Saving the homes of the last two hundreds snow leopards in Kazakhstan will be the main discussion topic for the international committee of legal experts who oversee the implementation of the rights of the public to participate in the decision-making process regarding the environment. The natural habitat of the snow leopard is put at risk by the plans to build a high-class ski resort. A group of companies supported by several politicians are lobbying for the project taking place in the pristine nature of the Ile-Alatau National Park which located in the Tien Shan mountains. Although the citizens protest against privatization and the devastation of nature, the authorities have been ignoring their arguments. Kazakhstan is thus violating an international agreement.
"The fight to save the snow leopard is the most visible manifestation of the awakening of civil society in Kazakhstan. Residents of Kazakhstan experience difficulties when trying to access information, and if they want to have a say in the decision-making process alongside officials and politicians, they often get into sticky situations. Although Kazakhstan is a free country, the culture of official decision making processes is often reminiscent of the Czechoslovak totalitarian regime. But people have a right to live in a healthy environment, and not just because they are guaranteed so by international conventions," comments Martin Skalský, head of the Center for Citizens' Support at Arnika, on the situation in Kazakhstan.
Czech citizens can also join the petition against the construction of the megalomaniac ski resort. All they have to do is open the following website (www.zachranme-irbise.cz) where they can find the complete text of the petition and also other ways how to help. So far, almost 3,000 people have joined the fight.
Local authorities have banned public meetings in support of the Ile-Alatau National Park. Yet, the reservation is nominated for inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Kazakh authorities have organized a public discussion of the ski resort project two years ago during Christmas, however, they refused to show projects and studies to the citizens. Before the actual discussions took place, the door to the hall was blocked by the police. The official web site with relevant information was shut down as well. Even though some people got into the hall after journalists began to gather there, not everyone had a chance to submit their comments. It is rumored that the person behind this project is one of President Nursultan Nazarbayev's daughters. Nazarbayev has been in power for 24 years now.
In order to circumvent the law prohibiting construction in the national park, officials have removed thousands of hectares from the protected areas list, thus enabling the consortium to build on these unique places. Civic Association Green Salvation has brought all decisions before court, however, the costly lawsuits plod along slowly.
Furthermore, the defenders of the national park believe that Kazakhstan's media is facing political pressure as well. After the initial significant interest in the case, Kazakh media has not discussed the issue at all.