The “father” of the country has suddenly become the unnameable
What is the name of the capital of Kazakhstan? A much more tricky question than it seems, not only because in two centuries it has changed its name so many times – Akmola, Zelinograd, Astana – to confuse anyone, but because since yesterday the TV, turned on again after two days of blackout, has avoided mention it except as “state capital”. A more disturbing and embarrassing signal than “Swan Lake” which, broadcast out of the schedule on Soviet TV, meant the death of a leader, or a coup. In fact, since 2019, the capital of the Asian country bears the name of Nursultan, “luminous ruler”, in honor of its first president and founding father, Nazarbayev. A change of name that had not been appreciated by many, a symbol of a cult of the personality of an autocrat who resigned from the presidency after 30 years of government only to remain to watch over his dauphin Kasym-Zhomart Tokyaev. But only three years after this tribute to Yelbasi, “leader of the nation”, Nazarbayev suddenly becomes unmentionable, and no one even knows where he is.
Last seen in public at the end of December, in Petersburg, at the summit of post-Soviet leaders convened by Vladimir Putin, the 81-year-old leader has since maintained a deafening silence as his country erupted into a bloody revolt. Rumors in Almaty and Nursultan (which perhaps is no longer called that) give him for dead, and indeed explain that the protest was triggered by his departure, kept secret by the clans in power to divide up the spoils. Various deep throats resulted in him being hospitalized in a clinic in Moscow, fled to a military base in Tajikistan, emigrated to Dubai and sheltered in Zurich (a city where the former president’s family owns several luxury properties, as well as in London and in other prestigious destinations). The only one who says he spoke to him yesterday is Aleksandr Lukashenko, not exactly the most reliable source. But if there are doubts about the physical health of the Yelbasi, his political conditions appear very bad. Three days ago his dauphin Tokayev snatched from him the post of head of the republic’s security apparatus – which the astute Yelbasi had reserved for himself for life – to take over, but as of yesterday the Khabar television channel accuses him of being a “Traitor of the state”.
Ironically, Khabar was founded by Nazarbyaev’s powerful daughter, Dariga, and was crucial in the propaganda of her father’s regime. Now he broadcasts the statements of a former advisor to the president on a “conspiracy” hatched by the National Security Committee – the powerful heir of the Soviet KGB – against Tokaev, complete with “training camps for terrorists in the mountains” of which the intelligence would have hidden existence. Security was Nazarbyaev’s prerogative even after he had ceased to be president, and the Committee was led by his loyal Karim Massimov and his nephew Samat Abish, both fired by Tokyayev three days ago and replaced by his men. The Kazakh media announced yesterdayThe arrest of Abish was initiated, subsequently denied, but the season of hunting for the family, not only the political one of the former president, is now open.
A scenario that explains many questions in recent days, first of all that on why Tokayev broke the rule of all post-Soviet dictators not to call the Russians to help: he did not trust the security apparatuses still loyal to his former mentor. It is also understandable why at the beginning he seemed to go towards protest, instead of opening fire as Nazarbayev had done: in many squares, economic and social demands had been accompanied by the slogan “shal ket”, drive out the old, and discontent can having been ridden as a pretext to get rid of the elderly leader (and his oligarchs). And it is understandable why Xi Jinping applauded what seems more and more a coup by Tokayev, considered very pro-Chinese compared to a Nazarbaev careful to have friends in the East as well as in the West. A neutrality that an increasingly assertive China no longer wants to accept, comments Aleksandr Baunov of Carnegie Moscow. Finding himself in singular harmony with Putin, who in the meantime is challenging Washington to regain his former Soviet spheres of influence.
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