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Does the EAEU-Skepticism Have Prospects in Kazakhstan?

«Given the fact that the authorship of the EAEU belongs to Nursultan Nazarbayev, criticism of Eurasian integration is perceived as opposition to the political course by the authorities in Kazakhstan», – mentioned political observer Baurzhan Tolegenov, in his article written specifically for CABAR.asia.

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On May 29, 2014, the presidents of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan signed an agreement on the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) in Astana.

In May 2014, the presidents of Kazakhstan, Russia and Belarus gathered in the capital of Kazakhstan. The heads of the three states were in a good mood and were filled with the historical moment – the signing of the Treaty on the Establishment of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).

This moment was especially exciting for Nursultan Nazarbayev, the leader of Kazakhstan. His idea of ​​Eurasian integration has finally (after 20 years) came true. After signing the Treaty, Nazarbayev’s political status was scaled from the national to the continental level: he became known not only as father of the nation – Elbasy , but also the initiator of the EAEU.[1]

This personal context is one of the important characteristics of opposing the Eurasian project in Kazakhstan, predetermining its fragmentation and peripherality. And it seems that Kazakhstan’s EAEU skepticism has no chance of institutionalization. However, this is not a statement, but only an assumption that has its reasons.

What is skepticism and what does the EAEU have to do with it?  

This year, the Eurasian Economic Union has stepped over a five-year milestone. During this time, the composition of the organization expanded to five members, each of which decided to join the Union without a referendum. Principally, a plebiscite is not a mandatory procedure for obtaining membership in this organization (however, as in many other integration associations), and legitimacy is complemented by a parliament ratification.

However, a public mandate for integration would preclude questions about the appropriateness of finding a country in the EAEU. And since this project is the result of the political will of the ruling elites, skepticism is a natural factor in integration.

Additionally, it would seem, the lack of public legitimacy multiplied by the ambiguity of economic results and the inevitability of erosion of national sovereignty, should lead to the institutionalization of criticism of the EAEU. However, the opposition to Eurasian economic integration is not a significant factor in politics throughout the Union. What is this expressed in?

  • Skepticism towards the EAEU does not have a clear representation in the ideological palette of the member countries of this union and is not represented on the party-political landscape.
  • Critical reflection on the development of the Eurasian project is not the subject of serious academic and expert research in the Union.
  • In political lexicon and media discourse there is no well-established concept that would end up criticizing the EAEU .

Perhaps the societies of the EAEU member countries are only at the beginning of the formation of anti-integrationist sentiments. And judging by the experience of the European Union, the internal maturation of anti-integrationist sentiments is a long process. Thus, the phenomenon of Euroscepticism began to take shape only 30 years after the launch of the European Economic Community and overcoming marginality took several more decades. However, during its “growing up” Euroscepticism received serious scientific understanding. In particular, a critical attitude towards the EU is typologized from fundamental rejection (tough, radical Euroscepticism) to partial rejection (mild, moderate Euroscepticism).

In the context of the history of Euroscepticism, anti-integrationist sentiments in the EAEU may have a future, and their current amorphism is a natural evolutionary stage. While maturation is underway, we, by analogy with Euroscepticism, will operate with the concept of EAEU-skepticism. We invest in it a generally critical attitude towards this project of integration engineering, without reference to Eurasianism as such and without a typology of forms (hard and soft).

Does the EAEU-skepticism exist in Kazakhstan?

Opposing Eurasian integration in Kazakhstan has a short history, and the process of direct entry into the Union did not have significant organizational opposition.

  • In April 2014, a month before the creation of the EAEU, the Anti-Eurasian Forum was held in Almaty, culminating in a resolution on the need to postpone the signing of the Treaty for ten years;[2]
  • In May, a public hearing was held in Almaty against the emerging Eurasian Economic Union;[3]
  • In May, on the day before  and on the day of signing the Treaty on the creation of the Union, the cities of Almaty and Astana held pickets against Kazakhstan’s entry into the EAEU;[4]
  • In October 2014, when the EAEU Treaty was in process of ratification, opponents of Eurasian integration held a press conference at which they proposed a referendum.[5]

The main leitmotif of criticism was the opinion that the creation of the Eurasian Economic Union would lead to the loss of independence. However, after October 15, when the Treaty was signed by President Nazarbayev, protests against the creation of the EAEU began to decline.[6] In general, the criticism that accompanied Kazakhstan’s “connection” to the EAEU was concentrated mainly in social networks, and the Kazakh authorities explained its nature with low awareness. The basic positions of the counterargument rhetoric of the Ak Orda can be formulated as follows:

  • The EAEU is an exclusively economic association, where the “red line” of integration is the political sphere;
  • Integration costs are partly subjective and are due to the professionalism and competence of officials responsible for conducting and upholding national interests within the EAEU;
  • Ambiguous economic results, on the one hand, are due to the starting stage of integration, when the processes are in smoothing mode; on the other hand, they act as an incentive for competitiveness and diversification of the national economy;
  • Kazakhstan does not consider introducing a single currency within the EAEU, since the national currency is one of the pillars of independence.[7]

In general, the Kazakh government takes the opposition on certain aspects of integration (the latest examples are the issues of packages[8] and software[9] and it keeps integration on the economic plane,[10] however, it basically and invariably expresses support for the EAEU, without questioning the benefits of being in Union.

