Kassym-Jomart Tokayev: The destiny of the Kazakh people is on the scales of history

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev gave an interview to one of the  leading newspapers in the Kazakh language Ana Tili. Here’s the full interview in English.

Photo credit: Akorda.kz.

– Dear Kassym-Jomart Kemelevich! The epidemic that is today worrying the whole world has unfortunately swept our country. As you know, the state under your leadership took a number of socio-economic measures since the start of the pandemic. There was a state of emergency in the country for about two months. Quarantine operations are ongoing. However, despite the quarantine measures, the spread of the virus has accelerated recently. Already, the number of infected is already about 20,000. More than a hundred people have died from this disease. This is very worrying for people. The epidemic did not pass by representatives of the authorities at various levels. Today there is talk that “the Government has ceased to control the spread of the epidemic, therefore there are not enough places in hospitals.” What can you say about this? Are we losing the battle against the infection?

– Indeed, the pandemic has changed the usual way of life not only of our compatriots, but of all humankind. We have witnessed that even the most developed states were helpless in the face of a serious illness. Leading European countries, the United States, Asian giants – China, Japan, South Korea, and many others found themselves in an extremely difficult situation. 

I consider the argument that “we are losing in the fight against the epidemic, and the Government has lost control over the situation,” incorrect. As you know, in the cities of Nur-Sultan, Almaty and Shymkent three hospitals focusing on infectious diseases were built quickly. Clinics in other regions were equipped with the necessary equipment. Our doctors have the necessary knowledge to treat patients. Today, doctors are selflessly fighting the pandemic day and night. For its part, the state has allocated the necessary funds. 

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev visited the COVID-19 Mobile Testing Unit on May 12 during his visit to Almaty.

Speaking on this subject, we must remember that those who are in power are the same people as all of us. People with responsibilities, due to their duties, need to meet with citizens, so they go on business trips around the country and they can become infected. Indeed, they are ill and undergoing the necessary treatment. Around 15 people from among the heads of various authorities became sick. 

According to current statistics, the number of people infected with the virus in the country has reached about 20,000 people. Most of them are ordinary citizens. It is not a question of who got infected. It is necessary to create conditions so that our citizens will soon recover without complications. You cannot divide the sick into officials and ordinary people. As the saying goes, “we are all on the same boat.” 

We are all in the same country, breathing the same air, experiencing the same problems, so no one can fully defend themselves against this disease. We are on the same planet, so you can’t sit back thinking that the disease from other countries will not come to us. A pandemic does not recognize borders. Only by taking care of ourselves and our loved ones will we be able to protect ourselves from the disease. Therefore, I urge citizens to strictly observe the quarantine regime and to carefully consider sanitary and hygienic requirements. This is a passing phenomenon, the difficulties are temporary. We must pay special attention to the question of how we will continue to develop, what we will do after the end of the pandemic and the economic crisis.

– Yes, society does not stand still, it should develop. Taking this opportunity, I would like to raise a number of questions that have accumulated lately that concern our future. In your first Address to the people of Kazakhstan, you specifically focused on expanding the scope of the Kazakh language. As you know, the national publication ‘Ana Tili’, which turns 30 this year, has covered from our very first publication all issues related to the mother tongue. In your opinion, what steps should be taken to make our state language the language of interethnic communication?

– The newspaper Ana Tili invariably raises the topic of strengthening the status and expanding the horizon of the Kazakh language in our society. And it does this while consistently defending national interests, with concern for the future of the language. For this, I am sincerely grateful to the journalists working in the newspaper, as well as the writers and scientists involved in the discussion. 

Photo credit: Anatili.kazgazeta.kz.

It would be wrong to say that nothing has changed in the field of the Kazakh language in thirty years. Positive changes are of course present. This is noted by outside observers. True, some of them are not always happy with this trend, because they understand that it has become irreversible. 

Speaking about the status of the Kazakh language, we should pay tribute to the founder of our state, the First President – Leader of the Nation Nursultan Abishevich Nazarbayev. He proclaimed the Independence of Kazakhstan, when the Kazakhs were a minority in it. Nevertheless, under his direct influence, the Kazakh language was declared the state language. 

