NEW YORK – The Kazakh Embassy in Washington along with New York University Press hosted a book launch for the book “22 Ideas to Fix the World: Conversations with the World’s Foremost Thinkers” Nov. 7. The book is a collection of interviews and conversations with farsighted thinkers around the world, including one of Kazakhstan’s most famous poets and intellectuals and its current ambassador to UNESCO, Olzhas Suleimenov.
The evening included a conversation between Piotr Dutkiewcz, one of the book’s editors, and Suleimenov. Kazakhstan Ambassador to the United States Kairat Umarov gave the opening remarks, expressing his deep admiration for Suleimenov as he was a member of the international Nevada-Semipalatinsk anti-nuclear movement that the poet founded in the late 1980s. At that time, Umarov was still a student and he was deeply influenced by Suleimenov’s unique way of thinking about the world and the problems facing it.
In his remarks, Dutkiewcz said the original hypothesis of the book was to simply catalogue conversations with intellectuals from around the world on some of the greatest challenges facing the world today. Suleimenov was the clear choice with whom they should discuss Central Asia and its geopolitical significance in the international system, Dutkiewcz added.
Dutkiewcz began the conversation by asking why Central Asia is such an important region, noting its increased exposure in international fora. Suleimenov, reflecting on the importance of the book and what it is trying to accomplish, noted that it is very difficult to get people from different cultures talking about major problems and even more so to discuss potential solutions.
On the role of Central Asia in the world, he argued that despite the geopolitical implications, the region is not currently very influential in the international system. However, he is hopeful about its future prospects, he said. He used the analogy of a wheel with all of the spokes being tied to the centre. He believes that Central Asia has the potential to serve as a hub and connector to all other regions of the world in the future.
Suleimenov also detailed his ideas about fostering a “planetary” consciousness. This he explained is teaching people to think in terms of what is best for all humanity or the entire planet rather than from just an individualistic or nationalistic point of view. He tied this idea into the idea of multiculturalism and building channels for dialogue between people with different viewpoints. Asked if the Eurasian Economic Union was a step towards this type of thinking, Suleimenov said he was hopeful that this was the case. Integrating economies and building interdependence, he argued, is a first step towards building the foundations for a planetary consciousness. The key, he argued, is to find points of commonality and interest and build upon them.
The ambassador was well received with an audience that included academics from the area. He was asked to recite some poetry, but demurred, spending time signing books for guests instead.