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Kazakhstan: where are we going to be in 15 years?

Categories: Central Asia & Caucasus, Kazakhstan

15 years ago we came into existence. I mean – we existed before, but no one knew. 15 years ago after the 1991 August putsch [1] in Moscow, and followed collapse of the Soviet Union, new Central Asian countries, including Kazakhstan, came into existence for the rest of the world (ok, for some it still exists only in Borat's film!).

15 years ago we were different: we had huge lines to the shops that had nothing to sell, we experienced electricity black-outs, lack of heating, state monopoly on everything and huge inflation.

15 years have changed us: we now have polite salespeople in Gucci stores, we go to corporate parties with our colleagues from multinationals, and we travel around the world (that is when we are asked about Borat's film!).

What are we going to become in 15 years? It is difficult to give a meaningful forecast even for the nearest future. Authoritarian government, oil-dependent economy, rising nationalism and factors as unexpected as the death of a Turkmen president over the border – complicate the forecast.

James of neweurasia [2]had an idea of a cross-blog survey of what is the region going to look like in 15 years. He decided to compile the stories, analysis and surveys by English-language bloggers interested in the region, and by Russian-language local bloggers. Five different people from Kazakhstan wrote their essays about the country's future – fun, fantastic and serious, with or without them: Adam [3], Marat [4], Ksenia [5], Slavoraya [6], and Vitaly [7] (RU). You can read the summary of the posts and the translation of the most interesting parts of them after the jump.

Adam Kesher. 2021: An Eternal Land of Hopes.

“2021. I am a free citizen of a free country, looking back at my homeland and seeing that nothing had changed. It is still a land of hopes. When I was a Soviet child, it was a country of virgin lands and a cosmodrome – and had everything in front of it. In the 1990s, it was a new state, where everyone was looking forward to future because the present could not have been worse. In the beginning of the 21 century, the aspirations split, mainly due to financial differences – those in the middle were waiting for democracy and money, poor were waiting for money and democracy, and oil-riches – for money, without democracy”.

Adam predicts that after the death of the first president, most of his team would be gone, and only his party would remain. Democratic changes would not happen though: the opposition would be blocked from participation in it (and gracefully abstain from investigation of the current regime's crimes) and the “family” would quickly realise that it would not want to spend money and efforts for a fair game. “And when the “relatives” realised they it would be difficult to agree with the governors about the amount of votes in each region, when they realised that if the West managed to break the tradition of the elections they were used to, it would be even more difficult to agree with the one fairly chosen – each of them decided to act before one's enemy acted.”

“That is when the series of mini-coups would start, with characters changing more often than the the USSR secretaries in the 1980s. Each new character would be supported, be it by secret services, army, business, or intelligentsia. Position of an official, academic or a deputy would cost a lot – in monetary terms, of course. Each new character would repeat – just like a son of slain Russian emperor Pavel – “everything would be just like during papa's rule”. The people would watch amused and quiet, following the ingrained principles of the fisrt president: “It's OK As Long As There Is No War” and “Those Who Compete with Those in Power Are Even Worse”.

Very soon all the relatives would end up in prison, dead or abroad. That is when the new leaders of a new generation would appear: the true populists and politicians. The nationalisation of resources, anti-Chinese sentiments, militarism and chauvinism – would be their slogans. They would not be afraid of fair elections. That, at least, would be an advantage – after 30 years of independence.”

“I hope that political competition – even if the choice is between the extreme left and the extreme right – would never happen other than on fair elections, in parliamentary debates, newspapers, TV screens and peaceful demonstrations. I hope that people would stop dying of doctors’ mistakes and education would seize being an annoying waste of money for getting a Diploma. That would again be a Land of Hopes. Though it would, of course, be easier to think so for me, a free citizen of a free European country, than for my countrymen back home”, writes Adam.

Marat. Kazakhstan-2021 or Everything is Up in the Air.

Bad option 1: China invades Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan becomes a battlefield and nuclear weapon is applied. Then Marat's day would look like this: “Big Yhh slowly got up. His name used to be Marat – he forgot about it. His current life did not involve complexities. “Rat-people from Ainabulak have gone crazy”, thought Big Yhh, “Should kill couple of those, so that that they do not violate the district borders, plus they make a great “kazy“.

Bad option 2: Kazakhstan is torn by a fight with the terrorist groups of Central Asia and Xingjan. “Five murdered militants were lying on the floor of destructed building. Marat was banging on the heads of the four hostages. He saw a movement on the back of his head: Honey, I told you, you should target kidneys!”.

Finally, a likely option:
Oil would lose its position due to development of new energy sources: bioethanol, coleseed oil and electric batteries. Kazakhstan will continue maintaining good relations with China through investments and counterfeiting the US and the Islamic world. Strong business links and cultural exchange would help Kazakhstan prevent cooling relations with Russia. Political system would change: the country would turn into Parliamentary republic, with Nazarbayev as a head of Otan party that would control the Parliament. All clans, groups and other forces would be represented in power and the balance of interests would be preserved. There would be more freedoms, though education would stagnate. However, increased stidy abroad and special training centres at companies would help keeping it up. Media would serve different power groups, the languages would share the spheres of use: English would become a language of technology and culture, Kazakh and Russian would both be languages of every day use, culture and public service. Regions beyond Almaty and Astana would develop: Aktyubinsk, Ust-Kamenogorsk, Pavlodar and Shymkent would prosper. Rural areas and other regions though would decline.

