Kazakh Kiosks in Crisis. Almaty's mayor declares
war on kiosk traders in a bid to smarten up the city
By Marina Seitova in Almaty
Almaty's mayor, Viktor Khrapunov, is under fire for a decision to
clear the city streets of kiosks and newspaper vendors.
On April 29 the independent newspaper Vremya published a scathing
attack on Khrapunov, accusing him of deliberately trying to prevent
the distribution of opposition newspapers.
"This decree is going to put newspaper and magazine distributors out
of business. The only ones left will be those dealing with major
publications like Argumenti i Fakti, Karavan or Dauys, which have
been approved by the mayor."
The decree, signed on April 6, was not put into force immediately
because of the Eurasia Media Forum, an international conference
taking place in the city later that month.
Vremya suspects the city administration is acting on orders from the
Kazak government in preparation for elections to the Majilis, the
lower house of parliament, this autumn.
Serikbolsin Abdildin, chairman of the Kazakstan Communist Party,
agrees. "The authorities are obviously unhappy about the
distribution of periodicals that worry them. It's not Khrapunov
behind this - it's Nazarbaev. Khrapunov is just trying to curry
favour," he told IWPR.
Ostensibly, the purpose of the decree is to clear Almaty of kiosks
that do not suit the city's ambitious modern character, but analysts
believe the decision is an attempt to gain control of newspaper
distribution and take opposition publications off the shelves.
"Of course the main thing is a hidden wish to rein in and make
difficult the distribution of undesirable papers," opposition leader
Pyotr Svoik told IWPR
Svoik believes Khrapunov's decision will also hamper the growth of
small businesses and add to the already large numbers of unemployed
people in the city.
This is not the first time Khrapunov has passed legislation on
kiosks. In March 2000, he imposed a limit on the number of trading
kiosks so as to improve 'the architectural and artistic character of
the city". By the end of that year, the number of kiosks in the city
had been reduced from 408 to 278.
Viktor Yambaev, president of the businessmen's association, says
that the needs of the public should take precedent over the whims of
the authorities. "I understand the mayor's desire to make Almaty a
beautiful city so that legitimate business can develop here, but in
this instance they need to give people time to find somewhere else
Raushan Sarsenbaeva, a member of the Asar party, says it is very
unlikely that the city authorities will do anything to help those
who are put out of work by the removal of the kiosks.
As Irina Savostina, leader of the pensioners' movement Pokolenie,
told IWPR, if the removal of kiosks goes ahead, thousands of people
will lose their incomes. The most conservative estimate puts the
number at 30,000.
The street traders say they cannot afford to operate out of any
other premises. The monthly rent for a small shop is between 100 and
400 dollars, while a space in a shopping centre can cost up to 1,500
"The goods people sell in kiosks are very cheap and do not require a
significant capital outlay, as their customers are from the poorest
sectors of society," said Yambaev. "The customers who go to shops
have more money and want different goods. The street traders
wouldn't even have enough money to buy the right kind of stock, let
alone pay the rent."
Abdildin suggests that the decree is also a deliberate attack on
small businesses. "It's possible that the closure of kiosks is
linked to the large supermarkets owned by very influential people in
Although a government commission was set up in 2002 to support small
business, sceptics insist that the government is primarily pursuing
its own interests. Kazak political analyst Nurbulat Masanov believes
that in addition to obstructing the opposition press, the mayor is
also trying to please the president.
He said, "Khrapunov is trying to see things as the president would.
Nazarbaev is an oligarch who has privatised all the major industries
and sees small business as a problem which needs to be got rid of."
Marina Seitova is an IWPR contributor in Almaty.
May 14, 2004. Institute for War & Peace Reporting (IWPR), Reporting
Central Asia No. 282 as of May 8, 2004