President Nursultan Nazarbayev has said that the fate of peoples who don’t honour their own histories will always be in doubt.
Olzhas Suleimenov, prominent poet, social and political activist and diplomat, discussed aspects of spiritual and moral concern in Kazakhstan today in an interview with this newspaper.
For many years, you worked abroad. Living far away from Kazakhstan, as you do, what does patriotism mean to you? How, in your opinion, do patriotism and a sense of universal peace relate to each other?
In 1963, in my book “Solar Nights,” I wrote, “I am a patriot of each offended people. My credo is to elevate the steppe without diminishing mountains.” I continue to follow this. I am a patriot of every people humiliated by ignorance, poverty, a lack of professionalism among the powerful. For this, in Soviet times, I was called a nationalist and even a Zionist, pan-Turkist, et cetera, because I wrote about the victims of the Holocaust; the tragedies of the Kazakhs, Chechens, Ingush, Karachais, Balkars, Crimean Tatars and Kalmyks; about the difficult fate of Russian people in the 20th century. I was the author of the proposal to establish the law “On the Rehabilitation of Repressed Peoples” in the Supreme Soviet of the USSR in 1989. The special declaration was adopted, which then took the force of law. In January 1990, tanks entered Baku on a day I was there. I was in the ruined, starving Georgia in 1993; in the armed Chechnya and Ingushetia in 1994. These actions are related to the whole course of experiences and discussions of this topic throughout my life. This is a manifestation of my patriotism.
In his time, Gorky very accurately determined the nature of the poetic study of life. He called a poet “the feelings of the nation.” A poet is not just a writer of poetry; he is born to feel and know that it is necessary for salvation and survival of the people, and that it can also hurt. Abai was such a poet. In modern terms, he was a progressive man, an internationalist, and wanted his people to become like he was. Continuing his tradition, one should assume that the true patriot of Kazakhstan today can only be an internationalist, regardless of his ethnicity.
Do you agree that history is the science that makes a person a citizen? Why, in your opinion, it is important to know our origins, to know where we come from?
It is easier for me to respond to this question now rather than 30 or 40, or even 50 years ago, because since then I’ve learned the history of humanity. … I start history not with those dates which are indicated in our textbooks, but much earlier. Therefore, the meaning of the word now for me is not what it was before. History helps me in my thinking about the fate of my people and humanity. I do not separate one from the other.
Recognising the importance of our own history, we must understand that we are a part of human history. And, of course, we need an objective scientific analysis of the past, including the recent events of the 20th century. The great and tragic. All this is necessary for us to have a clearer understanding of where we are going. At the same time, of course, we cannot forget our roots. For example, my ancestor was Olzhabay Batyr. I know that he raided the land of Galdan Tseren in Dzhungaria and saved Abylai Khan, his friend, from Dzhungar captivity. … He requested that his descendants not seek wealth, power or titles, but knowledge, and I see this as a special sense of his covenant.
He witnessed the total destruction of the Kazakhs in the war against the Dzhungars and understood the reason, which was technical and cultural backwardness. The Kazakhs had enough warriors, but Chinese and Swedish advisors, firearms and artillery helped the Dzhungars. The batyr came to a conclusion – knowledge will save people. This conclusion is relevant today, because only constantly expanding knowledge will help people survive in the 21st century. Let us formulate the motto, “Survival through progress!” And if we do not understand the task or will not cope with it, then the next generations will have to ask for forgiveness from ancestors that once saved our country.
What do you think about the development and strengthening of the Kazakh language, a process the President supports?
Indeed, the question of languages is not only one of the main ones, but also one of the most pressing. As you know, now Kazakhs make up more than 50 percent of the population, so it is important to achieve a balance in the use of the two leading languages. In Soviet times, nobody particularly cared about this balance. During the years of independence, it became possible to bring the Kazakh language closer to the constitutional equilibrium. The Kazakh language is moving more confidently into areas that previously were inaccessible to it. At the same time, thanks to the linguistic compromise, our multinational republic has for two decades safely passed through storms. We have seen typhoons of differently perceived independence sweep our brother countries.
The correctness of the unwritten law, “If nationalism wins, the nation loses,” is confirmed. This thesis is substantiated by numerous examples. The politicians of multinational states, which include both Kazakhstan and Russia, should remember this. It is important for us, closely following what is happening in the world, not to disturb the outlining balance, not to hurry the process of introducing the Kazakh language. More years of work are needed for Kazakh to become the language of international communication. And for this purpose it is necessary to increase its credibility, to which progress in the economy, politics, culture, science, and in particular linguistics, should contribute. …
I can compare the position of the Kazakh language in the culture and politics of the country in 1991 and today. The future of humanity is formed by the mechanisms of integration rather than disintegration, and someday, maybe by the middle of the 21st century, certainly the Eurasian Union of states from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean in the east to the Indian Ocean in the south will develop. And this union will operate on a federal basis: each state will operate its own domestic and foreign policy, but recognising their interdependence with their neighbours in the region and the world at large. Independence is the time allotted to any state, any people, to realise their interdependence with others. This is what I spoke about at an international conference held in Almaty. … The participants introduced in the resolution the UN proposal to dedicate one of the future conferences to the concept of global, universal interdependence. Confidence that this concept can be seen as an important element of the foundations of a new paradigm for the peaceful development of mankind in the 21st century was expressed.
With the signing of the agreement on the Eurasian Economic Union, Kazakhstan’s security strengthened. For countries like ours, open to all the winds from the north and south, east and west, full independence is an impossible and dangerous condition. I do not understand the ranting of some speakers on the absolute independence of a country with a population of 17 million people and an area of 2.7 million square kilometres, full of minerals, fertile soils and transit opportunities. We experienced centuries of dependence and now we are entering an era of perceived interdependence with our immediate and distant neighbours on the planet. …
Recently, you were in Brussels for the first meeting of the Eurasian Council of Foreign Affairs (ECFA). Two Kazakhs are on the Advisory Council of the ECFA, Minister of Foreign Affairs Erlan Idrissov and you. What can you tell us about this important event?
The theme of the UN conference in Almaty, “The new paradigm of sustainable human development,” is now common to all international organisations in the world, because people have realised that despite all disagreements, it is necessary to finally develop uniform rules for living on Earth, degrading no one and uplifting no one over others. No single state, nation, religion has the right for exclusivity. All are interdependent, and if the political elite is aware of it, humanity will be saved.
At the event in Brussels, I spoke about Kazakhstan as of one of the most successful countries in the multinational, multi-faith world. In Kazakhstan, the politics of interdependence of nationalities, religion and social classes is developing, which helps preserve harmony in society. This experience should be studied by all for formulating a new paradigm. …
Only intellectually and spiritually advanced societies can progress then?
Of course, but I link spiritual educations with books. Once, in our country, there were great readers, and great literature existed. Now, unfortunately, the younger generation has been transformed from readers to a listeners and viewers. The Internet stops them from reading books. Formerly, the state – kindergarten, mom, dad, school, college – made children read. The USSR was considered the most active reading country in the world, and this stimulated the development of science and education. … Those who love literature find it easier to study mathematics and physics. Young people need to read the classics. Classical works helped make way for scientific and technological revolutions in the world.