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The Nazarbаyev phenomenon

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: Over twenty five years have already passed since Kazakhstan gained its independence. This important period in the country’s history has come to be associated with the name of the Kazakh leader Nursultan Nazarbayev.

While being interviewed by zonakz.net in January 2019, Pyotr SVOIK, a political analyst and publicist, said: “And one more thing, that should be considered. What is currently the deep-seated basis for the Kazakhstani economy and stability? They lie not only in the abundance of natural resources (oil, ferrous and non-ferrous metals, uranium, tungsten and so on), but also in the fact that all this is being extracted by the foreign investors. That’s just what is currently at the bottom of the Kazakhstani economy and stability. We are a unique State in such terms. You won’t find another one like this anywhere else in the world. If a leader turns out to not be as experienced and respected as Nursultan Nazarbayev, how would he get along in this situation? He could get along through, as they say, improving relationship with foreign corporations. So Kazakhstan would have to lock itself into further dependence instead of reflecting on the restoration of national control over natural resources, without which, by the way, there would be no – industrial, innovative – development. We would have to become furthermore involved in such kind of a situation.
That is, if instead of the current President with his exclusive role in governance and his vast historical experience as a statesman we get someone who is a little weaker – and there is objectively no other choice – then we won’t get upside down, here we won’t have long-term disturbances. But we would become furthermore involved in this situation; we would get stuck in the position of a mere supplier of raw materials. We would become even more influenced by this international multi-vector environment, and first of all, of course, by Russia, which will promote the project of Eurasian integration one way or another.
And all of this does not seem very encouraging. That’s why I think… well, I don’t really believe much in it, to be honest, I hardly believe in it, but I think that the only reasonable way for us is to start, of course, under guidance of the ruling authority (this trend should not come from the street, shouldn’t it?!) institutional reform in order to transform an exclusive, personal presidential government system into a competently distributed one.
The fact that the situation is largely being controlled from the outside, and we have been responding to external stimuli, is, on one hand, a guarantee that there will be no contingencies here. But on the other hand, this isn’t actually a very good guarantee, since it would be better to behave independently of any outside influence. I, for one, am an unequivocal supporter of Eurasian integration, but not in this trading format, but in an investment format, which we simply don’t yet have. I am also not ok with a situation in which Moscow would dictate the whole thing, and our representatives would simply have to adjust and adapt to that, while being reluctant to accept such a system of relationships, even resisting efforts to establish it. I’m assuming that we must increase our own flexibility and effective independence. Yet I am rather pessimistic with respect to that. And specifically, I’m just worried about the so-called growth of civic activism, because if you look at what Internet is filled with, you will see something quite remarkable. The highest achievement of that intellectual social thought, I am aware of, is as follows. Let us conduct fair and genuine elections instead of tightly regulated ones. This idea just terrifies me, because if elections are to be held in this kind of situation, that would be cast-iron guarantees for destabilization of the current system without any chance to create something better and more sustainable instead”.
Inheriting the presidency, it’s a task that is easier to talk about than to do. Then imagine Kazakhstan, as an independent country, steadily moving on without him as though nothing has changed – oh, it’s easier said than done. Nursultan Nazarbayev as head of state, like the rulers of all times and ages, unfortunately, is not eternal. Unfortunately – this is not irony. It’s, of course, matter of common knowledge that society can feel tired due to the fact that they have for more than twenty five years all the same person as their ruler. It is quite common not only for the Kazakh or any other post-Soviet community, but also to Western society.
Man is arranged so that he sometimes becomes tired of being told how good his country is under the leadership of one irreplaceable ruler, tired of being told to be grateful and to be scared of the power shift. And then he begins to yearn for something new, being fully aware that it can get him to go sideways.
In the summer of 1945 indefatigable prime minister of Britain during World War II Winston Churchill confidently looked forward to electoral victory. Although his role in this war had generated him much support from the British population, he was defeated in the general elections held on 26 July 1945 and stepped down as leader of the British Government. Many reasons for this have been given, key among them being that a desire for post-war reform was widespread amongst the population and that the man who had led Britain in war was not seen as the man to lead the nation in peace. Thus, he lost the prime ministership two months after Germany’s surrender, when the opposition Labor Party took majority control of Parliament. Churchill lost his seat of Prime Minister in the days of his and his party’s greatest triumph.

And now let’s take an example closer to us. There was a lot of gloating in Kazakh society in the mid 1980’s over the fact that Dinmukhamed Akhmedovich Kunayev, then effective ruler of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic for more than two decades and the highest-ranking Soviet leader of Muslim heritage, didn’t find common language with the then new Secretary General of the CPSU Central Committee Mikhail Gorbachev. I saw with my own eyes a lot of intelligent Kazakhs, who jumped for joy at the news of his dismissal. This newcomer was non-Kazakh, brought from abroad. But they didn’t much care for it. «The point is to replace him with someone else», they said. Later on they regretted it. But it was afterwards – after they were enlightened by the so-called Jeltoqsan or «December» events of 1986 that took place in Almaty in response to Mr. Gorbachev’s dismissal of Dinmukhamed Kunayev, the long-serving First Secretary of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan, and the subsequent appointment of Gennady Kolbin, an outsider from Russia.
A similar phenomenon is happening now in Kazakhstan. And even the most ardent opponents of Mr.Nazarbayev agree that there is no one in nowadays Kazakhstan to replace him as the head of state and would be able to guarantee the stability of government and society. A few years ago, the Soldat newspaper (now – Dat) wrote something like the following phrase: in the case of Mr.Nazarbayev’s leaving the presidency Kazakhstan’s political elite as a whole does not recognize any single authority. Whoever comes to power after Mr.Nazarbayev will be depending on the specifics of Kazakhstani elite and lacking real power in the country. His authority will be strongly and insuperably challenged by a host of other powerful and abundantly rich individuals. They would say, «Who are you that I should obey and seek favor from?! Are you better, cleverer and wealthier than me? No! You aren’t the boss around here and you aren’t the boss of me!». So really there is no one that can fulfill the role to this day played in Kazakhstan Mr.Nazarbayev.
True, Kazakhstani president’s critics blame him for lack of an option to replace him as chief executive of Kazakhstan. Mr.Nazarbayev’s domestic opponents fault him for what they claim is his reluctance to tolerate appearance of would-be successors. But such an argument does not sound like a very convincing argument.
Mr.Nazarbayev is being still kept in power by, at least, two undisputed factors. This is, firstly, his ability and personal merits that enabled him to undergo natural selection and, on the way to the pinnacle of power, to overcome all the would-be and real competitors. Secondly, the legitimacy of his nomination as the first head of the country in the eyes of Kazakhstani people and, above all, the Kazakh society due to the fact that he was appointed there by Moscow, the former metropolitan and, therefore, neutral power. So, it will be very difficult to find a wholly adequate successor to him for the Republic of Kazakhstan.


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