skip to content

Cambridge Central Asia Forum


Recording of the workshop is now online:


10.00-10.15 am: Welcome - Siddharth Saxena (Montu) and Balihar Sanghera

Panel 1: Neoliberalism, finance and inequality
10.15-11.00 am: Kuat Akizhanov - Thirty years of neoliberal governance
in Kazakhstan: Origins, processes and results

11.00-11.45 am: Ilya Matveev - The inequality debate in Russia: between
depoliticization and repoliticisation

11.45-12.00pm: Break

12.00-12.45pm: Hasan H. Karrar - Monetary restructuring and non-cash
monies: Central Asia’s winding path out of the Ruble Zone

12.45-1.30pm: Chokan Laumulin - Fundamental Science in the Innovation
Chain and Modernisation: Questioning the Post-Soviet Neoliberal
Developmental Discourse

1.30-2.00pm: Lunch

Panel 2: Class analysis and labour transformation

2.00-2.45pm: Tommaso Trevisani - Steel workers in Kazakhstan: remaking
labour, ethnicity and class relations across 30 years of economic

2.45-3.30pm: Franco Galdini - Rise of the Surplus Population?
Decollectivisation, Class Stratification, and Precarity in Uzbekistan

3.30-3.45pm: Break

Panel 3: Critical analysis of capitalism

3.45-4.30pm: Lorena Lombardozzi - From state-led accumulation to BRI:
challenges of structural transformation in the opening Uzbekistan

4.30-5.15pm: Balihar Sanghera and Elmira Satybaldieva - Rentier
capitalism and countermovements in Central Asia: the moral economy

5.15-5.30pm: Closing remarks - Siddharth Saxena (Montu) and Balihar

Abstracts for Panel 1:

Kuat Akizhanov (KazGUU University) - Thirty years of neoliberal governance in Kazakhstan: origins, processes and results This paper aims
to offer new framing for the neoliberal capitalist economy that has been built in the post-Soviet Kazakhstan over the thirty-year period. The
diffusion of liberal market-based regime since 1991 has transformed national economic governance. In Kazakhstan, policy reforms in favour of
liberalisation have been adopted in a wide range of sectors, such as finance, trade, welfare, utilities, etc. The system now maintains and
guarantees upward (for local capital) and outward (for transnational capital) income and wealth distribution. The goal of this paper is to
unpack the transformation of economic policies in Kazakhstani context and to understand the process that accompanied and made it possible for neoliberal governance to be
embedded in the politico-economic regime of the country. Most importantly, the paper seeks to explain how neoliberal governance in the
undemocratic context affects distributional trends and prevents a commitment to the politics of redistribution.

Ilya Matveev (Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration) - The inequality debate in Russia: between
depoliticization and repoliticisation It is a well-established fact that income and wealth inequality in Russia have exploded in the early 1990s.
However, the dynamics of inequality in the later period, particularly since the resumption of economic growth in the 2000s, is unclear due to
data-gathering problems. The paper aims to: 1) compare the existing estimates of income inequality in Russia, 2) explore the issue of
inequality in the public opinion using the survey data, 3) analyse various narratives on inequality coming from pro-regime and opposition figures.
I find that income inequality is a topic of concern for the vast majority of Russian citizens. The government attempts to depoliticise
the issue of inequality by substituting it with the issue of poverty reduction. However, the opposition re-politicises inequality by tying it
to the nature of the political regime in Russia. In the future, the topic of inequality is likely to grow in importance in Russian politics.

