On 1 January, Kazakhstan doubled the price of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), the main fuel for cars in some parts of the country, from 60 to 120 tenge ($0.14 to $0.28) per litre. It didn’t take long for the public to react. The next morning, the residents of Zhanaozen, the capital of the traditionally troublesome Mangystau region in the west of the country, took to the streets. Two days later, on 4 January, Kazakhstani authorities decided to make concessions to the protesters, announcing that LPG prices in the Mangystau region would drop to 50 tenge per litre. This didn’t stop the protests, however; instead, the economic demands were joined by political ones – the protesters demanded the return of local self-government and the final departure from politics of first and longtime former president Nursultan Nazarbayev. Protests also spread to other cities – Aktau, Atyrau, and especially Kazakhstan’s largest city Almaty – but remained peaceful. Things would probably have remained that way if not for two key events that occurred on 4 January.
Lukashenko’s Belarus has long been a success story in the post-Soviet world. In the 2000s it had some of the fastest GDP growth in the world. Belarus had the lowest unemployment rate among all the countries of the former Eastern Bloc, the lowest level of poverty in the region, one of the best public health services, the best road infrastructure, and no foreign debt. In 2003 it became the third country in the region whose GDP returned to its 1990 level (after Uzbekistan and Estonia). Over the next five years, its economy had grown by another 60%. During the financial crisis of 2009, Belarus remained the only post-Soviet country whose economy didn’t shrink. These outstanding results made scholars talk about Lukashenko’s Belarus as the post-Soviet economic miracle. But what were the foundations of that miracle?