Moreover, taking into account that the authorship of the EAEU belongs to Nursultan Nazarbayev, he is also called the architect of this project and is the honorary chairman of the EAEU’s highest body,[11] and criticism of Eurasian integration is perceived as opposition to the political course by the authorities in Kazakhstan

EAEU-skepticism does not have a permanent “registration” in the ideological palette.

One way or another, the EAEU-skepticism does not have a permanent “registration” in the ideological palette. Thus, the pro-government parties, who make up the majority on the party field, supported the creation and entry into the Union.[12] In addition, since 2014, two parliamentary and two presidential election campaigns have been held in Kazakhstan. However, in none of the cases did the criticism of the EAEU act as the storyline of the election campaigns, it was always on the periphery of political discourse. Such marginality is largely a consequence of the fact that criticism of the EAEU does not develop and does not deepen, opponents of Eurasian integration do not have a comprehensive methodological and argumentative base, and they did not academically interpret anti-integrationism.

The economic potential of the EAEU-skepticism   

On February 1, 2020, the 47-year history of the UK’s presence in the European Union officially ended. The country’s position in the European Union has always been of a different opinion, and the concept of “Euroscepticism” originated precisely under Union Jack. Therefore, the ended Brexit appears to be logical.

In the meantime, the exit from the European Union was celebrated on the streets of Great Britain, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised the country a national revival, in several cities of Kazakhstan there were performances by car owners registered in the EAEU countries. This was not the first protest with a car agenda. The flywheel of protest activity has been unfolding since mid-January, when the state obliged to deliver cars from foreign to local registration, for which substantial funds are needed.[13] Therefore, car owners refused the one-year delay, which the state offered,[14] and insisted on a complete amnesty. But it is impossible to ignore their requirements – according to official figures, more than 200 thousand cars registered in the EAEU countries are in Kazakhstan. Therefore, the geography of automobile protests covers almost the entire country. And regardless of the region, the question arises of the economic feasibility of being in the EAEU. And if the problem is not solved, then it will be included in the electoral agenda of the upcoming parliamentary elections. At the same time, other economic issues that are “sore” for Kazakhstanis can be reanimated, which are still in the “accumulator” of public consciousness – closing the market for the global automobile industry, anti-Russian sanctions, using exchange rate policies and trade barriers to maintain competitiveness, etc. .

Moreover, the total economic spin-off from the EAEU is ambivalent for Kazakhstan. It is enough to turn to the volume of trade, one of the key indicators of integration. With the entry into the Union, which removed the barriers and created a single market, the national economy cannot get out of the negative trend.[15] All this leads to a decrease in public approval of Eurasian integration and a positive perception of the EAEU. Thus, according to the EDB Integration Barometer, by the end of 2017 in Kazakhstan there was a decrease in support for Eurasian integration from 80 to 76%”.[16] 

The political potential of the EAEU-skepticism  

In January of this year, in the Kazakhstani Facebook segment, news was actively circulated that the President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev allegedly rejected the possibility of joining the EAEU. However, fact check refuted the indicated message,[17] but this story is indicative of the fact that the Uzbek authorities are considering joining the EAEU through the prism of independence, thus supplementing the case on the “false bottom” of this organization.

Some critics believe that the Eurasian Economic Union threatens the independence of member countries; others see it as an instrument for realizing the Kremlin’s geopolitical aspirations; still others suggest that integration will lead to the reincarnation of the USSR. The Kazakh authorities call all these versions – phobias, categorically insisting on a purely economic integration platform. Since 2011, only Nursultan Nazarbayev has personally refuted several times the political context of integration.[18] Such a frequent denial ( and at the highest level ) is not accidental for Kazakhstan.

In the local value system, threats to independence and statehood are strong irritants, since both concepts are sacred values ​​with a strong consolidating effect. This feature constitutes the main political potential for the EAEU-skepticism in Kazakhstan, and its development is directly proportional to the development of integration. Additionally, it’s not even a matter of historical phobias, but of the natural costs of integration, which involves the transfer of some powers and competencies from the state to the supranational level, which naturally leads to erosion of sovereignty.

This inevitable plug will lead to the fact that, as integration develops, the issue of protection against the erosion of statehood will become relevant, respectively, the EAEU-skepticism will acquire a political significance. It is quite possible that criticism of the Eurasian integration project may enter the political agenda of the upcoming parliamentary elections. For example, Togzhan Kozhalieva, intending to create the HAQ party, believes[19] that “first of all, having entered power, parliament, maslikhats, we should raise the question of whether Kazakhstan should be in the Customs Union and the EAEU.” The leaders of the upcoming “Democratic Party of Kazakhstan” also criticized the EAEU, however, in the draft program,[20] we did not find a clause on their attitude towards the EAEU.  

