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The Economist May 18th 2019


2 landowners rich, not to mention politi-

cians and senior police officers. There are drawbacks, however, even locally. Opium helps to fund the Taliban, as well as pro-government warlords who are scarcely better. The reclaimed territory is mostly untouched by the government: indeed, many of the settlers are people who are rather hostile to state-building. Other Helmandis call them “the wildmen”, Mr Mansfield says. There is also a big cost to the environment. Though there are no hard data, excessive drilling is “100%” lowering the water table, says Muhammad Wali, a turban-clad elder in Panjwai district who serves as the local mirabu or water manager. “Groundwater is for drinking, not for farming,” he says. Drinking wells are increasingly contaminated with nitrates from cheap fertilisers, which have spread alongside pumps. Shallow wells have gone completely dry. If the groundwater is exhausted, millions will have to move again. Perhaps the best hope is that the appeal of planting poppies wilts before too many wells dry up. A huge harvest in 2017 pushed prices down 56% last year, according to the un, to their lowest level in over a decade. For farmers like Mr Samad, that takes some of the buzz out of planting poppies. 7 Democracy in Kazakhstan

A dissident with nothing to say A LM AT Y

The police inadvertently become conceptual artists


slan sagutdinov had a hunch. The authorities in Kazakhstan are so intolerant of dissent, he reasoned, that it does not really matter what protesters write on their placards. Simply holding up a sign of any sort is considered subversive enough to merit arrest. After all, two democracy activists, Asya Tulesova and Beybaris Tolymbekov, had been arrested in April for unfurling a banner at a marathon in Almaty, the financial capital, that read “You cannot run from the truth #forafairelection #Ihaveachoice”. They were jailed for ten days for breaching rules on public assembly, even though the authorities insist that the presidential election on June 9th will be fair, and that people will have a choice. To test the government’s paranoia, Mr Sagutdinov stood in the middle of the city of Uralsk and held up a big blank sheet of paper. Sure enough, the police took him into custody. They could not think of anything to charge him with, however, so they soon let him go. A police spokesperson later helpfully explained that Mr Sagutdinov

Calculating age in South Korea

A two-year month SEOUL

Politicians mull national rejuvenation


Protest flourishes in the white spaces

had been detained not for holding up a piece of paper, but for the opinions he expressed as he did so. The protesters at the marathon and Mr Sagutdinov have spawned a series of imitations. A man who hung a banner quoting the constitution over a road in Almaty was briefly jailed, then fined. A schoolboy in Nur-Sultan—the capital, which was recently renamed in honour of Nursultan Nazarbayev, the septuagenarian former president—staged a blank-paper protest of his own. Activists have been posting photographs of themselves on social media holding up nothing at all. People frustrated with three decades of authoritarian rule have also held small street protests to demand democracy. Many have been arrested; some have been jailed for short spells. The authorities are especially touchy at the moment because Kazakhstan, an oilrich former Soviet republic of 18m, is in the midst of a delicate transition. Mr Nazarbayev resigned in March after three decades in charge. The election is being held to affirm his chosen successor, KassymZhomart Tokayev, the interim president. Mr Nazarbayev’s support in elections varied wildly, from a meagre 81% to a respectable 98%. It helps that he never had to face a credible opponent. One potential rival shot himself twice in the chest and once in the head, police say. Another was disqualified for taking part in an illegal protest, as it happens. Others boycotted the polls as stitch-ups. This time, however, the authorities have allowed a candidate with a record of political opposition to register. No one expects Amirzhan Kosanov to be allowed to win. Many fear he will simply legitimise the election, while toning down his criticism of the powers-that-be. It is not even clear whether his supporters will be allowed to hold up placards. 7

hen koreans meet a new acquaintance, one of the first questions they ask is, “How old are you?” What may seem surprising or even rude to foreign visitors is necessary to comply with Korean standards of politeness. The language has a multi-tiered system of honorifics. How you address somebody depends on their status, which is determined first and foremost by age, though sex and professional standing also play a role. Getting it wrong can be awkward. Getting it wrong is also easy, given the country’s confusing mix of systems for calculating age. To start with, most Koreans consider babies one year old when they are born. What is more, everyone collectively turns a year older on January 1st. This used to happen on lunar New Year, which falls about a month later, when people still eat a bowl of beef soup with rice cakes in celebration. (Babies marking their second birthday despite having been born only weeks before have milk.) The “Korean age” calculated in this way has traditionally been more important than the Western-style age recorded on people’s passports. Many older Koreans do not even know their birthdays. To add to the mess, yet another method is used to determine whether someone is old enough to drink alcohol, or when they should perform military service: their birth year is subtracted from the current calendar year, so a person born on January 1st is considered the same age as someone born 364 days later. All this not only confuses visitors but also stymies bureaucrats, who are often uncertain which number to use for what purpose. Popular apps designed to convert one type of age into another help the numerically challenged, but hardly clarify the rules. Studies suggest that most Koreans would prefer a simpler system. Some politicians have decided that the way forward is rejuvenation. Earlier this year a group of lawmakers submitted a bill to abolish the Korean way of measuring age for administrative purposes. The National Assembly has yet to consider the proposal. If it is approved, the whole country could become a year or two younger at the stroke of a pen—a handy trick in a fast-ageing society.


Profile for MA Rtin

The Economist - 18.05.19  

The Economist - 18.05.19