Kazakh protesters topple former leader’s statue as unrest sweeps the country


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Protests fueled by anger over sharply rising fuel prices and acute corruption have spread in recent days across Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic larger than Western Europe. On Wednesday, mobs raided government buildings and toppled and destroyed a monument to Nursultan Nazarbayev, the autocrat who had ruled the oil-rich country since 1990.

Artists, some of whom are participating in the protests, have expressed fears on social media before the internet crashes in a government-imposed blackout as a two-week state of emergency goes into effect.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who has been seen as his hand-picked successor, with Nazarbayev in the post of “national leader,” requested peacekeeping troops from the Collective Security Treaty Organization on Wednesday, the Russian version of NATO. Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko, who cracked down on protesters against his regime in 2020 and jailed many artists and cultural figures, expressed particular enthusiasm for the demand. The alliance said it would send troops “for a limited period of time.”

In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Suinbike Suleimenova, a feminist activist videographer, wrote:

“Now, is it important to stop the violence, all kinds of manipulation, time to think about what to do next? What reforms do we really need? The worst thing that can happen now is the transfer / takeover of power from one thief regime to another. It is important for us to preserve our independence, our status of State! “

Timur Aktaev, the former curator of Astana Art Fest, wrote that “the main thing is not to allow Islamization”.

Zoya Falkova, an ethnically Russian feminist artist who is currently visiting India and was therefore able to respond via Facebook Messenger on Thursday to a request from The arts journal says: “We don’t need [Russian president Vladimir] Putin and his political system in Kazakhstan. I wouldn’t want to be one of those he can use as an excuse to attack my country.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement Thursday that it viewed the events in Kazakhstan as “an externally inspired attempt to undermine the security and integrity of the state by force, using trained armed formations. and organized “.

Kazakhstan is strategically located between Russia and China. The Kazakhs, a Turkish ethnic group, are Muslims, but the country also has a large Russian ethnic minority, especially in the north near the Russian border. For years, there were concerns that Russia could potentially claim this territory as part of Siberia.

One of the flagship projects of the Nazarbayev regime was the construction of a glitzy new capital, Astana, near the Russian border. The old capital, Almaty, was closer to China. Both cities were engulfed by protests.

Astana was renamed Nur-Sultan in 2019 in honor of Nazarbayev after his resignation as president. During his reign it was transformed from a dusty steppe railroad junction into a strange collection of buildings by internationally renowned architects including Norman Foster, who designed the Khan Shatyr entertainment center and a 62-meter-high pyramid. known as the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation.

There have also been attempts at major contemporary art projects, including Expo 2017 in Astana, and failed attempts to launch an inaugural Kazakhstan pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2019 and to tour internationally. contemporary Kazakh art which resulted in a financial scandal.

In 2018, the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow helped launch Tselinny, a contemporary art center in Almaty funded by an oil and real estate tycoon linked to Nazarbayev’s family.

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