Monday, November 15, 2010

Kazakhstan Lifts Ban on Major Blog Portal

By Erica Marat

Kazakhstani bloggers can now use the popular LiveJournal blogging site again. After Kazakhstan authorities had reportedly banned access to the site for two years, LiveJournal has become available again. Kazakhstan’s lifting of the ban coincides with the suspension of Kazakh president Nurslutan Nazarbayev’s former son-in-law Rakhat Aliyev’s LiveJournal page. There have been no official statement as to whether these two events are linked, but a few savvy bloggers are convinced that this is the only explanation.

Rakhat Aliyev requested asylum in Austria in 2007 after his relations with Nazarbayev soured. Since then he has used his LiveJournal page to launch attacks against the president. He posted provoking material about Nazarbayev’s alleged corruption deals, as well the president’s personal life. Although Kazakhstan authorities did not officially react to Aliyev’s statements, Astana has been pressuring Austria to extradite him back to Kazakhstan.

Owned by the Russian company SUP, LiveJournal is a major part of the Russian-language blogosphere. It is loosely edited but well maintained by its owners to prevent abuses and spamming. In Russia, LiveJournal, along with other internet resources, has become the only media outlet where opposition forces are able to freely express their own views.

Overall, 874,783 users have been registered in Russia to date. The users vary from those who blog about hobbies to those trying to spread political messages. Nemours young Russian rights and political activists are actively present on LiveJournal. Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, an avid user of social media, has his own LiveJournal page as well. The president uses his page to post weekly video-diaries.

The impact of LiveJournal on Russia’s political life has been growing, as at times the blogosphere is the only credible source of information when compared to national propaganda featured on TV and by the press. Apparently, renowned journalist Oleg Kashin’s criticism of the pro-Kremlin “Molodaya Gvardiya” youth movement unnerved his opponents. The journalist was severely beaten in front of his house on the morning of November 6 by unknown perpetrators.

Due to its implosive content, LiveJournal has been blocked in other parts of Central Asia as well. During former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s block of LiveJournal access in Kyrgyzstan, local bloggers were forced to switch social media portals. However, the vibrant blogger community in Kyrgyzstan only flourished under Bakiyev’s regime and became ever more active after the leader’s ouster. Kyrgyzstan's bloggers provide timely information on all aspects of political life in the country, particularly during the elections season. President Roza Otunbayeva has even started her own video-diaries similar to those of Medvedev.

Kazakhstan’s temporary ban on LiveJournal is likely to have produced similar results. Perhaps it is time for Nazarbayev to join the virtual community as well.

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