The blog is back for another year! 2020 represents my ninth year of blogging on education, society and politics in Central Asia. Over the lifetime of the blog, I’ve posted almost 300 stories that have been viewed over 50,000 times and earned nearly 1,500 subscribers. Thanks to everyone who reads the blog, whether occasionally or often. If you don’t yet subscribe to receive an email when new posts are published, it’s never too late to sign up! Simply enter your email address under ‘Follow blog’ on the homepage.
Kicking off a new year of blogging, let’s take a look at youth unemployment in Kazakhstan. The info below is drawn from a recent post [ru] by Central Asia Monitor.
First, who’s in work?
Despite leading with the alarming headline ‘Youth unemployment on the increase’, the article first doles out the good news that 2.1 million young people (aged 15-28) were in work at the end of 2019. This is 3.8% higher than at the end of 2018.
The top 5 professions for the age group based on the number of people in work in each field are:
- Wholesale and retail trade; car and motorcycle repair – 388,700 people / 18.3% of all 15-28 in employment
- Agriculture, forestry and fisheries – 257,200 people / 12.1%
- Education [hurray! – adds this educator author] – 236,300 people / 11.1%
- Public administration (civil service) and defence, compulsory social security – 152,000 people / 7.2%
- Manufacturing – 149,600 people / 7.1
(Some of the categories – there are 20 in total – seem rather arbitrary, such as the addition of those in receipt of social security alongside civil servants. The statistics presented by Central Asia Monitor are drawn from Ranking.kz, which in turn has used data from the Statistics Committee of the Ministry of National Economy. Thus, the numbers should be bona fide and we should assume that the categorizations are the government’s choice.)
…And who’s not in work?
Cheery news for young car mechanics and farmers aside, the article then gets to the heart of the matter: that the number of young people who are out of work also rose at the end of 2019 to 84,700 – up 3.4% from the previous year. The increase has been seen more in urban areas, whereas in rural areas the rate of unemployment actually dropped by 0.2%.
By level of education, nearly 40% of unemployed young people have completed ‘secondary vocational education’ (среднее профессиональное образование) and 37% have a higher education degree. It’s not clear to me whether these stats include students or only those who are known in some parts as ‘NEET’: not in education, employment or training.
Both of these groups saw around 2% increases in year-on-year unemployment rates – which doesn’t send a great message about the virtues of continuing in education to increase your job prospects. Indeed, unemployment rates among those with an unfinished degree, initial vocational education, (non-specialized) secondary education and basic education all decreased…
What is to be done?
In response, the government has introduced a number of policy measures design to reduce levels of youth unemployment. Last year, these were wrapped under a broader initiative that designated 2019 as the Year of Youth and which reached, according to government sources, 2 million young people.
The symbolic designation of the year is obviously in itself not going to make any difference, but underpinning the Year of Youth was a roadmap for supporting young people through information/advice (e.g. about housing, finding work) on the one hand and financial assistance (e.g. providing rental housing, start-up grants/micro-credits for new businesses) on the other.
Overall, however, the situation is not too bad, all things considered. Since 2014, youth unemployment in Kazakhstan has dropped from 4.3% of the age group to 3.8% in 2019. Both figures are significantly lower than the youth unemployment rate in other countries. In Romania, where the total population and urban population rates are similar to Kazakhstan (19.2 million and 55% in Romania, 18.8 million and 58% in Kazakhstan), youth unemployment stood at around 16% in 2019. In Ecuador (population 17.6 million, 63% urban) the rate was nearer 9%. You get the idea.
News has emerged of a number of connected protests in / relating to Tajikistan. However, if at first glance this appears to be a tiny step towards practicing the freedoms (of speech, to gather in public etc) nominally guaranteed to citizens under Tajik law, don’t get your hopes up.
Leading the story on 23 September, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty made its views clear through the quote marks employed in its headline: “‘Volunteers’ burned a portrait of Muhiddin Kabiri” [ru]. For context: Muhiddin Kabiri is the leader of the now-banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), once the only opposition party (and the only legal Islamic party in Central Asia) and now the subject of multiple extremely worrying attempts to suppress its members. The IRPT is not by any means a fundamentalist Islamic party, Kabiri is now in exile, but his family members back in Tajikistan have not been left unaffected by the authorities.
The ‘volunteers’ in question are students at the National University of Tajikistan and the Medical University of Tajikistan, both based in the capital city Dushanbe. This followed a 300-strong protest at Dushanbe’s Pedagogical Institute which claimed that the IRPT could bring Tajikistan back to war, as well as smaller groups of young activists who protested at the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Dushanbe offices. One of the university protest organisers, Asliddin Khusvaktov, claims that hundreds of students took part, which were in response to another set of protests also relating to Tajikistan. Asia-Plus reports the same story [en] with slightly different numbers.
So now let’s move to Poland, the stage for the protests our students have taken issue with. Capital Warsaw is hosting the OSCE annual human rights conference, the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting. A handful of people – presumably Tajik nationals – disrupted sessions on 19 September with silent protests, wearing T-shirts showing the faces of opposition figures (politicians and lawyers) who who have been arrested by the state.
Apparently this has led to repercussions for the families of those protestors [en], in a depressingly familiar cycle from the Tajik state. You choose to protest? We choose to pressure you: either you directly, or your family members, or similar.
The student groups who led the protests in Dushanbe are mainly part of an organisation called “Avant Garde” [ru], set up by the government in 2015 to to prevent the spread of extremist ideas amongst young people. This is how Tajikistan does youth policy.
You can only wonder how long the government can maintain this level of oppression in a world where internet access is increasing (and those who are caught behind frequent government bans on websites are able to find alternative ways to access sites that are targeted such as Facebook and YouTube) and where it is easier than ever – albeit with some cash and resources – to travel out of the country. And yet there are no immediate signs that change is on the horizon, protests or no protests.