Then, Marat's typical day in 2021 would look like this: “Marat got up at 8. It was useless to get up earlier – despite numerous new roads and metro, the number of cars in Almaty grew. “Regional financial center, damn it!”, thought Marat and activated his computer. The reports showed that the price of his investment portfolio stayed on the same level – the oil prices were stable for the last few years. “I should have bought the “Intel” shares – they seem to be settling for long here. Where is the juice! Since my wife left for Dushanbe to manage the Turan Alem Bank micro-district project with the Chinese, the house is a mess!”. Grumpy, Marat was going around the house, while the “clever house” was launching one system of life support after another. The TV darkly reported on Russia's protests against American military bases in Moldova, suppression of another Islamic militants group in Ferghana valley by the SOC forces and appointment of a new government in Kazakhstan…

Ksenia. Ekibastuz-2021: Aspirations of a young couple.

“Adil – is a simple Kazakh guy, he works at the construction of the power station 3 and lives in a city with his girlfriend Ami. Ami came from China with her parents, who also work at the construction. They got a flat from the state, and when Ami and Adil get married and have a child, they will get another flat and a good allowance. This comes as part of the state program on improvement of demographic situation and birth rate.” Adil and Ami would like walking around the old city, with its botanic gardens, though it would not be safe at times because of nationalist youth who would not warm up to migrants from China. The punishment for hate crimes though would be harsh, continues Ksenia. Another problem of the old city would be a network of illegal casinos, hosted at the private accommodation of the entrepreneurs. Adil would ride a bicycle, as many other people would do, since the prices to European cars would increase after the ban of right-hand-drive cars. Ami would dream of opening up her own boutique, which would be only possible now to do in a new supermarket, as the small shops would be forced to close down.

Slavoyara. Pavlodar-2021: Visiting home city after immigration.

“2021. Me and my husband are the citizens of another country, however, our home country is calling us, though our past memories are difficult to combine with the modern look of Pavlodar … My children do not speak Kazakh, I myself forgot it long ago, though I used to speak it fluently. As everyone, I was afraid that all the book-keeping would be transferred to Kazakh 15 years ago… There are still Russians in Pavlodar. All children speak Kazakh, including the Russian kids. Wonderful… I see that the government had enough intelligence and resources to solve the language issue… When we were approaching the city, I saw the smoking chimneys of the aluminium factory. It became bigger. Oil and chemical factory, on the other hand, was closed down recently: old equipment did not let it work on the world level, and management did not invest into its renewal”.

Vitaly: Kazakhstan 2021: Youth, the Optimistic and a Pessimistic Outlooks

“Murat Abdumenov, Director of the South-Kazakhstan regional affiliate of Youth Congress thinks that the desire to solve current economic issues attracts the youth into politics”. The youth organizations, wrote Vitaly, would develop a new law on state youth policies, which would amend the drawbacks of the one adopted in 2004. Dariga Nazarbayeva agrees is ready to support it. How the youth policies are managed now will determine the future development of the country.

Optimistic view: Kazakhstan would achieve its long-term priority goals, as defined by Nazarbayev in his 2030 strategy: national security, provided by friendly relations with neighbouring countries and balanced policies having vast resources. Internal political stability would be provided by the continuation of the President's course on interethnic piece and more young people in the Government. The country would have a stable economic growth due to foreign investments, GDP growth of 10% per year, state anti-monopolist policies and non-interference with private sphere. The HIV crisis in Shymkent would teach the government a lesson, and health, education and well-being would be improved. The state would ban the advertisement of alcohol and increase taxes for tobacco and alcohol, and switch to ecologically friendly ways of production. The infrastructure and public service would be improved with the help of young professionals, who would study abroad with the presidential scholarship and come back to work for the state.

Pessimistic forecast: Oil production would decrease and the remaining energy deposits would belong to Chinese and American companies. It turns out that the 2030 Development Strategy was drafted not by Nazarbayev, but by James Giffen, and its final goal was to let the United States manage Kazakhstan like a business-corporation. Private property would disappear; instead, several groups of oligarchs, who pressure business through state bodies, share the markets: Aliev-Nazarbayeva, Timur Kulibaev's group, a group of Nurzhan Subhanberdinov (Kazkommertsbank), a trio of Mashkevich-Shodiev-Ibragimov (Eurasian group). The state would further criminalise: the murders of the opposition figures and the “Kazakhgate” continue. The state would turn into one-party totalitarian regime: the merger of Otan and Asar could prove this point. There is a rumour that the opposition is managed by the state: Nazarbayev is interested in having a weak, artificial and managed movement to prevent the real social movements. Media would turn into propaganda tools and opposition would be stifled. People would not be able to buy lands: now if one wants to purchase land, they see that it is already being sold, no one knows to whom. Russian cultural influence would have a negative effect on Kazakh language development.

Next President? Vitaly tries Rakhat Aliev's candidature. Being married to Dariga Nazarbayeva, Rakhat has a strong influence in politics, media and finances, and they could both manage the country with combined influence and common interests. Another option – a leader of one of the financial groups in Kazakhstan, who now influence the political life. They would want to see their own person in power. And the third option, suggested by Vitaly, would be an unknown successor of Nazarbayev. This option would be possible if the status of the “family” and the financial groups is preserved.