Kazakhstan’s Human Rights Crackdown

Astana Is Moving Backwards

Ak Orda, the official residence of Kazakhstan's President, in Astana, June 2011. Shamil Zhumatov / REUTERS

U .S. President-elect Donald Trump appears to believe that Kazakhstan’s 25-year history represents a “miracle.” Yet independence day celebrations on December 16 took place under the cloud of an economic crisis. The economy is expected to grow by only 0.5 percent in 2016, the lowest rate since 1998, which is causing deep hardship for ordinary people.

Kazakhstan’s leadership, however, is putting on a brave face by trying to focus attention elsewhere. Advertisements for Astana Expo 2017, the country’s latest PR extravaganza, are everywhere—on airplanes, bus stops, even the lapels of government security guards.  

Indeed, few other middle-income countries work harder, or arguably are more successful, at nurturing a global image of prosperity, diversity, and responsibility. Astana’s key international victory in 2016—winning a two-year term on the UN Security Council beginning in January 2017—fits this pattern.

But such promotion campaigns are disconnected from the reality on the ground. For many years,

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