This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS ALMATY 002838
DEPARTMENT FOR EUR/CACEN (JMUDGE)
E.O. 12958: N/A TAGS: PGOV PREL KZ POLITICAL SUBJECT: KAZAKHSTANI YOUTH MOVEMENT FINDS INSPIRATION IN ORANGE REVOLUTION
1. (SBU) Summary: In an initiative to mobilize apathetic youth in Kazakhstan, a new non-partisan youth movement, called Kahar [Protest], emerged last winter. Drawing inspiration, if not the numbers, from influential youth groups like Otpor and Pora, Kahar could attract more young people, especially students, to political activism ahead of the widely-expected December presidential elections. That said, the organization remains low-key, informal, and unregistered. It may face significant obstacles given the recently-enacted national security legislation and the restrictive NGO laws currently with the Constitutional Council. End summary
Young People of Kazakhstan Unite
2. (SBU) On July 26, POEC Intern and Public Affairs FSN met with the director of the Kahar [Protest] youth movement Bakhtzhan Toregozhina, and several young volunteers, in their Almaty headquarters. Toregozhina discussed the origins of Kahar, the organization's structure, the need for student participation in the political process, and activities planned in run-up to widely-expected December presidential elections. The unregistered group began organizing activities this winter, operating unofficially from a dingy three-room basement office with two old computers and a photocopy machine. According to an Embassy contact, Kahar is technically illegal and must operate underground since it has not had a founding congress or registered with the MOJ. Toregozhina is an opposition political activist with ties to former PM Akezhan Kazhegeldin, who now resides in London. Before Kahar, Toregozhina ran an NGO called "Ar.Rukh.Khak," which organized pickets and seminars devoted to free speech and women's rights.
3. (SBU) Since Kahar started operating this winter, it has organized several street demonstrations, conducted voter education campaigns, and made public appeals to students and young activists. Initially reluctant to discuss funding, Toregozhina eventually acknowledged in private that she had at one time received financial support from Kazhegeldin. Beaming at a portrait of Kazhegeldin which hangs in her office, she claimed that if he were in Kazakhstan he would be president today.
A New Shade of Orange?
4. (SBU) Due to its meager financial means, Kahar has few concrete plans for the time being, except for protests and voter information initiatives. It has, however, established a brand for itself. Kahar's symbol, printed on stickers and t-shirts, is a falcon perched on top of a shield, with a lemon-yellow background. The color yellow was a good choice, they said, since it is eye-catching and a reminder of the Kazakhstani flag. Toregozhina claimed Kahar had around 98 active members, but with up to one thousand attending demonstrations and other events.
5. (SBU) The volunteers said that Kahar has representation in other areas of the country, including Petropavlovsk and Shymkent. Because it lacks financial backing, however, Kahar's reach is limited and its core constituency is based in Almaty. Toregozhina explained that it is not easy to mobilize supporters, since access to university premises is restricted. In fact, she said she would be arrested if she attempted anything of the sort. Kahar has been most successful in recruiting volunteers through its website. The website is well-constructed, regularly updated, and includes articles and editorials written by Kahar members, media coverage about the organization, and a litany of hip slogans, songs, and some cartoons. It also provides links to Pora (Ukraine) and a few fledging youth groups, such as Zubr (Belarus) and Kel-Kel (Kyrgyzstan).
A Protest Group, but Not the Opposition
6. (SBU) Toregozhina noted with great concern last fall's flawed parliamentary elections. She believes that students
were coerced into voting for incumbent leaders. In preparation for presidential elections, Kahar will try to conduct voter education and information campaigns. Last week, dressed in their signature yellow and black t-shirts, Kahar activists attended as observers the July 22-23 founding party congress of Alga-DCK [now simply "Alga"], a spin-off of Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan. When asked about support for such opposition forces, however, Toregozhina insisted that Kahar is an independent, non- partisan youth movement. (Comment: Based on interviews from the website and on her comments during the meeting, Toregozhina does not hide her close contacts with other liberal youth movements, such as Ukraine's Pora and Otpor in Serbia. In a Deutsche Welle interview in June, she said that Pora was the ideal to which Kahar should strive for mobilizing young people to politics. End comment).
7. (SBU) Toregozhina, along with another Kahar member, was in Ukraine during the "orange" revolution. She proudly showed us numerous photographs of the event, which were posted all over the walls of the office. A Pora leader reportedly paid a visit recently to Toreghozhina, offering training and instructions on conducting youth movement activities. In late June, Toreghozhina was invited to Berlin by a German-based Central Asian democracy support group.
8. (SBU) Kahar has attracted some press coverage, especially by opposition media outlets. Using similar tactics employed by the youth movement Zubr in Belarus, Kahar has conducted humorous but confrontational stunts in public, in part to arouse in interest in the group, but also to agitate authorities and attract publicity. In early July, Kahar activists marched on Gogol Street with white stickers taped to their mouths saying "We want to speak." During a weekend rock concert in mid-July, several Kahar activists were arrested for distributing leaflets containing Kahar's contact information and some provocative lyrics by Kazakhstani rock legend Viktor Tsoi. In another incident, Kahar members distributed lemons to people, symbolizing grenades. Four more actions are planned over the next few months, Toregozhina said.
9. (SBU) Comment: Despite its small size, Kahar could attract close attention by the Kazakhstani authorities, fearful of any hint of a "colored revolution" as elections approach. With its web-links to Pora and publicized contacts with other youth movements, this unregistered, group has taken a provocative stance. Recent national security legislation provides the GOK with a range of legal tools to act against the group, should it chose to do so. End Comment.