Jul 04 2011

Sting Bows To Pressure

Category: In The Media,KazakhstanChrisM @ 11:44 am

Although it is apparently being reported as due to technical issues, Sting has pulled out of the planned concert today here in Astana, and posted a comment on his web site explaining the reason.

Amnesty International recently apprised Sting about the situation in Kazakhstan regarding the repression and crackdown against oil workers, their union leaders, their legal representatives & of the human rights NGOs working with them. In light of this current situation, with the unacceptable treatment being meted to these Kazakh oil/gas workers, their families and legal representation, which is extremely serious and continues to worsen, Amnesty International feel his presence in Astana will be interpreted as an endorsement of the presidents’ administration and surely will go against everything he has stood for, while supporting Amnesty and the fight for human rights, for the past 40 years. As a result, Sting has made a decision not to participate in the Astana Day Festival.

“Hunger strikes, imprisoned workers and tens of thousands on strike represents a virtual picket line which I have no intention of crossing,” Sting commented. “The Kazakh gas and oil workers and their families need our support and the spotlight of the international media on their situation in the hope of bringing about positive change.”

(Taken directly from his News Section here)

After Sting was lambasted for performing in Uzbekistan last year (due to the far worse human rights situation found under the totalitarian regime there), I was genuinely shocked that he had agreed to come and play for the President’s birthday celebrations. Some will doubtless argue that…

1) It was to celebrate Astana Day, not the President’s birthday.
They are one and the same thing really – the date of the official Astana Day celebrations is this Wednesday, when Nursultan Nazarbayev’s birthday happens to be. Whilst he claims he is against hero worship and adulation, at the very least his advisers seem able to slip a lot of policies and statements past him that actively encourage such behaviour.

2) Sting is just a musician, surely he can play where he wants?
a) A musician as globally famous as Sting brings any venue/host country where he performs a certain prestige; to suggest otherwise seems naive.
b) Perhaps this argument would be stronger if Sting hadn’t already made many politically aware statements over the decades. His support for Amnesty International since the early 80s is an indicator of just how politically aware he can be. I don’t think this association will have harmed his record sales at all, and whilst he doesn’t present himself to have a messiah complex (Bono of U2 is a different case), with great power comes great responsibility
c) After the uproar his gig in Uzbekistan caused, I can’t for the life of me imagine why he or his PAs didn’t check out the political climate of another Central Asian country before agreeing to play

3)Kazakhstan is nothing like Uzbekistan, there is religious tolerance, freedom of expression and democracy in this great country!
a) Kazakhstan is a great country. It is not as bad as Uzbekistan.
b) HOWEVER, the human rights abuses are well documented and pretty frequent. Religion is tolerated ONLY if it is a major one (that therefore has enough clout to cause ripples should there be new restrictions on their activities) and if the organization is susceptible to government suggestions/restrictions on their activities.
c) Freedom of expression is certainly debatable – public demonstrations are rarely approved if the people involved are not inline with the political ideals of Nur Otan (the party in power). Independent media is frequently and ruthlessly tied up with frivolous lawsuits, printers are heavily leaned upon to not accept contracts from publications that do not tow the party line (with a few exceptions). I’ll be writing a couple of posts later today or tomorrow on the extremes that some people have gone to recently to express their grief over the current situation
d) Democracy. Ha. Don’t make me laugh. The elections appear to be less rigged in such obvious ways as in the past, but countless (non-CIS) organizations have declared that parliamentary and presidential elections have major problems to be overcome before they can approach being labelled as free, fair and transparent.

I hope that some people in this country will learn the real reason for Sting’s no-show, though I doubt it will ever be through official media channels. Perhaps in the future the artist will check a country’s profile before accepting generous offers to play there. I can see a really good spin doctor one day suggesting that Sting only accepted the offer so he could later bring the international media’s spotlight on to the situation in Kazakhstan, but I hope this doesn’t happen.

Sarah Brightman appears to be playing at the concert. I’d not seen her posters until recently, but I don’t know whether she was moved to top billing after Sting declined to perform, or if she was a last minute replacement. (SEE COMMENTS BELOW – she had been booked to play for a long time. My mistake, I don’t look at posters here enough!)
Just found an article over at Eurasianet from a few days ago, before the cancellation was announced.
The Huffington Post and The Telegraph (UK) both have articles today on this topic. Minor correction to the Telegraph article, Astana Day/President’s birthday celebrations are not really a three day holiday – most of us had to work Saturday and Sunday to cover the work hours that are lost.
[Final Edit]
Hat tip to KZBlog‘s tweet for bringing the cancellation to my attention.