A quarter of a century may seem like a short time for most nations. But for Kazakhstan, the last 25 years have undoubtedly been the most significant for its people.
The 25th anniversary of Kazakhstan’s independence is an ideal time to reflect on how the country has transformed over this period. Economically, Kazakhstan can be considered a success story. It has transformed into a market economy and has done so while ensuring growth and prosperity for its citizens. Living standards have improved substantially, wages have risen and Kazakhstan is now considered an upper-middle-income country. Politically, Kazakhstan has undergone a speedy transition. Democracy has taken root in a land that hasn’t known well-established democracy at any time in its three-thousand-year history.
This swift transformation has undoubtedly led to cultural changes that are now reflected in modern Kazakhstan, a nation that is home to more than 100 ethnicities. But given how quickly these changes took place, it is not surprising that contemporary Kazakh culture incorporates new and traditional aspects. In order to truly understand Kazakh culture, one needs to examine the country’s history. As the President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, said: “We need to look into the past in order to understand the present and foresee the future.”
Unfortunately, the history of Kazakhstan is filled with challenging moments. For many centuries, the Kazakh nomads had to fight and defend their land from invaders, including Arabs, Turks, Mongols and the Chinese. To this day, the Kazakh people still honour many of the war heroes of the past.
The Kazakhs also faced hardship during the period of Soviet rule, including collectivisation that resulted in mass starvation, and the Second World War, during which approximately 660,000 Kazakhs lost their lives defending their families and land against Nazi Germany. During the post-war period, Kazakhstan’s land was also used as a testing ground for nuclear weapons, which had, and continues to have, a direct impact on the health of approximately 200,000 local residents. However, despite the sadness that one feels when thinking about these periods in Kazakh history, perhaps it is worth noting that these hardships have instilled the Kazakh people with qualities, such as fortitude, courage, patriotism and dedication. These are some of the traits that remain persistent in modern Kazakhstan. It is the knowledge that previous generations have sacrificed so much for this land that has led to the endurance of a culture that values family, strong communities, as well as the respect for elder people. Struggle and hardship brings people closer together. Kazakhstan has been the perfect example of this.
While these traditional aspects of Kazakh culture continue to be an integral part of this country’s identity, there is no doubt that the new generation, which did not live through the Soviet rule, is instilled with new ways of thinking. A new group of entrepreneurs, scientists and artists is emerging to lead in the next quarter century. This visionary generation, which is not chained to the old Soviet mentality and did not experience first-hand the economic hardships and horrific historical tragedies that their parents and grandparents had to suffer, is the fuel that propels Kazakhstan towards new achievements and future ambitions. They live under a free market economy, which allows them to come up with creative business ideas that will drive and develop the country’s economy. They enjoy a stable political system and a harmonious society, which means that they are filled with optimism and the belief that, through hard work and ambition, they can have a major positive impact on Kazakhstan and its people.
It is vital for this new generation to remember the country’s past. The combination of the traditional and new culture is what makes Kazakhstan so unique. It is the foundation on which a growing, prosperous nation with a bright future will continue to be built.