Indeed, the linguistic problem has great political significance and, if improperly handled, can lead to irreparable consequences for the statehood and security of citizens of the country. We witnessed this personally by the example of Ukraine. A frontal attack with the aim of increasing the status of the state language and forcibly expanding the range of its use is counterproductive, since it can provoke destabilisation of interethnic relations. In addition, we should take into account the geopolitical background, where the world’s longest land border with Russia stands apart. Geography is also an important factor in geopolitics. 

But this does not mean that work should be frozen. It must continue, and be done without noise, anguish, self-aggrandizement. A good example is the experience of Uzbekistan. With the tact and courtesy inherent in the Uzbeks, without making loud statements, they completely solved the language problem, willingly resorting to the Russian language when necessary. To my surprise, the state language of Uzbekistan still uses the Russian language, this is the whole pragmatism of the people. And this has been the case throughout their history. Avoiding the politicisation of public relations, giving preference to labour and trade, Uzbeks from a small nation in the early twentieth century managed to become the largest ethnic group in Central Asia. Therefore, the prophetic words of the great Abai about the Uzbek people do not lose relevance in our technological era. This country is not protesting now, but building. 

Learning from history, we are obliged to think about the well-being of the Kazakh people in the new era, where technology and robots will play a dominant role. The world is on the verge of a cardinal transformation. Therefore, under no scenario should one slide into the archaic and fixate on linguistic culturology. Honouring our own history and keeping traditions, we must at the same time strive forward. 

Constant lamentation over the flawed state of the state language is perplexing abroad, especially in Central Asian states. This is the case when we need to talk less and do more. Otherwise, in the eyes of the international community, we will look like a flawed nation. 

So what is needed and can be done? 

Firstly, the Kazakh language should become prestigious and in demand in our society. When appointing to government posts, especially those associated with public communications, preference should be given to those who, along with professional qualities, are fluent in the Kazakh language. Civil servants who do not know how to conduct discussion and dialogue in the state language in Parliament or at press conferences should become an anachronism. 

Secondly, we should support and encourage representatives of other ethnic groups who are fluent in the Kazakh language. Elect them to Parliament and representative bodies, appoint them to high posts in the public service system, and mark them with state awards. Such people will help raise the Kazakh language to the level of the language of interethnic communication. 

Thirdly, show tolerance and understanding to compatriots who make phonetic and spelling mistakes when using the Kazakh language. Indeed, there are many such individuals among young people. We should not laugh at those who seek to speak Kazakh, on the contrary, we must support them.

Fourth, there is work to be done to improve the content of television and radio broadcasts. They should become the centre of gravity of public opinion, and not copy Russian analogues. There should be less cheap entertainment shows, and more programs that serve the national idea that appeal to the root sources of our being. 

The experience of our Central Asian neighbours, as it seems to me, may be useful to us. Cinema plays an important role in popularising the Kazakh language. We need quality products for both historical and modern issues. Kyrgyz cinematographers managed to make an interesting, informative film “Kurmanjan Datka” with a budget of only $1.5 million. Our filmmakers are asking for much larger budgets, but the quality of the films is not always high. Unfortunately, now the cinema community has plunged into internal strife, which hinders productive creativity. 

But we should not sprinkle ash on our head either. I am glad that the political blogosphere is shifting towards the Kazakh language. Another thing, we should not slip into the position of thoughtless nationalism and radicalism. 

Furthermore. When strengthening the position of the Kazakh language, one should not infringe on the status of the Russian language. As I said above, language is a big policy, so haste and capriciousness can harm our statehood. In practical terms, the teaching of sciences at universities can be left in Russian. The experience of Malaysia is useful for us here, where at first it was decided to abandon the English language, but then its status was restored in universities and as a means of diplomatic communication. 

Our younger generation should be fluent in Russian, along with the Kazakh language. This is the necessity of the time. In primary schools, priority should be given to the Kazakh language. It is also necessary to teach the Russian language. And English can be taught from grades 5-6. 

Demography is developing in favour of the Kazakh language, which means we will certainly achieve our goal. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Haste is a poor companion on this difficult path, where there are still many pitfalls. But we will not only hope for a favourable trend either. One must act smartly, with a full understanding of historical responsibility. Only in a civilized way can we turn the Kazakh language into the language of science.

– The Kazakhs say: “bread earned through labour is sweet.” From the stories of the representatives of the older generation, we know that in the past they had special respect for work and for people of work. At present, on your instructions, the Government has developed and is successfully implementing a number of programs aimed at building a labour society. What new steps should be taken to ensure that our work serves the good of our people and our land?

– It is not a secret that we, Kazakhs, are known to the whole world for our generosity of our souls, the ability to perceive the universe with a truly broad philosophical view. Patience and compassion are in our blood. The first Western travellers who visited the Great Steppe identified these very qualities of our people. At the same time, we also know our shortcomings, which in a concentrated form are reflected in the immortal creation of Abai, “The book of words”. By the way, I agree with Murat Auezov that “The book of words” should be given the second name “Reason”. 

Unfortunately, there are many among us who are sceptical of creative work. This cannot but upset me. We must fundamentally revise the attitude of society towards workers. Every work should be held in high esteem. Therefore, I established a new state award “People’s gratitude” and expanded the list of merits for promotion with the order “Labour Glory”. 

Last year, we invited to the Akorda ordinary workers of enterprises, and awarded them with orders. We must create a kind of aura of respect and even adoration around such people, so that our young compatriots understand that public recognition can be achieved not only at prestigious positions in the public service, but also with simple labour. 

The government, on my instructions, has developed an employment map. Up to 1 trillion tenge is allocated for its implementation. Recently, I criticised the Government and governors for the fact that few permanent jobs are created, seasonal work is preferred. We have about 2 million self-employed, and rather large unemployment. This is a serious social problem that must be quickly addressed. 

I believe that the ideology of labour should occupy a leading place in the works and speeches of authoritative representatives of the intelligentsia. Now is not the time to admire the traditions of holding banquets in the spirit of the saying “Let the wedding continue”. In the technological era, we must leave in the past idle talk and self-praise. Even at the present time of a pandemic threatening the world, some citizens in their letters ask me to allow banquets. The era of self-survival of states has come, and labour as a way of life should come to the fore. Feasting time is running out. The time is coming for reason, science, knowledge, labour.

– The world has changed. In any case, we cannot remain on the sidelines of globalization, having locked ourselves with all locks. As a specialist who is well versed in interstate relations, could you express your opinion about what place the Kazakhs with their unique worldview and lifestyle can take in the colourful mosaic of the peoples of the world?

The world has indeed changed. It would seem that the unshakable globalization, under the influence of the pandemic, has lost ground in favour of self-isolation and self-survival of states. There is an increased demand for nationalism in international relations. I predicted this trend in 2008, but my conclusion was not supported by politicians and scientists. Even a vaccine against coronavirus is developed outside international cooperation on the principle of “each for himself.” 

In a pandemic, the voice of the United Nations sounds weaker as an uncontested, unique international organization. Confrontation between the major powers is escalating, regional conflicts are escalating. For Kazakhstan, as a regional state, this is an unfavourable trend. 

Because of sanctions wars and political confrontation, our economy suffers losses. Our country has consistently demonstrated its peacefulness and readiness to make a constructive contribution to global and regional security. Leader of our nation is known throughout the world as the leader of the anti-nuclear movement, a strong supporter of general disarmament. 

Over the years of independence, much has been done to strengthen it. The most important thing is the inviolability of our state border. The legal confirmation and delimitation of the border of Kazakhstan with Russia, China, and the states of Central Asia has truly historical significance. We see the terrible, irreparable consequences of the lack of agreements on the borders. 

Kazakhstan has always had its own understanding of a secure world, its distinctive style in international diplomacy. Our First President N. Nazarbayev relied on a multi-vector, balanced foreign policy with emphasis on strategic partnership, cooperation with Russia and regional integration. It was the right choice. But the situation in the world does not stand still, the geopolitical aspirations of the leading powers are changing. In these conditions, Kazakhstan is obliged to take care of its national interests. That is why at the EAEU summit on May 19, I stated that integration will be supported by us until such time as it does not harm the sovereignty of Kazakhstan.

– We cannot avoid the issue of maintaining public order. As they say, “your liberty to swing your fist ends just where my nose begins.” How will the issues of maintaining public order and personal security of citizens participating in peaceful processions be regulated?

– Participation in peaceful assemblies and rallies is the constitutional right of citizens of Kazakhstan. In my last year’s Address, I clearly said that, as a guarantor of the Constitution, I see my duty in fully ensuring this right. 

Parliament adopted a new law on peaceful assembly. Passed through public examination, this law, in my deep conviction, is a big step forward in promoting democracy in our country. To hold peaceful assemblies, it is now only necessary to give a five day notice to local authorities without asking them for permission. Special places will be allocated for the organisation of such meetings. The rally organisers are required not to disturb the public order and peace of citizens, not to come up with unconstitutional slogans, and not incite ethnic and social discord. And this is quite natural, especially given the recent events in the United States and other developed countries. 