Hasan H. Karrar (Lahore University of Management Sciences) - Monetary restructuring and non-cash monies: Central Asia’s winding path out of
the Ruble Zone Following independence, the newly sovereign Central Asian states were forced to develop independent monetary policies. The
decision to exit the so-called Ruble Zone—Tajikistan was the last to leave in 1995—was preceded by fiscal restructuring that had, in fact
begun under the latter years of perestroika when the Gosbank was broken up into local central banks. In this paper I explore how the independent
Central Asian republics negotiated monetary restructuring immediately after the Soviet Union. Beginning with price liberalisation in Russia on
2 January 1992, I explore how banking and monetary reform in Russia quickly intensified the use of surrogate financial instruments, or
non-cash monies, which destabilized an already fragile economic landscape. The story of monetary restructuring is in part the story of continued fiscal
interdependence between Russia and the newly-independent Central Asian states - in which, on the face of it, there were no winners - and offers
insights into the macroeconomic decision making by the sovereign states in the years that followed.

Chokan Laumulin (Kazakh-British Technical University) - Fundamental Science in the Innovation Chain and Modernisation: Questioning the
Post-Soviet Neoliberal Developmental Discourse. The paper highlights effects of the neoliberal policy in the post-Soviet realm on the
development of research affecting thus the industrial and innovation chain in which science has been the apex and arguably a primary driving
force. It articulates main approaches for making a successful science policy comparing Soviet policy and the current state of affairs based on
the example of the development of Kazakhstan. Overall, the development of basic research ensures a broad set of skills, including management and
governance, multidisciplinary synthesis, and analytical ability which are all required to enable sustainable technological and industrial
development and provide modernisation and which are not essentially part of the post-Soviet neoliberal developmental discourse.

Abstracts for Panel 2:

Tommaso Trevisani (University of Naples L’Orientale) - Steel workers in Kazakhstan: remaking labour, ethnicity and class relations across 30
years of economic reforms In Kazakhstan, 30 years of postsocialist reforms have deeply transformed labour, ethnicity and class relations in
formerly vibrant industrial communities. This is the case in Temirtau, a mono industrial steel town erected in Soviet years in the Karaganda
steppe region. Formerly a showpiece of Soviet industrialization and modernity, Temirtau gradually resurfaced from the difficult early
post-socialist period after privatisation to the British-Indian steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal. But political, economic and demographic
transformations have deeply transformed steel workers’ work and life: neoliberal restructuring has reshaped workers’ jobs, attitudes and
social interactions, resulting in class fragmentation and ethnic- and work-related competition. Inside the factory, new divisions and
inequalities have emerged among workers as a consequence of a restructuring prioritizing workforce reduction over capital-intensive
modernisation. Outside the factory, workers’ ordinary struggles for social reproduction have become more difficult and their status in a
rapidly changing urban landscape has declined.

Franco Galdini (University of Manchester) - Rise of the Surplus Population? Decollectivisation, Class Stratification, and Precarity in
Uzbekistan This article identifies decollectivisation as one of the central policies through which the Uzbek model mediated independent
Uzbekistan’s incorporation into the global economy as a cotton exporter. As in other raw-material-exporting countries of the Global South,
decollectivisation in Uzbekistan entailed a process of mass expulsion of the rural population from the land (primitive accumulation) in order to
put it to production for capital accumulation. As such, land use was shifted from the collective reproduction of the rural proletariat during
Soviet times to the rent-subsidisation of capital accumulation, particularly via import-substitution industrialisation, after
independence. The result has been the class stratification of Uzbek society, evident in the rise of a vast surplus population of landless
peasants that struggles to survive amid precarity and poverty in the informal economy, including as daily workers and labour migrants.
Likewise, class stratification spurred a distinctly gendered process of precarisation, as the dismantlement of the Soviet welfare state deprived
women not only of benefits but also of most opportunities for formal employment. The article problematises the ‘transition’ literature’s
framing of Uzbekistan as a ‘paradox’ of no transition and transformation, showing how the latter was mediated by the Uzbek model
in line with similar processes of primitive accumulation in other raw-material-exporting countries of the Global South.

