Zhanaozen 2: some lessons

Part one – Part two (Zhovtis: Lessons of Zhanaozen) – part three (Aron Atabek)

Text of a speech by EVGENII ZHOVTIS at a round table discussion in Almaty on 13 December 2012.

People & Nature has reproduced this from the KMBPChiSZ web site, to which Evgenii submitted the speech for publication. The speech was also featured on the Zhanaozen oil workers site. Places where the text has been shortened are marked […].   

First lesson. Zhanaozen demonstrated in real life the need for the existence of independent trade unions.

I mean the existence of organised representatives of workers – who they trust; who can co-ordinate social action; who can carry on a dialogue, as equals, with the employers and the representatives of state power; who possess the legitimacy and competence to resolve labour conflicts.

The events at Zhanaozen higlighted the absence of such trade unions and workers’ organisations – notwithstanding the fact that Kazakhstan has ratified International Labour Organisation conventions, including the one concerning the defence of the rights of workers’ representatives, and has taken on the international obligations that are implied.

The state and employers short-sightedly assume that they are guaranteed control over the social activity of workers by the “pocket” [yellow] trade unions, that can’t be seen or heard – despite the economic crises, dismissals and problems with workers’ pay and conditions.

But when the situation hots up and conflicts arise, then these trade unions can neither speak nor act on workers’ behalf. And then informal leaders appear among workers, who are active outside the bounds of the system, with all the consequences that follow from that.

For two decades the state and employers, including foreign employers, have stubbornly resisted the formation of independent trade unions and relied on the legacy of the Soviet unions – the Federation of Trade Unions of Kazakhstan.

Zhanaozen must sound the alarm for all of them.

Second lesson. Zhanaozen showed the inability of the authorities at all levels to conduct a normal civilised dialogue.

Unfortunately, the people were never seen in our country as a subject that could take political, economic and social decision. The people were always the object of “care”, of manipulation, of control, of subjection, of brainwashing. Our relationship to power has always been multi-layered. They command, we obey.

This is not a dialogue, but a monologue by the state, with force to back it up. The result is that when conflicts arise, the state almost immediately resorts to the use of its administrative resources. Threats, sackings, pressure and so on. This is the instruments they are used to using and feel comfortable with. That’s why the police do not even employ specially-trained negotiators. They either disperse crowds or – as became clear in the Zhanaozen tragedy – just start shooting.

We can’t do without negotiations. Conflicts can not be resolved by violence. And it’s the authorities who need to learn to negotiate. The authorities at all levels. Negotiations are not easy, but there is no alternative to them. We need to learn how to reach agreement, not how to give orders and how to beat people into submission.

And what is even more tragic, as the events at Zhanaozen showed, is that the law enforcement agencies are completely unprepared – technically, organisationally, professionally – to deal with mass disturbances without just using arms to defeat them.

[…] Evgenii gave details about the requirements of international law with regard to the use of arms by security services, and discussed these in the context of the Zhanaozen events. […]

Third lesson. Society is extremely atomised. There is little solidarity, little sympathy with each other. This is not civil society, but state society. Just as in the Soviet Union, society is controlled by the state, society depends on the state, society fears the state, and society is guided by the state, directly or indirectly.

In our country there are several thousand non-government organisations, who give people support, and try to resolve social problems. But still this does not amount to civil society. Because it is not united to defend other citizens, including to defend them against the state.

For several months, several hundred people stood in the square [at Zhanaozen], fighting for their rights, and apart from a few politicians, social activists, journalists and human rights defenders, no-one was interested. Only the shock from the shootings stirred the rest of society.

Civil society means responsibility not only for oneself and one’s family, but for others. Unfortunately we don’t have such civil society.

Fourth lesson. Legal.

For some reason all our juridical and law enforcement bodies forgot that all decisions – as even our own legislation says, to say nothing of international standards – one should be guided not only by the letter of the law, but also by considerations of common sense and justice.

Just as the decision to disperse the residents of Shanyrak near Almaty  was, perhaps, based on the letter of the law, but obviously defied common sense and was clearly unjust – so the decisions by the juridical arm of the state in the course of the labour conflict at Zhanaozen were so often bereft of common sense or justice. [Shanyrak, a shanty town, was cleared in a notoriously violent police action in 2007. See part three here] And injustice is a sensation that can be felt much more strongly than legality or illegality.

All the criminal trials that have taken place as a result of Zhanaozen events have shown with crystal clarity that the law is so deeply buried beneath politics, beneath political expediency, that there’s just no point in talking about all the key principles of criminal justice (all-sidedness, objectivity, fullness of vision, presumption of innocence, the equality of sides in the adversarial system, the burden of proof on the prosecution, etc). […]

Fifth lesson. About morality and immorality.

However much we might talk about what a filthy business politics is, there are no politics, no aspects social life, no relationships between people, that can not be judged by moral criteria.

In this tragedy [at Zhanaozen], apart from the manifestation of genuinely human qulaities – courage, loyalty, and so on – there was much lying, treachery and humiliation, ungratefulness and cowardice, rottenness and playing on the basest human instincts.

I fear that this is the most extreme alarm signal for our society. We need to think seriously, before the signal becomes the diagnosis.

The events at Zhanaozen and the nearby areas – this is one of the toughest chapters in the history of independent Kazakhstan. And a great deal for the present generation, and future generations, depends on the lessons that are learned from this by the state and by society.

Part one – Part two (Zhovtis: Lessons of Zhanaozen) – part three (Aron Atabek)




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: