Democracy and human rights, seen as two closely interlinked and interdependent concepts, have been a priority of the world community since the inception of the United Nations. Kazakhstan is of course no exception to that.
In a documentary released by the TV and radio complex of Kazakhstan’s presidency and titled «Through the crucible of history», Kazakh leader Nursultan Nazarbayev says the following: «As is well known, Presidents aren’t born, they are made. In this regard, it’s not enough for one to be an individual with outstanding personal qualities. He also needs to be a highly responsible person. Being a President is being a politician of a special kind, a politician, whose decisions affect the lives of millions of people. He should be conscious of this responsibility, he should keep pace with the times and the current development, and he should be able to feel acutely the pulse of his people.
«I was born as an ordinary Kazakh, and I grew up in a remote village. I started out as a smelting plant worker, and I went through all the stages of the system of government. I’ve been all over the Republic of Kazakhstan. I’ve been to every region and every village in the country. People around the republic have got to know me quite well during these years. How can I be not aware of what the people want?».
The path traveled by a country within a particular time frame is often being identified with the period of its national leader’s tenure as President or Prime Minister: his first 100 days, year in office. In the context of such a practice, the observers used to undertake a general overview of the work having been carried out by his administration or cabinet in the interim. Where are we going with this? The answer is simple: Kazakhstan is going to celebrate 23d anniversary of its Constitution on 30 August. The current Organic Law, adopted by a national referendum over two decades ago, has come to be associated with the name of the Kazakh leader Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Twenty three years is a quite long time. While this is in itself a worthwhile result, the following fact warrants attention. The nation has been living under the leadership of Nursultan Nazarbayev longer than under the current Constitution. This is another cause to highlight the importance of the role of personality in history.
During all those years, the country has lived in peace. It therefore appears that Mr. Nazarbayev’s leadership is as important for guaranteeing stability and order in the republic as is the current Organic Law. Such a conclusion may be drawn from an analysis of Kazakhstani history since the end of the 1980s. He became the first secretary of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan nearly three decades ago. Back then, it meant becoming the supreme leader of the republic. A lot has changed since that time. First and foremost, the Soviet Union had disintegrated, and Kazakhstan gained independence shortly after his rise to the highest position in system of power. In the country’s first presidential election, held on 1 December 1991, he obtained more than 91 percent of the vote and was declared the winner. Since then, he has been holding the office of President.
Therefore it turns out, that this period of Kazakhstan’s history has been largely bound up with Mr. Nazarbayev’s continued guidance and leadership. What was it like?
In the summer of 1989, when Nursultan Nazarbayev had been elected as the first secretary of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan, emotional euphoria occurred among the population. It felt like a weight had been lifted off. The Kazakhs were particularly pleased to hear about this. That development would mean the restoration of justice that had – according to their perception – been breached three years previously. The Kazakhstani Russians were relieved at the news, too. At that time, the Zheltoksan (Kazakh for «December») events that had happened towards the end of 1986 and their implications continued to cast a shadow over relations between the two largest ethnic groups of the republic contributing to the preservation of an atmosphere of mutual distrust. Under such circumstances, Nursultan Nazarbayev became the first secretary of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan and he was the third person from among Kazakhs to take over that position. Here let us digress briefly in order to understand properly the true significance of his election to the highest office in the republic on 22 June 1989.
On December 16, 1986 the then first secretary of Kazakhstan’s Communist Party, Dinmukhamed Kunayev, was dismissed from the post he’d held since 1964. He was succeeded by Gennady Kolbin, a Russian who had never lived in the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic before. The next day thousands of protesters gathered in the streets of Alma-Ata. These were mainly young students and young workers holding up signs that say, «Long live Lenin’s policy on nationalities!», «Every nation must have the right to be administered by its own leaders!». The state media – print, television and radio – labeled the protesters as dyed-in-the-wool nationalists. Unrest continued for two days. On the third day the demonstrators were violently dispersed by law enforcement and army personnel. Many suffered from post-Zheltoksan repression. That led to a climate of mistrust in the Kazakhstani society. They say that time heals all things. But changes were needed to make a difference.
When Nursultan Nazarbayev took over the position of the republican communist party leader it was obvious that dispelling the continuing climate of mutual distrust remained a major challenge for achieving harmony between the two largest ethnic groups of the republic. He accomplished the task with a level of leadership, commitment and vision that we have all come to admire. And the fact is that not even Mr. Nazarbayev’s detractors can deny his success in dealing with such a complicated issue. He apparently has been and is still very much aware that solving such problems is what really makes a society democratic, peaceful and multi-ethnic. Such a view has been fully reflected in the current Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan which was approved by a national referendum on 30 August 1995. The Organic Law guarantees the rights and legitimate interests of every person in the country without regard to racial, ethnic or religious affiliation. As President and guarantor of the Constitution, Mr. Nazarbayev, for his part, has been making every effort to ensure equality of citizens, protect human rights and freedoms and prevent politicization of inter-ethnic relations.
Kazakhstan’s leader also says in the above-mentioned documentary that his country has its own national peculiarities, potential and opportunities and that they should not be disregarded. In considering this issue further, he notes the following: «Western models are no good to us. Of course, freedom and democracy are the mainstream concepts to everyone. But your freedom stops where that of mine begins, and vice versa».
According to him, all people are born equal, irrespective of their nationality, skin color and so on, and have the same rights.
Earlier this year, Nursultan Nazarbayev already provided comments on the subject of democracy and human rights. He mentioned that his country was making its transition to democracy, following a distinct path.
He then said: «We are the people who, like the rest of the world, are moving forward along the path of democracy. But we cannot learn to master in a single day what has been built up over the past thousand years. How old is the United States of America? 250 years. Fifty years ago, black people could not travel in the same bus as white people in that country».
In America, much has of course changed for the better since then – nationally and regionally (including the southern states). Recently, the American presidency, which is associated with the city of Washington, located next to northeast boundaries of Virginia, where interracial marriages were officially illegal before 1967, has been in the hands of Barack Obama, born to an interracial familial union – to a white mother and a black father – in 1961.
Up to the late 1960s, American, Canadian and Australian legal practices imposed almost total restrictions on East Asian immigration and naturalization and denied East Asian-Americans basic freedoms because of their racial affiliation. But even in 1970s, racism against Blacks and Mongoloids remained legitimate in North America. As late as 1973, a residential section of Vancouver stipulated on each property deed that no person of East Asian or African ancestry could stay on the premises overnight except as a servant. Similar laws in Saskatchewan went so far as to prevent white women from working for East Asians (for Chinese, to be precise). That has really been, by historical standards, just yesterday.
We in Kazakhstan have been kept out of these types of horrors. Therefore, when Nursultan Nazarbayev says, that the mentality of Westerners differs from that of the Kazakhstani people, there’s no doubting it.