Stacy Dallman, wife of former NHL hockey player Kevin Dallman, is likely to be remembered in Kazakhstan for a long time to come. After four years of starring for Barys, a team based in the Kazakh capital, Astana, Kevin is now on his way to other foreign ice rinks, apparently because his spouse Stacy's blog, Kaziland, upset some pretty powerful people in the Central Asian republic.
For Kazakh hockey fans, the news that Kevin, 31, had his contract with Barys torn up, is a bitter blow. An ex-defensemen for the LA Kings, Dallman was the heartbeat and captain of the Barys team, enjoying a cult status similar to that of Brazilian soccer star, Rivaldo, when he spent his twilight playing days with FC Bunyodkor in Uzbekistan.
Like Rivaldo's stint in Uzbekistan, Dallman's time in Kazakhstan has ended in acrimony, the government apparently refusing to honour the remaining three years on his contract. In a post titled ‘до свидания’ (‘Goodbye’ in Russian), his wife Stacy signed off on her time in Kazakhstan with a thinly veiled broadside against the Kazakh government:
I’m done. No more blogs about Kazakhstan. I leave behind some of the most intelligent, discerning young people who are poised to become the next leaders of a historically repressed country that I am confident has the desire and ambition to overcome it’s problems.
And, in a nod to classical Russian literature, she added a Leo Tolstoy quote to her swansong post:
Truth, like gold, is to be obtained not by its growth, but by washing away from it all that is not gold.
“Washing away?” Imagine how that sounds translated into Russian or Kazakh, in the corridors of power where President Nursultan Nazarbayev and his advisors strain to determine the course of their 20-year old ‘managed democracy'.
Or how about this, from a post entitled ‘Home Sweet Home':
I don’t really know why I tolerate it less and less every year. It just pains me when I see so much potential for a huge country with abundant natural resources who’s people don’t see a dime from their land being exploited and instead live in poverty and commanded denial. The money that should be used to develop the country is wasted away through corruption, lies, stealing, greed and selfishness on every level, in every organization from government right down to to small businesses to your everyday nanny or housekeeper.
Harsh words for a government that spends so much time and money burnishing its image, lauding its relative successes in a region strewn with faltering authoritarian regimes.
But the powers that be are probably thick-skinned enough to take some foreign criticism about corruption without resorting to deporting an international hockey star. What may have worried them more is the fact that many Kazakh internet users, usually seen as politically apathetic, came out in droves to agree with Stacy's posts. In a reply to ‘Home Sweet Home', one poster, Sanjiy, said:
What is written in the article is just the top of the iceberg. This blog is one of the bricks the building of democracy in Kaz will be made of.
Another visitor, Aidaika added more damaging words:
Stacy, thank you for your article, everything is true and it hurts me :-( Maybe you’ve heard about Zhanaozen events in last December, maybe not, but just to show everyone here in what country we live and what kind of president we have – the president has given green light to police and army to shoot at civil people.
But despite living in Kazakhstan for four hockey seasons, Stacy didn't seem to know too much about the December 2011 Zhanaozhen tragedy:
Was that the Oil situation?
Mukan.A thought Stacy was biting the hand that fed her:
Stacy, I agree with most of what you are saying. But if you look deeper what made you come to this country ? Is your husband that bad who could find a job only here? I am sorry but this country feeds you and your familly for the past years. I cant say this is a perfect country but you should appreciate the people country and the government where you live.
Another commenter, Kamila, wrote a lengthy post extolling the virtues of the Kazakh state and was subsequently criticized by other respondents for being a pro-government ‘troll'. (For more information about ‘trolling’ in Central Asia, read this excellent report by IWPR):
“Stacy, Just ignore Kamillas, Kamshats and etc. They are being paid by [the Kazakh] KGB 25000 tenge [USD 170] to troll… Ha-ha-ha,” said one visitor, Alma Atinian living in the US.
Clearly, despite her claims to the contrary, Stacy's blog had already become very political. As several local and international websites began [ru] carrying reports about the blog, Barys, her husband's employers, asked her to delete a post:
“If you are wondering where the last post went…. well….Kevins agent made me delete it! Well the agent is blaming it on the team, the team is blaming it on the owner of the team, the owner of the team is blaming it on the president of the country. I’m not quite sure if the president of any country would have enough time on his or her hands to worry about one little blog that less than 100 people read per day…but that’s their story and they are sticking to it. I’m 30 not 13… but whatever, I deleted it to be respectful of the agents/teams/owners/president of the countries request,” Stacy informed her growing fan club in a post titled “Bye-bye opinions”.
Less than two weeks after “Bye-bye opinions”, Yahoo Sports reported that Barys had said “bye-bye” to the Dallmans.
On Twitter, Central Asian political commentator @JoshuaFoust wrote:
Amazing fire de coeur from Stacy Dallman about corruption in Kazakhstan.
@Slage 85, was less complimentary:
“Stacy Dallman, who cares about you? You're a nobody. Stay away from Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. You aren't welcome,” he raged.
But back in Kaziland.com, most posters displayed genuine grief at the Dallmans’ departure, and anger towards the government, whom two posters accused of “behaving like a little girl” in its handling of the blog. One hockey-supporting father begged:
Kevin don’t leave. You are the best captain. All my friends shocked. The son cried all evening.
While Gussein contributed perhaps the most moving tribute to the pair:
Thank you very much for your effort to change Kz into a better place for its people. And i really appreciate what your husband, Kevin, has done for Barys. We are gonna miss you guys!!! and i’m sure that one day during our lifetime Kazakhstan will be a free country, and it will be a place where people would be able to practice freedom of speech. For now, you did what was right, and we will remember it for generations to come. I personally have no regrets, but only a sorrow that we have to be separated. We will miss you, our Canadian brothers and sisters.
Politics and sport – an explosive combination.
N.B For a dose of feel good on the Kaznet, check out the music video “Englishman in Shymkent” on YouTube. It is up to 100,000 hits now, and deserves ten times more.