1.5 percent for 2015. That modest figure, however, stands in sharp contrast to Russia, which is set to see GDP fall by 3.4 percent this year, partly due to the price of oil, partly due to western sanctions over its role in the Ukrainian crisis. </p><p>Following a nuclear deal with Kazakhstan’s Iranian neighbour across the Caspian Sea, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) now predicts crude will <a href="http://www.eia.gov/petroleum/supply/weekly/">trade at around $49 per barrel throughout 2015</a>, with a modest recovery to $54 in 2016.

</p><h2>Instability</h2><p>Nonetheless, Kazakstan may yet face instability, and this could be anathema for a society that is governed by a ‘president for life’ in exchange for prosperity. </p><p>Better days have seen harsh repressions in the country, such as the December 2011 massacre in the western oil town of Zhanaozen. Shortly before that tragedy, the town’s main company UzenMunayGas, a subsidiary of state-owned KazMunayGas, had fired 1,000 employers who had gone on strike demanding higher wages, better working conditions and undelivered hazard pay. When the striking workers failed to desist, the police opened fire, killing at least 15 people.</p><p>Considering the legacy of Zhanaozen and the fact that oil accounts for a quarter of Kazakhstan’s economy, Astana is understandably nervous. So far, the Kazakh government is attempting to engage unions through negotiations amidst fears that collective bargaining rights could take a further blow, though the drop in oil prices will give them little leverage to placate workers’ demands. 

</p><p>The writing, in fact, may already be on the wall. Earlier this month, Eurasianet.org reported that the Kazakhstan drilling company Velikaya Stena (Great Wall) had fired 203 staff, with another 200 layoffs expected in the autumn. Further layoffs, pay cuts and shift reductions could bring an already tense situation to a head. 
</p><h2>‘Kazakhstan was never a state’</h2><p>Viewed in this light, one could easily begin to write Kazakhstan off as another resource-cursed Eurasian state with a Soviet-style leader and a ‘foot-first’ retirement plan. </p><p>President Nursultan Nazarbayev, after all, announced a ‘holy war’ against corruption while allegedly stealing billions for himself and enriching his friends and family along the way (both his daughter and son-in-law have been counted among the country’s top ten richest people.) 

</p><p>But there are indicators that Kazakhstan’s future may not be so bleak. Kazakhstan, while courting economic integration with Russia via the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), also hopes to blaze its own path. </p><p>As Daniyar Kosnazarov told Russia Direct earlier this year, despite the EEU, Russia’s actions in Ukraine and ‘anti-Russian sanctions’ have <a href="http://www.russia-direct.org/debates/does-eurasian-economic-union-have-future">‘strengthened Kazakhstan’s sense of sovereignty.’ </a></p><p>Putin himself likely bolstered that sense of sovereignty during the Seliger August 2014 National Youth Forum. After a young woman (<a href="http://thediplomat.com/2014/09/putins-chilling-kazakhstan-comments/">an alleged plant</a>) asked the Russian president if the Ukrainian scenario could be repeated in Kazakhstan following Navarbayev’s departure, Putin replied that Nazarbayev had “accomplished a unique thing’ in creating a state on a territory ‘where there had never been one.”

</p><p>Putin’s answer came as a clear warning for a country with a minority ethnic Russian population and a history of separatist rumblings, including an <a href="http://www.ipsnews.net/1999/11/politics-kazakhstan-russian-plot-tries-already-frayed-ties/">alleged 1999 plot to establish an independent state in the country’s east</a>. </p><p>And while some among Russia’s irredentist Eurasianist movement have called for Kazakhstan in part or in whole to join the Russian Federation, disaffection with the post-Soviet policy of ‘Kazakhization’, which saw hundreds of thousands of Russians immigrate to Russia in the 1990s, has abated among the country’s estimated four million-strong Russian population.

</p><p>As Igor Strelkov, a former commander of Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine admitted, the ‘flywheel’ for war can come from outside if domestic support is lacking. That Astana has considered <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/node/68247">criminalising calls for separatism</a> speaks to a sense of insecurity in the country following the crisis in eastern Ukraine. </p><h2>‘New Singapore’</h2><p>Beyond the Kremlin’s PR techniques, Moscow might want to keep an eye on Kazakhstan for far more benign reasons. In a recent article for Russian business daily <em>Vedomosti</em> <a href="http://www.vedomosti.ru/opinion/articles/2015/07/16/600818-novii-singapur-po-sosedstvu">‘New Singapore next door’</a>, Vladislav Inozmetsev argues there are seven lessons Russia could take from its southern neighbor. </p><p>The first five points are purely economic. In brief, Kazakhstan is actively courting foreign direct investment, attempting to streamline governance and raise its standing, attempting to develop small and medium-sized business rather than ‘national champions’, investing in science and technology until it can one day build a western-style ‘knowledge economy’ and has taken the step of reducing the tax burden in light of the country’s current dependence on primary commodities. 

</p><p>The data does in many cases demonstrate Inozmetsev’s argument. From 2009-2013, accumulated Chinese foreign direct investment (FDI) in Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus increased from $11 billion to $24 billion. Approximately 91.5 per cent of that sum ($22 billion) went into Kazakhstan.

