A strong sense of national identity is perhaps the most important resource a country can have. Societies which possess these feelings of pride and belonging can grasp opportunities more easily and, perhaps even more importantly, work together to overcome challenges.
We see this national resilience in action around the world in the face of natural disasters or, all too frequently today, when terrorism strikes. Where there is a clear national identity, societies respond to such outrages calmly and with increased solidarity, which prevents the divisions and fear which are, of course, the aim of the terrorists.
In the past, national identity was perhaps easier to shape. When the global flow of people was much slower and less common, countries were more likely to be made up of those with similar ethnic backgrounds, experiences and language. But that’s no longer the case. With widespread migration, the challenge many countries have faced is maintaining or forging a strong sense of national identity from a much more diverse population.
The United States, whose population is overwhelmingly made up of immigrants who moved to build a new life, is a clear example of how this can be achieved. In its own way, Kazakhstan, too, has a huge amount in which to take pride.
From a population made up of a bewildering variety of nationalities and ethnic groupings – many of whom were forced to settle here – a cohesive society has been created in which all, regardless of background, are valued and can make their full contribution. It has enabled our country to plot a distinctive course, both domestically and internationally, over the last 25 years.
It is a sense of national identity deeply rooted in our land, our traditions, shared experiences and values. These links, as President Nursultan Nazarbayev said in his seminal opinion, “Course towards the future: modernisation of Kazakhstan’s identity,” must be protected and nurtured. It would be reckless to throw them away as they are the foundation on which our success has been built.
But it is also important, as the President added, that we don’t fool ourselves into thinking our national identity should be frozen. With change accelerating in our world, the nations who will be best able to cope and thrive in the decades ahead will be those with the courage to continue changing themselves. This includes taking the steps necessary to strengthen and modernise their national identities by being ready to shed those aspects which are out-of-date and will increasingly act as barriers to progress.
It is why together with programmes already begun to diversify and strengthen our economy and speed up political reform, the President has now set out a clear vision to modernise Kazakhstan’s sense of national identity along with concrete steps to help deliver this ambition. It is another sign of the determination to ensure the country is fit and ready to chart its way through what is a globally uncertain era.
It is an identity which, in some ways, will strengthen those connections with our past experience. There is nothing new, for example, about making sure our economy and way of life are sustainable. Living in tune with our environment, husbanding resources for future generations, was what our ancestors did naturally for centuries.
In the past, too, those who lived on land were open to new ideas and influences. Kazakhstan was then, as it is now, a place where cultures and civilisations met. This openness has, of course, also been one of the defining characteristics of modern Kazakhstan in its first 25 years and a major reason for our success.
But it is an approach we can’t take for granted. We have to have a willingness to continue to look and respond to what is happening beyond our borders. Unless countries are ready to learn and adapt from what we see, they will find themselves ill-prepared both for global storms which inevitably hit or to take advantage of new opportunities which change brings.
This requires, as we have said before, continued investment in education. It also needs confidence to keep modernising our national identity while preserving what makes our country and people special. It is the definition of a modern patriotism and a country which looks to the future with confidence.