President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev: Taking Lessons from First President Nazarbayev

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev gave an interview to the leading Kazakh newspaper Egemen Qazaqstan. Here’s the full interview in English.

The First President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev was awarded Khalyk Kakharmany title and a special insignia – Golden Star at the joint meeting of the Houses of Parliament on March 20, 2019. On this day, Head of State Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has taken the oath to the people of Kazakhstan. Photo credit: Akorda Press.

Only strong state can make its way towards prosperity and stability. Time flows fast century after century, but history decreed a new country to emerge at the turn of the millennium at the very heart of the Great Steppe. For the Kazakh people, the descendants of the legendary Alash, this was an opportunity to revive the lost values, to bring back unity and restore interrupted chronicles of our heroic past. 

The great son of his nation, the founder of our state, the First President of independent Kazakhstan – Elbasy (Leader of the Nation) Nursultan Abishevich Nazarbayev was destined to accomplish this great mission on a spacious land of a country, among top 10 world largest territories, generously endowed with natural resources and having in arsenal the Soviet-era nuclear weapons.

Kazakh ruling Nur Otan party congress unanimously nominated April 23, 2019 Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev as the party’s candidate for Kazakhstan’s June 9 presidential election. The nomination was supported by 600 delegates at the congress and was announced by First President of Kazakhstan and current party chair Nursultan Nazarbayev. Photo credit: Akorda Press.

It is not accidental that people say: “A wise leader will not let you down.” Elbasy has consistently, guided by the national interests of Kazakhstan, led the country through a tectonic political shift unprecedented in recent history. While anarchy reigned in the nineties of the last century on the planet, Elbasy successfully steered a young independent nation towards joining the club of 30 most developed countries of the world. A famous Kazakh proverb says: “It is easy to be the head, but it is difficult to lead.” Kazakhstan was fortunate to be led by an outstanding leader during such difficult period of social transformation. 

The path of history is never simple and straightforward. There are ups and downs, sharp turns and you meet so called pundits easy to criticize the present time. But there are always very few people who can make bold decisions and act decisively. These are the kind of people who make history, and ushering in a new era. Nursultan Nazarbayev is recognized and respected by the entire world community as an outstanding statesman and a unique reformer who managed to look beyond the horizon of tomorrow! He is a great political figure, who has built the foundation for an independent country by his own hands! Thanks to Elbasy, Kazakhstan has become a well-respected and successful member of the international community. Owing to his efforts, the unity and harmony of the people was preserved in difficult times. Kazakhstan made the transition to a market economy and became an active participant in the global economy. 

35 years passed since I first met Elbasy. In September 1985, Nursultan Abishevich arrived in China in his capacity as Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR). At that time, I was working at the embassy. Even then, we were all struck and impressed by the depth of his knowledge, the boldness of thoughts, the consistency as well as the clarity of speech that the head of the Kazakh government demonstrated during negotiations with our Chinese counterparts. When we met with the embassy staff after an informal conversation that lasted two and a half hours, I looked at my colleagues and said: “We seem to just have talked to the future leader of Kazakhstan.” Five years later, Nursultan Nazarbayev became the leader of our country. 

One of the first actions of Kazakhstan’s First President at the dawn of Independence determined my own fate. In my book “Meeting the Challenge” I wrote about this: “This man with a generous soul put a great trust in my abilities and empowered me to use them for the good of the country where I was born and grew up in, for the good of Kazakhstan.” Over the years of my work as Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, I have repeatedly witnessed how world-famous politicians spoke very highly of Nursultan Nazarbayev. Undoubtedly, this made me feel even more proud of my people. Nursultan Nazarbayev, who managed to become the head of an independent state, earning respect and love of his people, was born in an ordinary family, studied at a Kazakh school, and was engaged in smelting cast iron at the beginning of his career.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev took part in the online opening ceremony of the monument to the First President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev, at the National Defense University on July 3, 2020 in the capital. The monument is a deeply symbolic act as the Armed Forces of Kazakhstan were created by Decree of the First President. Photo credit: Akorda Press.

