Rukhani Zhangyru – National Identity Programme: one year on

The health and strength of a nation, as we have witnessed repeatedly across the world, depends on more than just its economy. In fact, a clear, secure yet forward-looking sense of national identity and purpose can instead be the difference between those societies which struggle in testing economic times or fracture when faced with natural or man-made disasters and those which overcome the challenges they face.

It is a reality that President Nursultan Nazarbayev showed he fully understood when a year ago he coupled an ambitious programme of economic reform with plans to support and modernise Kazakhstan’s national identity. The announcement underlined the determination to build on a national character and cohesiveness, which has proved critical in the country’s remarkable journey over the last 26 years.

It is a character, for example, which is moderate in attitudes, which helps explain why extremist views have found little resonance here in Kazakhstan. It is also outward-looking as you might expect from somewhere, which for centuries has been where cultures and people meet. This openness to ideas and influences is why the country has been so successful in attracting outside investment and building economic partnerships to boost growth and living standards.

The Modernisation of National Identity programme – and the practical measures which underpinned it – unveiled a year ago were aimed at strengthening these positive national characteristics and links with Kazakhstan’s history, traditions and values.

Over the last year, we have seen the measures begin to be rolled out, putting a new emphasis on the rich history, both ancient and modern, of our country and its people. Important archaeological and sacred sites are being identified and restored across the country and a renewed effort at local level and national level to explain their importance. The 100 New Faces of Kazakhstan initiative will see individual stories from every walk of life publicised to reveal how the country has been transformed in recent decades.

But there is nothing, as we said in these pages a year ago, backward-looking about what is underway. The intention is not to lock the country in the past or freeze the national identity but instead adapt and modernise it in order to provide a launch-pad for Kazakhstan’s continued development. How this is to be achieved has also become clearer over the last 12 months.

The gradual switch to the Latin alphabet, with a target date for the change now set for 2025, is perhaps the clearest example of this determination. It was never going to be an easy or straightforward task but it will be worth the effort. The move will bring Kazakhstan into line with 70 per cent of the world’s countries and will be invaluable in opening up new opportunities in business, education and science.

It is the same reasoning which lies behind the commitment to ensure the young generation have the education and skills they need to thrive in the decades ahead. The new emphasis on IT skills and English, for example, in schools and colleges shows a country with confidence in the ability of its young people.

We have seen as well over the last year significant progress in the two-way exchange of ideas and culture. On one side, we are seeing the programme to make the most significant global text books in the humanities available in the Kazakh language gather pace. Twenty of these important texts have already been translated and will soon be ready for use by students to broaden their education. It confirms that Kazakhstan will always be open to fresh, constructive influences and rejects a one-dimensional way of looking at the world.

At the same time, plans to give exposure around the world to the cultural strength of modern Kazakhstan are going ahead. They include international tours by the country’s prestigious opera and ballet companies and the promotion of the work of Kazakh musicians, writers and artists. The richness of Kazakh culture deserves a wider audience and will help attract more investment, more visitors and more influence for our country.

In some ways, what is happening in Kazakhstan can seem out of tune with events elsewhere in the world. We seem to be in a period, across the continents, where countries are becoming more insular, seemingly trying to turn back the clock or shut the door on the rest of the world. But as we said last year, modern patriotism is about not just preserving what makes a country special but also being ready to adapt and engage. That is how Kazakhstan is preparing for the future.