Laughing back at legislation in Kazakhstan

Laughing back at legislation in Kazakhstan

Last year, I covered WeAreThe99Percent, a blog where people held up signs to express dissatisfaction with life in America during the recession.

So it’s been interesting to see the patamushta (патамушта) meme arise in similar ways. When I first saw Hyperbole and a Half redone in Russian, I didn’t get the punchline:

Translation: “Who are we?” “Women!”
“What do we want?” “To work to age 63!”
“Why??” “Patamushta… patamushta!”

Huh? I thought. Must be some slang I haven’t learned yet.

But apparently this is a response to the proposed rise in the retirement age for women in Kazakhstan. At independence, women retired at 55 and men at 60, but that was later raised for both genders, to 58/63. And now, citing rising retirement ages and expenses in Europe, a law has been proposed to gradually raise the retirement age for women by five years, to age 63.

I feel a lot of sympathy for women with a longer work life, but I’m also curious to know more about the new Minister of Labor, Serik Abdenov. On taking his post last year, Abdenov said there was no need to raise the pension age of 58 for older women. In December, he raised pensions 9%, to an average of $219 dollars/month.

And citing financial pressures, the youthful-looking official is now defending the proposed law raising the pension age to 63. I believe Kazakh workers pay a 10% income tax and 10% pension tax, although women only earn 60% of what men do.

From a rather cynical perspective, I’d note that women put in less cash to pension funds because they earn less and take time off to bear children — but they also are expected to contribute far more labor on a daily basis to household, family, and community than most men. Then, they’re penalized with lower social support at retirement age. 

Well, that’s my general critique of wages in most nations! One would hope countries could use export revenues to support the elderly, or push men to take a bigger role in the home, or advocate for equal pay and otherwise recognize women’s unpaid labor. But instead, we seem to expect women to do more to magically fix this wage gap themselves…


/off soapbox. Anyhow, at a recent press conference, the new Minister tried to allay concerns on the rising retirement age, responding that:

Вам нужно работать и работать, потому что… уважаемые земляки, потому что, потому что. Ну, зачем вам в 50 лет думать о пенсии? При выходе на пенсию мы просто приобретем дополнительные болезни, мы будем раньше стареть. Это однозначно.

Translation: “You need to work and work, because… dear countrymen, because, because. “Well, why do you need to think about retirement at the age of 50? At retirement, we will just acquire additional diseases, we will get older sooner. This is clear.”

This nervous repetition of “потому что, потому что” (“because… because…”) is pronounced ‘patamushta’, and has caught on wildly. My Kazakhstani friends have been gleefully reposting some of the facebook images, many of which are collected on the Patamusta facebook page: 

Boy: Pop, I want to play with grandma! Why is she always still at work?
Father: Because…
Boy, well, why?
Father: Patamushta, my boy, patamushta!


Small girl: I need to work to 63 years old. Po-to-mu shto po-to-mu shto.

Its’s a universal strategy of protest: get cute kids holding up signs to arouse viewer sympathy. Why don’t officials get a counterforce of cute kids in response?


“What? [The minister] doesn’t need a 63-year old secretary? But I would have offered ‘personal’ services!”
This demotivators-style picture highlights both age discrimination against older workers, and how pretty girls are sometimes expected to be sexually available to their bosses (cf. the 2004 book by Joma Nazpary). 

Young woman: My mama with a sickened heart will work until age 63! Pa-ta-mu-shta… pa-ta-mu-shta…



“Patamushta, patamushta!”

This one confused me at first. But apparently two eggs were thrown at a recent press conference.

Young woman: how to be happy and beautiful at/to 63? You need to work and work! Patamushta! Patamushta! Miiiii))))


…So this isn’t a criticism of Kazakhstan, so much as a comment on how societies and economies work in general, and in the context of gender differences.  I live a privileged life in the country’s posh capital. From this point of view, the neverending breathless talk of unrest in Central Asia sometimes sounds like wishful thinking on the part of policy bloggers.

But I do see these images as a way of “speaking back,” much as citizens can also protest in person (cf. Yessenova’s 2010 “Borrowed Places” article). Community protest can help people to let off steam or convey the depth of their feeling on legislative issues. But sometimes images are just fun, and I think some of my friends gain a sense of satisfaction from laughing at the many things we can’t control.

At any rate, the 99 Percent meme came and faded quickly, but is now echoed in this new form. This has me wondering: will ‘patamushkta’ similarly stick around, or is it here briefly and gone forever?

Thoughts? Leave a note here!