Shortly after, Nursultan Abishevich was able to make his dream come true, which was as high as the peak of the Alatau mountains, at the foot of which he was born and raised. From an early age, Nursultan Nazarbayev had compassion for his people. While the ability to play dombra (Kazakh national stringed instrument) and the knowledge of the spiritual heritage of the Kazakh people brought him closer to the creative intelligentsia. Excellent organizational skills and a true dedication for work led the young leader to the top management line. In June of 1989, Nursultan Nazarbayev became the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan; in April 1990, the Supreme Council elected him as the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Even then, Nursultan Abishevich showed himself as the youngest and most charismatic leader among the growing elites of United Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), which was one of the most influential powers on the world geopolitical map at that time. 

As an experienced politician, Nursultan Nazarbayev understood that the Soviet state was on the verge of collapse. Therefore, at that critical period in history, he did not participate in political games unfolding among the leadership of the former Union and remained a supporter of integration processes. When the once huge country collapsed, his position became decisive in the formation of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). If we keep in mind the disaster of the breakup of Yugoslavia then, in fact, independence was the most reasonable decision that could have been taken to prevent the bloodshed that is always possible when new states are formed. 

Independent Kazakhstan faced a fateful choice. The young state had to determine its place in world geopolitics. In his memoirs, Elbasy recalls the questions that need to be answered then and there: “What country will Kazakhstan become? Is it destined to become a bridge between Asia and Europe? Or will it become part of a North-South axis?”

In order to understand the significance and historical scale of the transformations carried out under the leadership of the Head of State, it is enough just to recall the difficult situation that our country found itself in at that moment. Kazakhstan inherited from the Soviet Union a declining economy, a stagnated industrial and agricultural sector, unemployment, and poverty. All this increased social tension and the situation could have escalated at any moment. It is no secret that many politicians and experts at that time were skeptical about the future of our state. In their opinion, economic and demographic problems and the lack of a formalized external border could undermine independence. However, the balanced and effective policy of the First President allowed us to completely refute such skeptical forecasts. Great efforts were made, including the resolution of the border issue. 

Undoubtedly, one of the first steps that brought world recognition to Nursultan Nazarbayev was the Decree on the closure of the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site. In those years, the issue of Kazakhstan’s possible preservation of nuclear weapons was on the agenda: would the possession of this “legacy” of the USSR’s once impressive military power give any advantage or could it become a new source of tension? Kazakhstan was one of the four countries that had the world’s largest nuclear arsenals. But, as a result of the political will of Elbasy, the Kazakh people, one of the most affected by nuclear tests in the world, took the initiative to abandon weapons of mass destruction. 

The decision of the First President caused a wide ripple effect in the international community. To date, many countries supported the initiative of Kazakhstan and closed their nuclear test sites that threw everything around them into hellish conditions. After the closure of Semipalatinsk test site, tests on the Russian test site Novaya Zemlya, on the American – in Nevada, on the French – in the Pacific Ocean, and on the Chinese – in Lobnor were stopped. The fourth largest nuclear potential in the world, that included more than 110 ballistic missiles and 1,200 nuclear warheads capable of reaching anywhere on the earth, was eliminated as a result of joint efforts with the United States and Russia. In September of 2006, a Treaty on Central Asia’s Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone was signed in Semipalatinsk. In memory of the official closure of the Semipalatinsk test site, the International Day against Nuclear Tests is celebrated around the world on August 29. We will continue to actively participate in the implementation of initiatives aimed at establishing peace and disarmament. 

Elbasy, as an experienced and respected politician, urged his colleagues to use nuclear energy exclusively for peaceful purposes from the United Nations (UN) high rostrum. Although this problem was raised back in 1946 at the first convocation of the UN General Assembly, the countries around the world still continued their “arms race”. The decisive words and actions of Kazakhstan’s First President laid the foundation for systematic steps aimed at preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the world. The problem of global warming could not leave Nursultan Nazarbayev indifferent. He drew the attention of the entire world community to the tragedy of the Aral Sea, which poses a threat not only to the countries of Central Asia, but also to all mankind. The scope of this ecological catastrophe was truly enormous – poisoned salt from the dried-up seabed is rapidly spreading throughout the planet. I must say that by today we have already managed to do a lot: the Small Aral has been refilled with water, salinity has been reduced, fishing is being revived, and saxaul forests have been planted to prevent the movement of sand from the seabed outwards. 

