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The answer is literally on the surface, or rather, on the TV screens and newspaper pages – observers have noted the emergence of trends toward a significant easing of legislation and law enforcement practices with respect to foreign human rights and non-commercial organizations. They link it to the fact that the liberal-minded new leader Tokayev replaced the conservative Nazarbayev. Tokayev’s reforms Tokayev has already stated that Kazakhstan will continue the course of political modernization. Four packages of political reforms have already been put forward, and more than 10 laws have been passed as part of their implementation. These include the law "On Rallies", changes in human rights legislation, lowering the registration barrier for organizing political parties and the threshold needed to enter the parliament, increasing the representation of women and young people in the Majilis and Maslikhats (local government bodies), and others. The upcoming reforms are very likely to result in the increase in the number of political parties, and young people, mostly educated in the West, will begin to enter politics. As a matter of fact, a number of serious changes are already visible. For instance, at the XXI Extraordinary Congress of the ruling party President Tokayev supported the idea of renaming Nursultan Nazarbayev's party "Nur Otan" ("Light of the Fatherland") into "Amanat", which in Kazakh means "Testament of ancestors". Thus, Tokayev closed the chapter on the Nazarbayev's era, showing that his intentions to create "new Kazakhstan" are indeed serious. However, it should be mentioned that part of Kazakh society considers Tokayev a pro-western reformer. Tokayev has to keep initiative The early presidential election was designed to strengthen the legitimacy of the government and allow Tokayev to keep the momentum. Kazakhstan’s government timed the elections perfectly. At least, we can say that the steps towards a significant easing of legislation and law enforcement practices in relation to western human rights and non-profit organizations received a positive assessment from the Kazakh opposition. President Tokayev stands out He shows his willingness to respond adequately to the serious challenges of the socio-political situation in the republic. This tendency becomes especially obvious in comparison with its neighbors – the leaders of Russia and Kyrgyzstan, Vladimir Putin and Sadyr Zhaparov, look like Tokayev’s vivid antagonists. However, while in Russia NGOs are actually no longer active (legislation has been tightened, opposition leaders have been convicted or have left the country), in Kyrgyzstan the fight against NGOs is rather declarative, in fact limited to attempts to control funding. As of yet, Kyrgyz NGOs have been active in virtually all spheres of socio-political life. But let’s come back to Kazakhstan for now. As we can see, in order to prevent last year’s protests from repeating, the president of Kazakhstan is willing to make certain concessions. Let’s take the Soros Foundation as an example, which has been active in Kazakhstan since 1995. The Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, which is headed by Yevgeny Zhovtis, actively cooperates with the Soros Foundation. The Youth Information Service of Kazakhstan (YISK), founded in the late 1990s, is another regular participant in the Foundation's projects. The Board of Trustees of the organization, whose task is to develop civic engagement among young people, is headed by Irina Mednikova. Another well-known Soros grantee is the Adil Soz Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech, headed by Tamara Kaleeva. The North Kazakhstan Legal Media Center, headed by Diana Okremova and working in the field of mass media, legal protection and training of journalists, can easily compete with the already mentioned Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law in the amount of grant support. The MediaNet International Center for Journalism, created by a group of Kazakh journalists in 2004, has also been largely supported by Soros. Elena Shvetsova's Erkindik Kanaty (Wings of Freedom) Foundation is also on the list. Obviously, many opinion leaders, public figures, journalists, media, and digital media projects are among the recipients of funds from the Soros Foundation as well. The organization OYAN QAZAQSTAN ("Wake Up, Kazakhstan") is also worth mentioning. It was represented by Suinbike Suleimenova, Kasymkhan Kapparov, Asem Japisheva, Leila Makhmudova, as well as the discussion club Rukh Pen Til ("Spirit and Language"), created by Jeanbolat Mamay, and the radio station Azattyk, which is the Kazakh branch of Radio Liberty, the Finnish Foundation for Media and Development, the non-governmental organization Article 19 and the NGO MLDI Media Legal Defense Initiative, and the International Freedom of Expression Exchange IFEX. It’s safe to say that the activities of the above-mentioned NGOs play a crucial role in protecting the rights of Kazakhstan citizens, who are fighting for the democratic change and the independence of their country. Their main goal is to defend and protect those, who have been wrongly labelled as ‘terrorists’. But, no matter what, Tokayev intends to pursue the policy of liberalization and democratization in Kazakhstan on the level of republican power, especially in justice and law-enforcement sectors. Obviously, physical force does not come into play here – no arms are going to be twisted and no mouths are going to be shut. On the contrary, it becomes evident that the down pressure on the opposition structures is weakening: the aforementioned law “On Rallies” illustrates it perfectly. So, what are the interim results? Major international organizations that have monitored the situation on this issue around the world for several years have noted some improvements in Kazakhstan, while maintaining recommendations to improve the legislation in the republic in terms of protecting the rights and freedoms of its citizens. One such example is the republic's cooperation with the European Union to implement best international practices in the field of human rights protection.
After Astana talks where the Syrian gov't and opposition representatives met for the first time Russia provided a draft constitution for Syria. Nevertheless, all sides of conflict refused to accept the document and intended to use it as a basis for their own projects. So, the next meeting of the warring sides is scheduled on late February in Geneva. What should we expect from the next round of talks there? Are the sides expected to propose their own constitution drafts?