In awaiting

Thus, the EAEU-skepticism in Kazakhstan is in its infancy, which is due, on the one hand, to natural “aging”, on the other hand, to political subtleties, namely, the first president of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, is one of the authors and architects of the Eurasian Economic Union.

These factors explain the organizational, ideological and methodological amorphism of the opponents of Eurasian integration in Kazakhstan. At the same time, Kazakhstan considers the EAEU as a purely economic project – without questioning the economic feasibility of the EAEU, it deliberately blocks the integration processes on political sphere.

At the same time, the process of developing anti-integrationist sentiments in Kazakhstani society is irreversible and will develop in direct proportion to the pace and dynamics of integration, in particular, the “switches” will be: disappointment with the results of integration; general dissatisfaction with the policies of the ruling elite; economic ambiguity of integration; strengthening the supranationalism of the EAEU.

All this will inevitably lead to the political formation of the EAEU-skepticism in Kazakhstan. One of the accelerators of this process may be the interest of the Kazakh government itself, which will thereby expand the maneuvering field to maintain integration in the economic field,[21][22] as well as to level the subjective factor ( professionalism and competence of officials ).

This material has been prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project project. The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial board or donor.

[1] Putin expressed gratitude to Nazarbayev for the creation of the EAEU. – https://tengrinews.kz/kazakhstan_news/putin-vyirazil-blagodarnost-nazarbaevu-za-sozdanie-eaes-387029/

[2] Anti-Eurasian Forum in Almaty. – https://rus.azattyq.org/a/antievraziiskii-forum-almaty/25330706.html  

[3] Anti-Eurasian hearings were held in Almaty. – https://rus.azattyq.org/a/25394392.html

[4] Pressure on opponents of the EAEU is increasing. – https://rus.azattyq.org/a/protivniki-evraziyskogo-soyuza-davlenie/25402438.html    

[5] Opponents of the creation of the EAEU propose a referendum. – https://rus.azattyq.org/a/eurasjiskij-soiuz-opponenty/26623211.html  

[6] Protests against the Eurasian Union began to decline. – https://rus.azattyq.org/a/protesty-protiv-eaes/26638443.html

[7] Kazakhstan did not support the introduction of a single currency in the EAEU. – https://kursiv.kz/news/finansy/2018-12/kazakhstan-ne-podderzhal-vvedenie-edinoy-valyuty-v-eaes

[8] Kazakhstan and Russia argued over parcels. – https://lsm.kz/nur-sultan-ne-pozvolit-moskve-ubit-rynok-pochtovyh-otpravlenij-eaes-mintorg

[9] Disagreements in the EAEU: Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Trade wants proceedings against Russia. – https://liter.kz/25960-2/

[10] Will Russia manage to make the EAEU even more similar to the Soviet Union ?. – http://www.exclusive.kz/expertiza/daily/118193/  

[11] Nazarbayev became honorary chairman of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council. – https://informburo.kz/novosti/nursultan-nazarbaev-stal-pochyotnym-predsedatelem-eaes.html

[12] The pro-government parties support the Eurasian Union. – https://rus.azattyq.org/a/evraziiskii-sozuz-nur-otan/25390483.html

[13] Senators raised questions on protecting the rights of citizens who own vehicles. – Senate of the Republic of Kazakhstan, 01/31/2020 –  http://senate.parlam.kz/ru-RU/news/details/1472

[14] For foreign-registered cars, a one-year deferral. – Tokaev. – https://kolesa.kz/content/news/dlya-avtomobilej-na-inostrannom-uchyote-otsrochka-na-god-tokaev/

[15] The union of our anxiety. – https://rezonans.kz/soyuz-trevogi-nashei/

[16] EDB Integration Barometer – 2017. – Report No. 46 – https://eabr.org/analytics/integration-research/cii-reports/integratsionnyy-barometr-eabr-2017/

[17] “We will not enter into this union.” Shavkat Mirziyoyev said it or not. We check. – https://factcheck.kg/ru/post/350

[18] Nazarbayev: There will be no “reincarnation” of the USSR in the form of the EAEU. – https://www.zakon.kz/4897278-nazarbaev-reinkarnatsii-sssr-v-vide.html

[19] https://web.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=2487004141369344&id=100001793477809&_rdc=1&_rdr

[20] https://web.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=2821426521242009&id=100001240674075&_rdc=1&_rdr

[21] The redistribution of the share of customs duties in the EAEU is contrary to the national interests of the Republic of Kazakhstan. – https://kaztag.kz/en/news/pereraspredelenie-doli-tamozhennykh-poshlin-v-eaes-protivorechit-natsionalnym-interesam-rk

[22] Peruashev on the position of Kazakhstani government agencies in negotiations in the EAEU: We “chew snot”. – https://kaztag.kz/ru/news/peruashev-o-pozitsii-kazakhstanskikh-gosorganov-pri-peregovorakh-v-eaes-my-sopli-zhuem

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