Abstracts for Panel 3

Lorena Lombardozzi (The Open University) - From state-led accumulation to BRI: challenges of structural transformation in the opening
Uzbekistan Structural transformation is widely recognised for being instrumental to the betterment of socio-economic conditions of low and
middle-income countries. Yet, its success is conditional to the creation and distribution of surplus value, which is often realised or shaped
by the state. This paper strengthens the conceptual and temporal link between the recent revived debate on state capitalism and of primitive
socialist accumulation. By looking at the role of the state in capitalist relations of production, both as shaper but also as active
creator of structural transformation, I use the case of Uzbekistan to investigate how different strategies of accumulation leads to specific
dynamics and outcomes of social transformations. I argue that to understand today’s strategies of accumulations we need to understand the
time specificities from where such instances came from, by looking back at the origin of state-led accumulation in the post-soviet space.

Balihar Sanghera and Elmira Satybaldieva (University of Kent) - Rentier capitalism and countermovements in Central Asia: the moral economy
perspective This paper examines the moral economy of rent extraction in Central Asia. The rentier class has extracted rent through the ownership
and control of scarce assets, such as credit money, shares, real estate, natural resources, radio spectrum and intellectual property. Rent is
unearned income and parasitic, siphoning off surplus value produced by others. Neoliberalism has justified, promoted and normalised this form
of income. The paper is divided into three parts. The first part will explain how rent extraction has been justified and legitimised by
economic elites, the judiciary and international financial institutions in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. The second part will discuss the harmful
and damaging effects of rentier activities on economic development, people’s well-being, the environment and democracy. The third part will examine how grassroots movements have
emerged to counter the neoliberal commodification of land, money and labour. Though the movements’ achievements have been mixed given the
unequal relationship between political regimes and marginalised groups.

Speakers’ biographies:

Kuat Akizhanov is a Visiting Research Fellow of the University of Bath.
He is also an Associate Professor at the Higher School of Economics,
KazGUU University (Kazakhstan). Before joining academia, Kuat served for
15 years in different governmental agencies. His academic and research
interests include socio-economic inequality, public policy and
development economics.

Franco Galdini teaches political economy at The University of Manchester
and is a commissioning editor at openDemocracy Russia.

Hasan H. Karrar is an associate professor, Department of Humanities and
Social Sciences at the Lahore University of Management Sciences,
Pakistan. He is a specialist of China and Central Asia with a special
interest in new economic and political linkages since the Cold War.

Lorena Lombardozzi is a Senior Lecturer in Economics (starting October
2021), co-director of Innovation, Knowledge and Development (IKD) and
Research Fellow of REDEFINE at The Open University, UK. She has been
working and researching on the political economy of development of
Central and East Asia over the past 15 years. Her work has been
published in Review of International Political Economy, Journal of
Agrarian Change and Eurasian Geography and Economics. She tweets

Chokan Laumulin is Professor of the Kazakh-British Technical University,
Almaty, Kazakhstan, and a PhD graduate of Darwin College and Centre of
Development Studies, University of Cambridge (2019). His research is
focussed on the organisation and development of science in connection
with industry, society and modernisation.

Ilya Matveev is an associate professor and deputy dean at the North-West
Institute of Management, Russian Presidential Academy of National
Economy and Public Administration

Balihar Sanghera is a senior lecturer in sociology at University of
Kent’s School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research. His
recent book is Rentier Capitalism and Its Discontents: Power, Morality
and Resistance in Central Asia (co-authored with Elmira Satybaldieva).

Elmira Satybaldieva is a senior research fellow in Eurasian politics and
development based at the Conflict Analysis Research Centre, University
of Kent. Her recent book is Rentier Capitalism and Its Discontents:
Power, Morality and Resistance in Central Asia (co-authored with Balihar

Tommaso Trevisani (Dr. Phil. in Social Anthropology from the Free
University, Berlin) is Associate Professor at the Department of Asian,
African and Mediterranean Studies, University of Naples L’Orientale,
where he teaches Societies and Cultures of Central Asia and coordinates
the Centro Studi sull’Asia Centrale, Tibet e Iran (CSACTI).

Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa Su