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Good relations with Kazakhstan will help the persecuted. What can President Kwasnewski and other Polish politicians do?

The position of the Open Dialog Foundation on Aleksander Kwasniewski’s role as an advisor to the President of Kazakhstan.

The Open Dialog Foundation has been engaged in the struggle for human rights and democratisation of public life in Kazakhstan for several years now. In connection with the Polish media reports about President Aleksander Kwasniewski’s cooperation with Nursultan Nazarbayev, President of Kazakhstan, who has governed the country in an authoritarian manner, we decided to take a stand in the debate. We hope that the current interest of the media with the situation in Kazakhstan will conduce not only to publicising, but also to the improvement of the situation surrounding the democratic opposition, independent media and ordinary citizens of this country.

The dramatic circumstances of independent communities in Kazakhstan in recent years have been determined by the following events:

 a. Pacification of a peaceful strike in Zhanaozen (which is the centre of the oil industry in the west of the country) in December 2011. These events are reminiscent of Polish December 1970 (officially 16 casualties, dozens injured and missing, many refugees, also currently residing in Poland);

 b. Expostulated by the European Parliament, the European Commission, the OSCE, as well as by many non-governmental organisations, including the Helsinki Committee, Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, politically motivated lawsuits and convictions, followed by many years’ prison sentences in relation to labour union and opposition activists, including, most predominantly, the leader of the largest opposition party “Alga!”, Vladimir Kozlov, who was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison;

 c. Banning of media outlets, unrelated to the government (the newspapers: “Respublika” and “Vzglyad”, the internet portals: “STAN.TV” and television “K+”) and the closure of independent non-governmental organisations, accompanied by confiscation of their property (the “Amansaulyk” foundation and other). 

Among Polish politicians, most actively involved in the activities related to human rights and freedoms in Kazakhstan, are MEPs Piotr Borys, Andrzej Grzyb, Marek Migalski and Joanna Senyszyn, as well as a member of the parliament, Marcin Swiecicki. They participate in observation missions, point to numerous violations of international law and conventions, meet with representatives of the oppressed communities, issue official statements and queries to the relevant Kazakh institutions, as well as to Polish and European bodies, responsible for the conduct of foreign policy and cooperation with Kazakhstan.

Our experience shows that this kind of activities, taking into consideration President Nazarbayev’s attempts to build a positive image in the international arena, can have a significant impact on the situation of those oppressed. This is demonstrated by examples of the release of those arrested and charged with inciting social hatred: human rights defenders, social activists and independent journalists after adoption of the European Parliament’s resolution on 15 March, 2012 (in which Polish MEPs played a significant role). Igor Vinyavskiy, the editor-in-chief of the newspaper “Vzglyad”, which has been outlawed in recent weeks is now at liberty. He was released from custody on the day of the adoption of the resolution. Unfortunately, for him the freedom was connected with a one-way ticket – today he is a political emigrant living with his family in Poland. There are more and more people like him in our country. As they did not cease to undermine the reputation of Kazakhstan as the official leader of reforms, an oasis of democracy, stability and development in Central Asia at the international arena (we often participate together in conferences and meetings at the European Parliament and the European Commission), they fear for their own safety and physical integrity. At present, Muratbek Ketebayev, a member of the management of the “Alga!” party, is applying for political asylum in our country.

It is indubitable that the Kazakh president exercises power in an authoritarian and repressive way. At the same time, his international activity, aspirations and economic ties with Europe give the international community many instruments of effective pressure. Our approach is pragmatic: we believe that the authority and relations of President Kwasniewski can contribute to the recovery of freedom by Vladimir Kozlov and the improvement of the situation with the civil society in Kazakhstan. We believe that he will use them like he did in Ukraine in 2004, where his role as a mediator enjoying the trust of both parties to the conflict made it possible to develop a peaceful solution that has eventually led to democratisation of the country and to the state’s decision to head towards Europe.  

Poland is a country of successful transformation and it has become an exemplar for many Eastern states, not only in the field of economy, but also democracy, the rule of law and human rights as well as the integration into European structures. We appreciate the fact that many Polish left-wing politicians, who have stood up for Aleksander Kwasniewski, maintain good relations with representatives of the ruling elites in Kazakhstan. These include Jerzy Wenderlich, the head of the parliamentary group of bilateral relations between Poland and Kazakhstan, MEP Marek Siwiec (formerly a patron of our exhibition devoted to social problems in Kazakhstan in the European Parliament), and Ryszard Kalisz, who, as the Chairman of the Committee on Justice and Human Rights, organised with us a press conference in the Polish Sejm with Vladimir Kozlov, Igor Vinyavski and striking workers in 2011. Unfortunately, today the workers and Kozlov are imprisoned, having been convicted of “anti-state activities”.

It is very important for us that Polish politicians use their relations in a constructive way to help the families of killed workers, witnesses who became victims of torture during the interrogation, and of political prisoners. If President Kwasniewski’s intervention with Nursultan Nazarbayev results in granting amnesty to Vladimir Kozlov and the imprisoned workers from Zhanaozen, it will be a great success. 

President Nazarbayev (who is already 72 years old and suffers from cancer), has recently secured his departure with lifetime immunity, both personal and relating to property. The immunity extends also on the family members. In Kazakhstan, strikes are more and more prevalent, and factions in the ruling elites are preparing for the succession struggle, at the same time making endeavours to eliminate the democratic, formally illegal, opposition and independent media outlets. We welcome the fact that, just like a few years ago in Ukraine, many Polish politicians do not wish to be mere passive observers of these events. We will evaluate not only their intentions, but also their accomplishments.