But some of our fellow citizens, receiving grants from international human rights organisations, have made unjustified criticisms of the law. In their opinion, the principle should be applied in Kazakhstan: “When I want, with whom I want, where I want,” that is, full permissiveness. I was particularly outraged by their demands to allow foreign citizens and minor children to participate in rallies. The thinking is obvious. They need unrest and destabilisation, and we need a rapidly developing, prosperous and sovereign Kazakhstan. 

At the same time, the state is obliged to “hear” the legitimate demands of its citizens, to meet them within the framework of the existing financial and legal capabilities. Young people need to create social elevators. Errors in public administration and the ideological sphere should be corrected in time. If this enters into practice, then justice will certainly triumph, as I spoke about in my election platform. And then there will be no need for numerous rallies. 

For now, our country is subject to “rally mania”, mostly imposed by provocative slogans from the outside. This puts Kazakhstan at a disadvantage in the international arena, where serious competition at the regional level is escalating. In Central Asia, the main states are Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Large-scale cooperation is developing between us, which does not exclude economic competition. We should never forget about this. Kazakhstan is obliged to maintain its leading position. And for this, our country must be stable. As for our internal culture, stability should not be ensured by power structures, but first of all by the population itself.

– And during a pandemic, and at other times, people listen to the voice of the intelligentsia. People follow passionate personalities not only in times of difficulty. Do you think that the intelligentsia is now worthily fulfilling its mission? What role do you think it plays in modern society?

– Indeed, the opinion of the progressive intelligentsia, especially during periods of social tension, is important. People carefully listen to the voice of reason, learn useful lessons and conclusions. This is especially true for our society, whose traditions go back centuries. I am grateful to all representatives of the intelligentsia, in particular, academician Toregeldy Sharmanov, for their useful contribution to the implementation of state policy in the context of the pandemic. 

I believe that our famous writers could more actively participate in contemporary events, pass on their life experience to the youth, acting as a kind of guidebook. 

Now, when the whole world is faced with the consequences of a pandemic, when the global economy is collapsing before our eyes, when a whole new way of life comes to the fore, the younger generation is interested in the opinion of our moral authorities. After all, all of us, especially young people, are tormented by the question: “How to live?” And here our views, our existence must correspond to new realities. Reasoning on historical topics should be replaced by updated values. We need conclusions that are adequate to the challenges of modern times. 

With the advent of the era of cutting-edge technologies, robots, artificial intelligence, the concept of morality becomes particularly relevant. Will such human qualities as honour, dignity, and conscience be in demand in the new era? In my opinion, this is a big philosophical topic, worthy of an interesting discussion among the intelligentsia. Indeed, without moral guidelines, without national values, we will be lost in the world of machines and robots. And the works of our great writers will also lose their relevance. This would be an extremely undesirable development of events, therefore our intelligentsia could reflect on issues of future existence even now.

– Dear Kassym-Jomart Kemelevich! Governance is a huge responsibility. Only a year has passed. However, the famous political scientist Nurlan Seydin, analysing this period, called it “the year of trust and trials”. In this regard, what gives you, the leader of the country, confidence in its future?

– The past year of the presidency was really not easy. We can say that this was a year of overcoming difficult trials. But I always felt the support of the people, and this gave me strength and confidence in the ultimate success of such a complex matter as government. During the year, many reforms were carried out in the political and economic fields. This policy will be continued, I have ideas about the further modernisation of our country. 

We must not stand still, otherwise we will slide into stagnation with all the consequences for statehood. We must never forget the simple truth that in this complex, multidimensional world, we Kazakhs are, by and large, not needed by anyone. We need only our own country. Moreover, ill-wishers such as politicians and even states that are not happy about the success of Kazakhstan have not disappeared. In other words, the development and prosperity of Kazakhstan is exclusively in our hands. We have no right to make a mistake, because the destiny of the Kazakh people is on the scales of history.

– Dear Mr. President! I want to express my sincere gratitude to you for taking the time to give an interview to the national publication on the problems of the socio-political and spiritual life of our society. Let Kazakhstan take its rightful place in the global geopolitical space! May our country be protected from both internal shocks and external enemies!

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