Nursultan Abishevich is responsible for yet another global initiative to create a register of global environmental problems within the UN framework to develop effective mechanisms to deal with environmental disasters. Thus far, the efforts of the First President have made a significant contribution to the consolidation of the world community for the sake of peace and progress. Nursultan Abishevich, being a wise politician and a strong personality around which the people of Kazakhstan have united, made a lot of efforts to strengthen the foundations of Independence. Given the fact that our country is surrounded by the largest powers of the Eurasian continent, the First President has always adhered to a balanced and peaceful foreign policy. He never allowed emotions to influence his decisions or shape his foreign policy vision. Undoubtedly, only a true politician, one who is both wise and far-sighted, can choose his own path, while being located at the crossroad of two worlds – Europe and Asia, two civilizations – western and eastern, two systems – totalitarian and democratic. Elbasy was able to form a new type of state, combining Asian traditions and Western innovations. Today, the whole world knows our country as a peace-loving and open state, one that actively participates in the global integration agenda. All this is the result of the painstaking work and foresight of the First President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who built friendly and constructive relations with several generations of leaders of the United States, Russia, China, Europe and Asia, which allowed Kazakhstan to take its worthy place in the international arena. 

Nursultan Abishevich has always been a driving force and a guarantor of ongoing reforms. Therefore, all his initiatives and undertakings were invariably crowned with success. Under his leadership, Kazakhstan transitioned from a planned economy to a market economy. Fundamental changes were made in all state bodies. In a country where the traditions of democracy and the rule of law did not have deep roots, the transition from a strictly centralized system to a free market seemed like an almost impossible course of action at the time. But Nursultan Nazarbayev went ahead and took this risky, but very important step. 

Later on, NATO Secretary General George Robertson recalled this: “We well understand how difficult it was for President Nazarbayev to break with the past and continue to carry out specific reforms in the country to adapt to a rapidly changing international situation.” During such a difficult transition period, Elbasy had to simultaneously solve many completely different issues facing Kazakhstan. On the one hand, he dealt with the pressing social problems that beset the population, on the other, he built a long-term strategy for the development of the state. At the first stage, the task was set to liberalize the economy, tightly connected with a rigid administrative system of power. Elbasy clearly understood that in order to implement the upcoming reforms with the least risks, it was necessary first to consolidate strong executive power and take responsibility for the future of the country. The most complex and significant transformations took place in the country during that period. Several stages of privatization were carried out, which allowed the economy to restore production, stabilize the financial and macroeconomic situation, create a budget and tax system, curb inflation, and maintain the living standard of the population. 

The name of Nursultan Nazarbayev is also associated with the introduction of the national currency – the Tenge. Under his leadership, an independent financial and economic system was created, a single vertical line of executive bodies was built, the armed forces and law enforcement bodies were formed, national security was strengthened, a multi-party system was introduced, the foundations of civil society were established, and freedom of the press was ensured. Kazakhstan has chosen a path of democratic development. 

The successes made it possible to proceed to the next stage of the state development planning as well as to solve strategic tasks. At the initiative of the President, the Strategy for development of Kazakhstan into 2030 was developed. This initiative gave the country the opportunity to go through the difficult transitory stages while withstanding critical tests and overcoming the crises that came their way. In 2012, a new “Strategy Kazakhstan-2050” initiative was adopted, where ten global challenges of the 21st century were answered as well as the task of becoming one of the 30 developed countries of the world was set. 

One can name many achievements in the foreign policy sphere thanks to this strategy. And thanks to a balanced course in relations with leading partners, our country was able to achieve guarantees of national security through diplomatic methods. The Elbasy laid the foundations of a multi-vector foreign policy by strengthening comprehensive ties with the whole world. He became one of the leaders of the post-Soviet space who has received global recognition. The story confirmed the validity of the assessment by the First Prime Minister of Singapore, prominent politician Lee Kuan Yew, who stated: “Nazarbayev is a rising star in Soviet politics, a major figure among various republics. The leader of Kazakhstan is moderately tough, practical, energetic and a determined person. He is charming, talented and persistent – he is recognized by other republics of the union. If Nazarbayev is at the helm of the republic, Kazakhstan will have a much better chance of success.” 

