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Maxim Kaznacheyev. Social tension in the context of economic crisis

The current level of social tension in Kazakhstan can be characterized as moderate; however there are latent forms of conflicts in social sector, some of them began to develop gradually into spontaneous protest actions. So far actions of small scale, with mainly economic requirements only, are registered.

Sharp devaluation of national currency in the second half of the year 2015 created a negative social and economic background for political processes in 2016. In case of further deterioration of an economic situation the number of protests of vulnerable social groups of the population can increase. At the same time the vast majority of social protests has a semi-structured character that reduces the probability of their immediate mass splash (due to absence of a single insolvency representative of the opposition centre).

In this context, the greatest threat for maintenance of public unity and stability is represented by formation of a single coordination centre for managing protests not only by Kazakhstani counter elite groups, but also by the interested external players.

The additional arguments for latent development of social protests over the short and medium term: 1) inefficiency or lack of channels to express discontent of the population; 2) low level of civil activity.

The dependence of level of social tension on the state of affairs in economy observed in the 1990s is confirmed again: social and economic conflicts still dominate in Kazakhstan. At the same time not only new zones of conflicts, but also new subjects of the conflicts were designated (shareholders, land owners, workers of mining sector in monotowns and rotation villages of oilers, etc.)

The general assessment of protest capacity of Kazakhstan allows drawing some conclusions:

  1. Over the years of reforms all attempts to provide equal starting conditions for all citizens in order to allow them realize their own potential, were not successful. The difference between the levels of incomes continues to grow, and that makes an internal political situation unstable: within a relatively small share of wealthy citizens the share of needy is too big. The middle class (the main stabilizing level) is gradually eroding.
  2. Growing social and economic differentiation of regions lays the foundation for future shocks.
  3. Local authorities fail to stop social and labour protesting swiftly. From the point of view of rapid response to regional social and internal political calls, control mechanisms of local authorities’ activity have not yet been established. The model of delegation of authority and responsibility from the highest to the lowest levels (akimats (local administrations) of primary level) of executive authorities has not yet been developed.
  4. Increase in mobility of youth and its ability to be recruited in bureaucracy should not remain the only tools of power when working with young people. The authorities need to correct the public youth policy regarding search, and the most effective implementation of new means of social mobility. The younger generation has to see a possibility of professional self-realization in fields other, than public service, social and economic areas.
  5. The main issue of reduction of labour conflict intensity is development of monitoring system to control respect for the rights of workers, the problems of valorization of salaries, and employment security. Separate steps towards these goals are taken by various departments, but so far they have limited influence on moods in labour collectives.

At the same time it is important to consider that dormant conflicts that have not been settled timely can have cumulative capacity – i.e. they can gradually accumulate social tension. In case of unfavourable development of events such conflicts, passing into an open phase, can become prerequisites for destabilization of a socio-political situation in general.

Considering potential growth of social tension, it is important to take into account its uneven localization in society. Even if the period of current crisis will be rather short for economy of Kazakhstan in general, its duration can significantly differ for separate social groups and certain depressed regions.

Risks of destabilization of a socio-political situation in RK are traditionally related to separate social groups: inhabitants of the rural zone, self-employed, youth. Moreover, in the conditions of crisis the growing social apathy covering middle class and representatives of small and medium business – that is a social support of power – is observed.

Protest moods are aggravated with absence of developed civil society, where institutes could act as the mechanism of settlement and “depreciation” of a social protest.

The need for equal relation of authorities to the same offenses, intolerance to abuses of the mighty of this world emerged in society. The contrast with political elite of the West where wealthy and powerful persons behave expressly modestly, and officials of the highest rank, due to publicity, try to meet ethical standards and expectations of electorate as much as possible, is too obvious.

Thus, the perspective of formation of professional bureaucracy, and ensuring the rule of law – i.e. the “first” and “second” directions of institutional reforms, – gain a social aspect as an important instrument of prevention of social protests in the conditions of crisis.