</p><p>In July, the World Economic Forum also ranked Kazakhstan 50th of out 144 countries on its Government Efficiency Index, exceeding not only Russia, but several EU states, including Italy, France, Spain, Belgium and Portugal. </p><p>As for small and medium sized businesses, Kazakh Minister of Finance Bakhyt Sultanov announced in February that between 2015-2019, <a href="http://astanatimes.com/2015/02/kazakhstans-new-economic-policy-will-continue-develop-small-medium-sized-businesses/">they would be able to apply for $13 billion to implement projects in seven ‘priority’ sectors</a>. Russia, by contrast, bled 300,000 jobs between 2008 and 2012, while adding 1.1 million state employees. </p><p>This all fits within Astana’s 2010 industrial policy to gradually move the country away from oil and other natural resources, and begin producing more value-added goods. </p><p>In point number seven, Inozmetsev argues that Kazakhstan is willing to ‘leverage its geopolitical opportunities’ to maximise its position on the world stage. With roads and pipelines already criss-crossing through central Asia, Kazakhstan has been actively developing transportation infrastructure projects with its neighbours to make itself a ‘transit bridge’ (quite literally in some cases) between Asia and Europe. Astana and Beijing alone have already signed 33 deals worth $23 billion.</p><p>But it is Inozemtsev’s penultimate point that is particularly resonant given recent events. And this time, the argument is far more political in nature. 

</p><p>In short, while Moscow has reactively switched back and forth between partners, at times hysterically ranting against America’s leading role in the global system, Astana has accepted its position of relative weakness and actively courted Beijing, Brussels, Moscow and Washington in equal measure. </p><h2>Balancing act</h2><p>In Russia’s near-pathological need to be viewed as a great power, it resists the very system that could make it one. Like Kazakhstan, Moscow could have learned the lesson of China, which embraced the system and subsequently became the world’s largest economy this past December. 

</p><p>Unlike Soviet times, Russia isn’t even opposing the global system on ideological grounds. One only need look at the house Putin has built to realise that his answer to the US-led international order is a distinctly more opaque system, which rests on raw power projection rather than institutions. 
</p><p>Writing for the <a href="http://intersectionproject.eu/article/russia-world/russias-challenge-international-order">Intersection Project</a>, Ulrich Speck says it is no accident that those countries that spent decades under ‘Russian [read: Soviet] domination’ have sought closer ties with the west. ‘For them, being part of the western order means not only to enjoy higher levels of prosperity, it means as well that their independence and territorial integrity is secured,’ Speck argues. 

</p><p>It’s worth pointing out that a willingness to embrace the current global economic order can only take Kazakhstan so far. While rapid economic growth is possible within non-democratic societies (as evidenced by the Soviet Union, where national income grew on average six percent between 1928 and 1960), such systems inevitably hit a wall. </p><p>As Daron Acemoglu and James Robin argue in <em>Why Nations Fail,</em> extractive forms of government are inherently worse at providing incentives for technological change than inclusive ones. They are also less adept at overcoming resistance from elites when it comes to the forces of ‘creative destruction’, which are necessary for economic diversification and growth. At a certain point, democratic institutions and civil society are not merely luxuries; they are a necessity to achieve maximum levels of development and prosperity. 

</p><p><span>How far Kazakhstan can go towards building a more inclusive, knowledge-based economy where small and medium-sized business are secure in their property rights and free to compete with traditional elites remains to be seen. While the ability to court FDI rather than drive it away due to the current investment climate will most certainly give Kazakhstan a relative advantage over Russia, any system that puts the interests of a small group of elites first, and the interests of the nation second, is severely limiting its potential. 

</span></p><p>In light of its current resource dependency and devalued currency, what Kazakhstan best provides is a potential model for how an authoritarian state can manage better economic outcomes by embracing the world as it is, rather than harkening back for a time of spheres of influence and other antiquated modes of geopolitical thinking. Any attempts by Astana to differentiate itself from Russia by loosening its grip on the political system could further shed light on the relationship between economic growth and political inclusivity. </p><p>As it stands, Kazakhstan is one of Russia’s closest allies, though,&nbsp;<span>for Astana,</span><span>&nbsp;their alliance is laced with an undercurrent of existential insecurity: in the world order Putin envisions, crossing Moscow risks inciting a history lesson which may undermine one’s very claim to statehood. The lessons of Georgia and Ukraine are all too plain to see.</span></p><p>Kazakstan currently has no choice but to maintain its proximity to Russia due to their shared history and geography. That relationship, for all its faults, does have its benefits, economic and otherwise. 

</p><p>But those at the helm in Astana also recognise a simple reality: while Kazakhstan’s relationship with Russia is a fait accompli, a brighter future lies both east and west of the Kremlin.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/nick-kochan/kazakhstan-%E2%80%93-succession">Kazakhstan – the succession</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/george-bennett/kazakhstan%27s-reluctant-leader">Kazakhstan&#039;s reluctant leader</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia William Echols Politics Kazakhstan Economy Mon, 31 Aug 2015 10:44:20 +0000 William Echols 95602 at https://www.opendemocracy.net William Echols https://www.opendemocracy.net/content/william-echols <div class="field field-au-term"> <div class="field-label">Author:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> William Echols </div> </div> </div> <p>William Echols formerly served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Kazakhstan and has an MA in International Politics from Queen's University Belfast. He has spent nearly 10 years living and traveling around the post-Soviet world, working as a volunteer, journalist, teacher and translator. He is also the founder of the blog <a href="https://russianavos.wordpress.com/">Russian Avos</a>.</p><div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Article license:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> William Echols Mon, 31 Aug 2015 10:15:28 +0000 William Echols 95603 at https://www.opendemocracy.net