When the Ruhani Zhangyru initiative to modernise Kazakhstan’s national identity was launched by Kazakhstan’s First President, Nursultan Nazarbayev, in 2017, it was recognised as a courageous step. It came, after all, at a time when many other countries seemed, as now, to be looking inwards and often backwards.
Given this background, it takes boldness and confidence to buck such a widespread trend. But that is exactly what the Ruhani Zhangyru (Modernisation of Kazakhstan’s Identity) programme did with its public statement that Kazakhstan intended to modernise not just its economy but also its identity – and would do it by continuing to engage with the world.
The importance attached to this initiative was reinforced when President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, in his inaugural address, made it one of the cornerstones of his government’s programmes. It showed he was determined to build on his predecessor’s legacy and to harness Kazakhstan’s past to forge a better future.
For while the programme is about creating a modern identity fit for the challenges of the new century, it is not about turning its back on what has gone before. On the contrary, central to the initiative is a commitment to celebrate the country’s history, culture and tradition – and to share it with the wider world.
This commitment has already led to increased efforts to preserve and restore religious and historical sites, such as the capital’s Green Mosque. Destroyed during the Soviet era, the restoration of this 19th century mosque is part of the programme’s Sacred Geography initiative.
In Almaty, too, there are plans for new museums, including around the fascinating Boraldai Saka burial mounds. At the same time, the old city’s historic buildings and architecture are getting the investment they deserve.
We are seeing the same efforts across the country. Cultural, religious and historical sites are being restored and their relevance and importance to Kazakhstan and global history celebrated. After all, Kazakhstan’s position linking Asia, Europe and the Middle East means what happened here often had a profound impact far from our lands.
This impact – and the rich and fascinating history in itself – is one of the reasons why Kazakhstan is finding itself increasingly a tourist destination. As part of Ruhani Zhangyru, new visitor centres to capitalise on cultural tourism are being opened in the Turkestan region and the Ulytau District of the Karaganda region as well as Almaty.
But while the Ruhani Zhangyru has rightly given new priority to the country’s history, it is not, as we have said before, backward-looking or narrow in its approach. It places it within the context of a modern, dynamic and evolving country and people.
The 100 New Faces initiative tells this story through the lives and aspirations of our present citizens, young and old. New global audiences, too, are being introduced to talented contemporary Kazakh musicians, writers and artists. Collections of modern Kazakh writing, for example, are being prepared for publication in the main world languages.
Importantly, too, under its umbrella, there is an emphasis on maximising the adaptability, openness and drive of our citizens to equip them for the challenges of the future. There is a strong focus on education, whether it is foreign language proficiency or computer literacy.
It is about ensuring minds and borders are open, not closed. The gradual move to the Latin alphabet, which will bring the Kazakh language into the group of languages accounting for about 70 percent of business communications in the world, is a symbol of this readiness to change if it is in the long-term interest of the country.
Kazakhstan, ever since independence, has been open to ideas and investment, ready to learn, prepared to join together with those who share our values and ambitions to find common solutions. We are showing, too, that a country which understands its history and values well does not need to be fearful about change or learning from societies beyond its borders.