Suspension of Peace Corps in KZ and “Pakazooka”

Seems what I thought were just rumors and rumblings is TRUE. Peace Corps will no longer exist in Kazakhstan because a few powerful people thinks it to be a fully developed nation with no need of outside assistance from American volunteers.  How do you spell “Pakazooka?”  I know that may be an insulting Russian word to some of those Kazakhs who are in the lofty positions of authority in Kazakhstan, however I think the word aptly fits.  Peace Corps volunteers give up two years of their lives to go to out of the way places in Kazakhstan where those in administrative positions in Almaty and Astana do not subject themselves to.  These two cities hardly make for a “developed country.”

I did not travel as much as I would have liked in this very large country of Kazakhstan, especially to see the western part where the supposed “oil money” is. Yet I saw enough just outside of Almaty and Astana to know there are still many schools and libraries that are woefully far, far behind any western developed nation. Pakazooka really means “just for show and without substance underneath.” No different than a Potemkin village set up in Ukraine that was supposedly to satisfy the powers that be while the Ukrainian people were really languishing in poverty.

Since I was a Peace Corps trainer  at the very beginning back in the summer of 1993 where we were housed at the “Bang Institute” I know the caliber of the Peace Corps volunteers as English teachers back then.  I know that they were very good volunteers willing to help where help was MOST needed in the educational systems in rural Kazakhstan.  I saw many quality PC volunteers since in the three and half years I was teaching in Almaty and Astana.  The following bulletin is just putting a nice face on what must be very bad politics underneath.  I’m reminded of this saying: “Pride goeth before the fall.”

Press Release of the Ministry of Education and Science of Kazakhstan

November 18, 2011

On the work of the Peace Corps in the Republic of Kazakhstan

Over eighteen years the United States Peace Corps has fruitfully worked with Kazakhstan in accordance with the Agreement between the Governments of the United States and Kazakhstan regarding the activities of the Peace Corps in the Republic of Kazakhstan signed in 1992. During these past years, more than 1,000 Peace Corps volunteers have undertaken great and useful work highly regarded by the Kazakhstan side.

On November 18, Peace Corps informed of the suspension of their activities in our country providing a number of comments in this regard. The relevant release says the decision was made “based on a number of operational considerations” and cites the fact that Kazakhstan is one of the most developed countries in the world where Peace Corps has run its programmes.

Due to the fact that Kazakhstan has achieved great progress in the political and socio-economic development over the 20 years of its independence and today is a country with an income above average, we believe that the suspension of the activities of the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan is a rather logical step. As it is known, this organization assists mainly the least developed countries. In addition, many programmes of the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan, in general, have come to their conclusion.

We proceed from the understanding that this decision is connected with an internal review of priorities, the adjustment to the organizational plans and the redistribution of volunteers to other parts of the world. As it is known, the spectrum of activities of this organization includes more than 70 countries.

We can state with confidence that US volunteers and our countrymen alike who benefited from the invaluable experience of communication and mutual cultural enrichment with this organization will remember all these years of effective partnership with warmth and gratitude.


3 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Batirkhan said,

    I think it is more than just Pokazukha, it is many things. Probably the biggest being the great irritation of the Kazakhstani officials with the constant reminder by the impacts of what the PC volunteers are doing (and I’ve met a few personally) of how they, the officials, are failing their own people, are not doing their job. That is, PC volunteers do not stay in Almaty and Astana, no, they go to the poorest and neediest parts of Kazakhstan and the Kazakhstani people to provide services and expertise where they are most direly needed. It just does not fit into the rosy picture Ak-Orda is trying hard to paint… PC activities are a challenge, an inconvenient cry of the truth in the wilderness amidst the brick wall of official silence and neglect of the many everyday issues faced by Kazakhstan’s population… Education, health care, orphan care, poverty and so on. I know that the majority of PC volunteers more or less selfishly seek the tangible benefits that the PC program provides, so they aren’t always your truly altruistic volunteer type, but nevertheless they aren’t the outcasts of the American society either. No, often they are the cream of the young American people seeking a career in social work and public sphere, or just aspiring to change the world for the better and using PC as a way to accomplish it, to follow their high calling… So, they are indeed a very capable, sincere and willing helpers! A very idealistic bunch. They have touched many lives in Kazakhstan in a special way. It is sad that this global humane effort, showing that America is not the proverbial “Empire of Evil” would not be present in Kazakhstan anymore… Again, an example of satisfied pride of the men (or man?) in Astana at the expense of children, elderly, sick, disabled…

    • 2

      kazaknomad said,

      Since writing this post, I have read another blogger who was a former PCV in KZ and have since gotten a different perspective, a wider approach to this sticky situation. Of course, the official line has to look like they don’t need Peace Corps’ help anymore but in actual fact they DO and they know it. However, as you state, the officialdom in their cozy offices in Astana are the brick wall against the cries of their own people. If they don’t have laws to enforce against terrorism or corruption or sexual assault in the hinderlands and the PCVs lives are in jeopardy, then it could have been Peace Corps decision to pull up stakes, as painful as that must have been to decide.

      I also acknowledge there are some bad examples of PCVs who put a bad mark for the organization or do not represent the U.S. very well at all. But for the most part, the PCVs are screened fairly well and have an adventurous spirit to see lands that are far away in order to help people who have difficulty helping themselves.

      This saddens me because I’m wondering who the next target might be for the extremists to try and eradicate. Seems that is a big score for those who are radicals to get rid of the Americans who are willing to go to rural areas in KZ where the nationals would hate to go.

      I’m wondering what the Peace Corps official line will be because I posted what the KZ government wanted to have known to the rest of the world. Thanks Batirkhan for your comment.

  2. 3

    JL said,

    It must be especially difficult to see this happen Kazakhnomad as you were a PCV when first coming to Kazakhstan. There seems to be quite a lot of what Batirkhan mentioned ‘pride’ in my context in Astana but I am not clear on what this pride is based. Perhaps the hope that the grandeur is more than a delusion? I hope that this move t oremove these activities is more about the reshuffling of PC than the politics of Kazakhstan – because if it is only the latter, rather than the former, then it’s perhaps a delusional state.

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