Rock stars rarely cancel appearances based on political situations. But Sting, an avid supporter of Amnesty International, bowed out of a concert in Astana, Kazakhstan this weekend when he learned that employees of a state owned oil company were on strike. The situation was even worse than that. It turns out that the annual Astana Day–sort of Kazakh Independence Day–was moved to line up with the birthday of the country’s president, Nursultan Nazarbaev.
A promoter had booked in Sting’s “Symphonicities” classical pop concert–currently on tour in Russia–without realizing that Nazarbaev would use Sting’s appearance as an endorsement for himself. Luckily, the former leader of the Police figured it out in time and pulled the plug. At issue now is the situation with the oil workers, repression of their union, and other accusations made by Amnesty.
“Hunger strikes, imprisoned workers and tens of thousands on strike represents a virtual picket line which I have no intention of crossing,” Sting commented. “The Kazakh gas and oil workers and their families need our support and the spotlight of the international media on their situation in the hope of bringing about positive change.”
But that’s not all–it turns out that Kazakhstan, so brilliantly lampooned by Sacha Baron Cohen in “Borat,” is rife with issues. In 2008, Nazarbaev’s former son-in-law, a high government official, published a book about the president called “The Godfather in Law.” Since then, Rakhat Aliev has been on the run for his life–hiding in Austria and Malta. He’s been tried for murders he probably didn’t commit and convicted in absentia.
And a funny thing about Astana Day itself–Aliev wrote in his book that Nazarbaev had moved the capital to Astana to protect himself. Read this 2008 story from Radio Free Europe. Sting was smart to cancel Kazakhstan. Other rockers should do the same. http://www.rferl.org/content/Nazarbaev_Celebrates_Day_Of_Astana/1181848.html