Thursday, July 20, 2006

Dealing with property in Kazakhstan

Property rights have become an increasingly important issue throughout the former Soviet Union, especially in the wake of successions in power. In Ukraine, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan, for example, the reviews of previous leaders' "privatization" of various important economic objects have been among the most controversial actions of the new regimes that came to power in those countries. The threat that new regimes in the former USSR may review various property issues is an uncomfortable thought for existing governments (and their leadership), existing oligarchies, and foreign investors. A few weeks ago, a different, but related issue came to a head in a poor small suburb on the outskirts of Almaty, Kazakhstan known as Shanriyak. Shanriyak has been home to numerous poorer and rural Kazakhs who had come to Almaty over the last decade. In effect, these residents established housing on open land as squatters, but they claim that the former mayor, Khrapanov, had allowed them to do so. Now that the price of real estate is making land development a very profitable business in the limited space of Alamty city, the new mayor, Imangali Tasmagambetov, has decided that these "squatters" must be moved from their land to make way for new development. When security forces recently entered the suburb to destroy its makeshift houses, they met significant resistance. As the pictures below from the Kazakh website demonstrate, the resistance was in a violent form not seen often in the generally politically passive Kazakhstan...

Not depicted here is the photo of a policeman that the¨"squatters" burned to death during the confrontation. While government (the mayor of Almaty in particular) and society alike is discussing how to deal with this particular issue in Shanriyak, there is a sense that this event may be a sign of things to come as large areas of Almaty are slated for re-development in the near future. While in most cases, people will receive compensation for the destruction of their homes and apartments, it remains to be seen whether this compensation will indeed be fair and allow people to re-settle in similar housing. Meanwhile, many local political commentators including Sergey Duvanov and Aynur Kurmanov are suggesting that this event may be a politically significant challenge to the present regime in Kazakhstan. The one thing that is clear is that what happened in Shanriyak represents a serious challenge to all politicians in Kazakhstan, whether in the present government or in the opposition. At present, it would seem that none of these politicians expected or entirely understood the reaction of the residents of Shanriyak. But, if politicians either in the present regime or in the opposition hope to seriously speak to the desires and worries of their constituents in Almaty, they will need to come up with a rational approach to resolving real estate issues in the city, especially as these issues multiply in frequency and in gravity.

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