As Kazakhstan looks back on its 24 years as an independent country, there is a great deal to celebrate. Its rise from such a troubled start to an upper-middle-income economy, which has seen the standard of living of its citizens increase twelve-fold, is an extraordinary achievement.
So, too, is how Kazakhstan has established itself within the international community. Within a generation, it has earned a reputation as a trusted partner that works to promote peace and dialogue within the region and across the world.
But perhaps the greatest pride should be reserved for the way a stable and harmonious society and a strong national identity have been forged from such a diverse population, for this is something that can’t be imposed artificially, but has to be nurtured from the ground up.
There are, of course, plenty of examples of countries with much longer histories that have failed this test. They, sadly, remain fractured and weak, bitterly divided along ethnic, religious or cultural lines.
This could all too easily have been Kazakhstan’s fate. After all, a combination of our position on the great trade routes and an often tragic history have resulted in more than 100 ethnic groups living within our borders. Far too many were sent here originally against their will.
This geography and difficult past also explain why, within our country, can be found the followers of all the great faiths. In a region in which ethnic and religious tensions are rarely far from the surface, this mixture could have been a recipe for division and instability.
We do not have to look far to see countries that are struggling to keep the lid on tensions and prejudice. Such divisions threaten to undermine the progress of many nations across the world.
Good leadership has, of course, helped prevent the fracturing of Kazakhstan’s society. Led by President Nursultan Nazarbayev, the country has forged a strong sense of national purpose based on a clear vision and a belief that everyone should be treated equally.
But leadership, although important, is not enough on its own. It is the way that millions of citizens choose to behave in their daily lives which, in the end, decides the direction of a society.
It is the good sense and sound character of the Kazakh people that has built a country with an international reputation for tolerance and harmony. Kazakhstan can take pride in having created a society where everyone, no matter what their background, is valued and can make a contribution.
This is the collective achievement which, above all else, the country celebrates on Independence Day on Dec. 16 and Dec. 17. It is the opportunity for all Kazakh citizens to take pride in the type of country and society they have built since our nation gained its independence in 1991.
No country in an inter-connected world is, of course, truly independent. The globalised economy has brought increased opportunity and prosperity but it also means that difficulties elsewhere, whether economic or political, quickly spread. Kazakhstan, like many other nations, faces a challenging year ahead.
As this paper has said before, we can draw comfort both from how past challenges have been overcome and the measures already put in place to chart Kazakhstan’s way through the storms ahead. But the country’s greatest asset is the strength of its society and its sense of national purpose.
Kazakhstan’s Independence Day holiday may not stretch back centuries as it does, for example, in the United States. While we have a long history as a people, our modern country is very young. But just as with the Fourth of July, it has already become a moment for national unity and great pride that is celebrated in towns and cities all across Kazakhstan.