Bidding Farewell to 2014 and Looking Forward to 2015

You are quite likely to be reading this with a fair share of your thoughts occupied with preparations for a Christmas dinner or a New Year’s party.

If you are a parent of small children, you might be thinking of where to hide presents you’ve bought (I hope you’ve already bought one, haven’t you?!) before you can place them under the tree while the little ones sleep. Your hope is to make a fairy tale that will last another year.

The New Year’s Eve is one of the best childhood memories for almost all of us, and now it is up to us to provide that for the next generation. As probably the happiest time of year, these holidays turn us into kids time and again and bring wishful thinking: making us believe in fairy tales and see the world in lights much rosier than it really is.

Among those who feel the magic of the New Year’s Eve is President Nursultan Nazarbayev. His interview with the leading Kazakh TV channels transmitted on the Sunday evening of Dec. 21, a few days after the country celebrated its 23rd Independence Day, illuminated what many feel.

Truly, to some extent, it felt like a kind father or grandfather, a patriarch if you like, sharing intimate thoughts with his large family and spreading serenity. The eight journalists that the President talked to were all quite young, at least no one seemed above thirty-something. They did their job very well, speaking confidently and asking their questions. Nope, not tough. But to the point.

Sure a few might be bemoaning that the President’s press service made the selection so as to avoid discomfort of “true journo-types,” demanding all truth from the nation’s most senior official. Yet, the meeting in the Akorda presidential residence that we saw on TV was not about that. It was about creating an atmosphere for the nation to see once again the President’s genuinely human face and to hear his tough but honest advise, not from a public forum’s rostrum or as he is reprehending ministers for the shortcomings in their work and slow progress in eliminating corruption, but from a round table with cups of tea on it.

He did well. The young journalists did just the same. They even all sang two songs together, with the President starting. The first one was in Russian from his working class youth years and then a Kazakh folk song. Like at home. Like a family that should stick together when it’s cold and windy outside your window.

Sure, the interview was absolutely not all about sweet things.

In fact, the year of 2014 has definitely been one of the toughest years in our part of the world. First of all, this has been the year of bloodshed in the post-Soviet Eurasia’s second most populous nation, the lovely Ukraine. What started as a domestic standoff between supporters of two political options has turned into the worst geopolitical confrontation the world has seen since the end of Cold War. Thousands of people have died. The escalated emotions cause people to take sides. This is by far the toughest challenge to Kazakhstan’s multi-vector policy that our state has seen in 23 years of independence.

A journalist asked the President about the future of our multi-vector policies. The answer was that the policy has allowed Kazakhstan to create as comfortable conditions for a welfare-oriented economic growth strategy as is possible in one of the toughest regions of the world. President Nazarbayev rightfully pointed out that being “multi-vectoral” is a natural choice for a modern state. Involvement in regional integration and alliances should not prevent us from maintaining truly friendly relations with all neighbours and fellow members of the international community.

However, we live in a harsh reality where tit-for-tat sanctions are having their toll on economic growth in Eurasia. The President said that the sanctions do not impact Kazakhstan directly but “there is nothing good in them for us either.” These sanctions are weakening the confidence of businesses and undermining climate for investments. They are not bringing tangible political outcomes either. But they are resulting in decreasing trade and lowering prices for commodities.

“Are we ready?” asked a journalist. He meant the price of oil. The President assured we have the reserves to deflect these difficulties. Plans have been prepared for what Kazakhstan will do if the price of oil goes down to $40 per barrel (it is around $62 today). Now is the time to make best use of our National Fund. But the three billion dollars a year from the $80 billion worth fund is to be used not on artificially maintaining the rate of tenge and buying commodities to keep an illusion of material well-being in the time of crisis.

Major investments would go into the Nurly Zhol infrastructure development programme. Addressing the journalists, and naturally the viewers, the President said that the roads being constructed and maintained “are going to serve a generation of your children.”

“Now is the time to invest the funds we had saved in the development of transport links connecting the regions of Kazakhstan,” he noted, admitting that he had been thinking about implementing the strategy over a long time. Yet, now must be the proper moment.

President Nazarbayev is known for timely decisions that have kept him an unchallenged national leader for so many years. Indeed, the end-of-the-year crisis with rouble had shown the timeliness of the President’s snap state-of-the-nation address in November and an early 18 percent controlled devaluation of the tenge back in February.

Internationally, Nazarbayev has proven this year once again his commitment to the multi-vector strategy that best serves the interests of the Kazakh economy and people. On May 29, in Astana he signed a historical agreement on establishing the Eurasian Economic Union, which will be launched in eight days from now and will create a single market of 170 million customers. On Oct. 8 in Brussels, the Kazakh leader confirmed the successful completion of negotiations on a new, enhanced Partnership Cooperation Agreement with the European Union. A week later, Kazakhstan became the 52nd member of the prestigious Asia – Europe Meeting (ASEM) Forum, the third Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) country to join after Russia and Ukraine. And the end of the year sees reports that key negotiations are complete on the way to Kazakhstan’s accession to the World Trade Organisation.

Still, the world around is no dear. 2014 saw the rise of an extremely violent terrorist group, the self-styled Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). With all the positives of the worldwide web, its opportunities allow even the marginal groups to propagate skilfully their ideologies, including the most malicious ones. The Internet helped disseminate images and messages of a few dozen. Kazakhstan’s National Security Committee says there are around 300 of Kazakhs at war in Syria. These, unfortunately, include children who have been shown training for future fighting. The truth is, and the experts say, that there are many more Westerners and citizens of other states of Central Asia and Muslim-majority countries. “They all [fight] there for money,” Nazarbayev said. The “Jihadist” agents manipulate people that got into some kind of hardship. Indeed, they urge the men to join their ranks, and then use them as gun fodder, keeping their wives and children and poisoning their minds as well.

“I address our youth: it is better to keep far from this evil,” the President urged. “We should spread a true understanding of Islam,” he added, stressing that the very meaning of Islam was peace.

Now on the eve of 2015, this is what each of us would value most – the peace and well-being of our families and children. And each of us knows: wishful thinking is not enough. Hard work should follow.

There is an argument that every generation should prove it is a decent heir to its predecessors. As the nation will be celebrating 550 years of Kazakh statehood and 70 years of the defeat of Nazism in Europe, to which people of Kazakhstan had made their invaluable input, it is time to prove ourselves. To prove that we are ready for 2015 and we are ready to face any challenge the future might bring.

But for now, it is all about the New Year’s Eve. A fairly tale. Let it last, at least a week or two.

And then, straight ahead to hard work, with confidence, competence and courage.

Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year, dear friends!

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