Nursultan Nazarbayev has always been able to find a common language with a variety of people. His bright charisma is well known. Such rare qualities are not given to everyone. Truly, this is primarily a natural gift, which was sharpened through constant self-improvement. For many years, being a student, associate, like-minded person of Elbasy, I had the opportunity to observe how he works. And I do not hide my admiration for his outstanding qualities. Elbasy reads a lot, and is fond of not only national but also foreign literature, he is interested in current events, thoroughly knows the history and culture of our country, and he carefully follows the economic situation. 

As a person involved in foreign policy, I know that Nursultan Nazarbayev very meticulously prepared for his meetings with foreign leaders. He carefully studied the information materials prepared for him by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other departments, and then would write down his own remarks in a personal notebook. We can say that he was interested in everything: the economic situation of the country, the personal characteristics of the distinguished guest, his professional qualities and much more. Thanks to this, the First President always looked like an attractive and interesting conversationalist in the eyes of his colleagues and the press. One of his most striking qualities is his subtle sense of humor. His wit has always been praised by foreign politicians. 

These qualities certainly led him to success. Nevertheless, a politician – even one as great as Elbasy – never rests on his laurels. He constantly reflects on world events, on how they can affect the modern order and place in our country. The head of state often traveled abroad and received foreign guests at his residence so that Kazakhstan would not remain on the sidelines of global politics. 

Nursultan Abishevich was guided by the principle that was expressed by Winston Churchill: “Strong leadership is called upon most during a crisis.” In relation to Kazakhstan, this formulation of a prominent British politician is very relevant, since without such leadership our country would not have been able to run positive changes. 

As Elbasy noted, the reforms have achieved their main goal – the psychology of the people has been re-engineered. Ex-President of France and prominent politician Jacques Chirac described the activities of Nursultan Abishevich as follows: “France assesses the changes that have occurred since 1991 as important and decisive. In an uncertain and difficult time, your country has embarked on the irreversible path of building a state that, along with loyalty to its national values ​​and a long history, declares its commitment to the universal principles of democracy and the rule of law.” In addition, Jacques Chirac supported the initiatives of Elbasy, such as the convening of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia and the development of dialogue between religions and cultures. 

Thanks to the Elbasy, Kazakhstan has become a country open to integration processes. As an active member and initiator of international associations such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Eurasian Economic Union, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the Turkic Council and others, our country has proven its commitment to the effective development of interregional and interstate ties.

The idea of ​​the head of state to transfer the capital of the country to the center of Saryarka was a turning point in the history of Kazakhstan. His proposal to build the main city on the banks of the Esil River gave a powerful impetus to the country’s social and political life – it also increased our authority in the world community. This decision made a great contribution to strengthening our geopolitical positions and predetermined the development of Kazakhstan into an indivisible state. 

The idea of ​​transferring the capital has become a powerful unifying factor. Today, the capital has become a beloved city and the pride of our people. Last year, I decided to give the city the name of Nur-Sultan, which is an objective assessment of the enormous contribution of its founder and builder. There is no doubt that this was the right decision. This step means that the new history of Kazakhstan and the name of the head of state have become a single whole for us. 

UNESCO awarded the new capital the high title of “City of Peace.” Nur-Sultan today is not only the center of our country, but a place of world-class discussions, a landmark venue for international meetings. In 2010, the OSCE Summit was held in Astana, which was attended by the heads of many states. In 2011, the capital, together with the city of Almaty, organized the Asian Winter Games. In 2017, the international exhibition EXPO was held here with great success. As you know, at this exhibition, given the rapidly changing world realities, Kazakhstan made a number of proposals for the development of alternative energy sources. The wide implementation of the most advanced technologies in life can be seen there today. This is the contribution of our young state to the rational use of the Earth’s natural resources and the use of environmental protection measures. The Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions is regularly held there. The most authoritative politicians of the world unanimously call the unique Kazakh experience of interethnic harmony the “Nazarbayev model.” Studying our achievements and promoting them globally is of great importance. The Astana Process led to the settlement of the situation in Syria. All this contributed to maintaining the image of our capital as the city of peace. 

Under the leadership of Nursultan Nazarbayev, the dynamic development of the country’s economy began, and fruitful work was carried out on industrialization programs. Many enterprises were put into operation that withstand competition and work for the good of the country. Leading global corporations that invest heavily in our economy take part in the development of Kazakhstan’s natural resources. Today they account for a significant share of tax revenues to the budget. A large number of infrastructure facilities have been built in the country through corporate social responsibility programmes. All this, first of all, is aimed at ensuring the employment of the population. 

