8 марта 2024
Paolo Sorbello, photo by Dmitriy Mazorenko

The Week in Kazakhstan: Nothing but Flowers

Bektenov goes to Moscow, the regulator tightens the screws on non-performing loans

The Week in Kazakhstan: Nothing but Flowers

Police officers in Almaty threatened to detain feminist activists on March 7 and 8, in connection with their attempts to take pictures with rainbow flags and posters. Applications to hold a rally for International Women’s Day from single and organized activists had been repeatedly rejected by the local authorities, who then allowed a conservative, pro-government group to set up a stage in Gandhi Park. Students of Nazarbayev University in Astana and of SDU near Almaty were also denied permission to hold a rally on March 8.

Prime Minister Olzhas Bektenov traveled to Russia on March 4 for his first foreign visit since he was appointed last month. Relations between Russia and Kazakhstan have been close, despite the diplomatic distance with respect to Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine. Trade between the two countries has grown in recent years.

On March 7, a court in Almaty sentenced to prison terms six of the defendants that had allegedly plotted a coup. Three defendants were sentenced to six years in prison, while another three were given five-year terms. Another defendant was handed a three-year suspended sentence. They had been arrested in November 2022, just days before a snap presidential election. [Read more about the defendants, some of whom were also involved in trials about the January Events here.]

Police in the western oil town of Zhanaozen detained dozens of people that held a protest outside the local government building on March 6. The protesters, who have long waited for jobs in an “unemployed list”, were fined and released shortly thereafter. Companies in Mangistau’s oil sector have recently been the target of worker protests over low wages and dangerous work conditions.

The ministry of energy said on March 5 that prices for liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), a common transport fuel especially in the west of the country, will increase in the spring. The ministry said the increase would be minimal, around 5-8 tenge (one or two cents) per liter. In January 2022, when LPG prices suddenly doubled after the government changed a pricing scheme, protests erupted in Mangistau and spread across the country, before being quashed by the security forces in what became known as Qandy Qantar (Kazakh for ‘Bloody January’).

The Kazakhstan-headquartered unit of Danish brewer Carlsberg appealed the decision of a Russian court to lift its license to sell products under the Baltika brand, which it previously owned, Reuters reported on March 4. In July 2023, the Russian government took control of Baltika’s shares, previously owned by Carlsberg. The Danish company accused the Russian government of unlawfully stripping them of their assets. Baltika is Russia’s largest brewer.

Around 10,000 residents have declared “personal bankruptcy” in the first year since the new law came into force, the government said on March 6. The ministry of finance said it received around 87,500 applications in the same period. The total default amounted to around 20 billion tenge ($45 million). Personal bankruptcy allows citizens to default on their debts, while retaining vital assets.

A new draft law that was introduced in parliament on March 6 will ban banks from lending to customers who already hold overdue loans. As of January, according to research at Halyk Finance, non-performing loans (defined as debt overdue for more than 90 days) at Kazakhstan’s banks amounted to 3% of all loaned cash. The bill also would prohibit debt collectors from selling the rights to these loans for 24 months since the signing of the contract. Madina Abylkassymova, the head of the Agency for regulation of the financial market, said this measure will ensure that collectors would first try to restructure debt with their clients.

A data leak concerning around 2 million residents of Kazakhstan was discovered on March 5 by the State Technical Service. The leaked data was handled by the microfinance operator zaimer.kz, through the global platform Robo.finance. The data breach at Robo.finance leaked private details about more than 36 million people, mostly residents of Russia.

An earthquake and its aftershocks scared residents of Almaty in the morning of March 4. With an epicenter just 31 kilometers from Kazakhstan’s largest city, the 5 magnitude earthquake prompted most residents to leave their homes and workplaces. A strong earthquake shook Almaty on January 23.