Kazakhstan: Mayhem mars the end of the school year

Kazakhstan: Mayhem mars the end of the school year
A "last bell" celebration in Astana. The authorities banned end-of-school-year special events this year, but many students and their parents roundly ignored the ban. / Kaz.gov
By Almaz Kumenov for Eurasianet May 30, 2024

Kazakh authorities, citing safety concerns, scaled back end-of-school-year festivities, known as the last bell. But such efforts failed to head off widespread incidents of violence and mayhem.

The school year ended on May 25 for the country’s schoolchildren, numbering approximately four million, including 200,000 graduating high school seniors, according to the Ministry of Education. Increasing rowdiness in previous years prompted officials in April to ban the organisation of end-of-school special events, including banquets and car caravans for graduates in honour of the “last bell”. A more subdued celebration, dubbed class hour, was instituted for this year “to ensure the safety” of children. Class hour festivities featured opportunities for graduates to summarise their studies and discuss future plans. 

“I am confident that this year’s graduates will hold this event at a highly cultural level, without frills, without pompous celebrations, at a spiritual and moral level,” said Minister of Education Gani Beisembayev, when announcing the change in plans. 

The students, and their parents, had other ideas, however. 

Flouting the ban, students around the country organised caravans, in which cars crammed with seniors careen about town honking horns and generally ignoring the rules of the road. In many cases students were drinking and driving. Police made dozens of arrests.

The ban on banquets and big parties was also roundly ignored. Authorities in the Mangystau region, for example, conducted multiple raids on illicit bashes, held in spaces rented by parents so that graduates could secretly celebrate. 

A school principal in Mangystau, Askar Dosov, said that parents in his district signed a pledge to adhere to the government ban, only to ignore it. “It is you, parents, who [should] understand that all prohibitions are aimed solely at the safety of your children,” Dosov was quoted as saying by the Lada.kz news site.

Several instances of end-of-school-related violence have been reported. In Astana, a female graduate was reported to be in a critical but stable condition after being stabbed by another student on May 26.

On the same day, the Buzyq Telegram channel posted a video in which two graduates in Almaty were seen repeatedly punching and kicking what appears to be another student. One of the attackers was wearing a 2024 school graduate's ribbon. According to police, the alleged attackers have been detained.

Almaz Kumenov is an Almaty-based journalist.

This article first appeared on Eurasianet here.