It is well known that a truly competitive environment is needed for business development. For this, favorable conditions must be created, and the necessary legislative support provided. We need confidence that investments will be protected, and that work will be conducted in conditions that ensure fair competition. This requires appropriate guarantees from the authorities. Today, the state has created all the necessary conditions for interested foreign investors who are actively using them. As a result, the volume of foreign investments in the country is growing every year. These measures are one of the factors of maintaining stability and improving the welfare of citizens. 

In this difficult time, it is very important to be prepared for any changes, to constantly be in a search to improve oneself. The Head of State’s article “Course towards the future: modernization of Kazakhstan’s identity” contributed to the renewal of the consciousness of Kazakh society based on pragmatism. The Rukhani Zhangyru program  (Modernisation of Kazakhstan’s Identity) reflected the spiritual life of the country, its culture and art. The steps necessary for our state to reach a new qualitative level were clearly identified. 

The Kazakh proverb says: “At fifty, people change, at one hundred – the whole world does.” Having withstood all the challenges on the path towards a new state, Nursultan Nazarbayev managed to achieve his goals and absolute success during his 30 years in power. All mankind has learned about Kazakhstan and recognized our achievements. 

I learned a lot from Elbasy, who became a guide for me for life. Last year, drastic changes took place in our country. The First President has placed great confidence in me by entrusting the governance of the state. This once again says volumes about the readiness of the Elbasy to make the most courageous decisions in the interests of the country. Most importantly, we were able to ensure the transfer of power in a peaceful process. This historic event demonstrated the wisdom and foresight of the Elbasy. At the presidential election last year, the people of Kazakhstan supported the strategic course of Elbasy. Therefore, this vote was a victory for the whole nation! 

My election platform “Well-being for all! Continuity. Justice. Progress” was aimed at continuing the course of the First President and further developing his endeavors. Within the framework of this policy, the concept of a “Listening State” is being implemented. The National Council of Public Confidence has become a platform for raising public opinion on key domestic political issues. 

The first half of this year, as in all countries of the world, was not easy. The pandemic that has affected all of humanity has not spared us. This challenge has united our people. Nursultan Nazarbayev owns the catch phrase “We must protect our Independence every single moment!” but I believe too that protecting our citizens from a dangerous disease that threatens all the inhabitants of the globe is, in fact, a measure taken to protect our Independence. 

At the moment, the fight against the epidemic continues. During this critical period, Elbasy once again proved his close relationship to the people by announcing the holding of the nation-wide action “Biz birgemiz!” (We are together) by the Nur Otan party led by him. He called on all of us to support one another. The call of Elbasy to engage in good deeds has received popular support. This initiative showed that the authority of Nursultan Abishevich serves to bring together the people in the interests of the entire state. 

Improving the social situation in the country is our main task. Along with social support, it is very important to involve the population in constructive labor. Therefore, we will pay great attention to the creation of new jobs. Conditions will be created for the development of education and science in Kazakhstan. This is necessary for the future of the country and for the development of its economy. In the future, Kazakhstan will significantly improve the quality of human capital. 

Elbasy is the founder of our state, a symbol of the unity of the people, a person who stands at the origins of the history of independent Kazakhstan! The Kazakh people have the highest respect for this outstanding statesman. His tireless work for the sake of his country can serve as a vivid example for young people! Future generations will have to carefully study everything that happened on sleepless nights and days at the dawn of our Independence and make up their own minds about how this was achieved. 

The whole life of Nursultan Nazarbayev from the dawn of Independence to the present day is dedicated to the strengthening of the Kazakh state. He is known and respected abroad as the founder and leader of modern Kazakhstan. The government activities of the First President have received indisputable worldwide recognition. I can assert this with full responsibility, as a witness to many international meetings and negotiations of Elbasy with foreign delegations. He is well known all over the world, is widely recognized by the international community, and has a perfect reputation in global politics. He reached these high summits of success through hard work, wisdom and inexhaustible energy. 

I believe that this historical figure, that has become the pride of our people, should become an absolute example to be used in the upbringing of future generations.

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