When Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev signed the decree approving the National Security Strategy for 2021-2025, the people unfamiliar with Kazakhstan’s realities could ask a question: “Why is it needed now? What for?”
Such people should be reminded of one important thing about Kazakhstan. The country’s institutions operate special political doctrine – that of The Listening State.
Security and self-confidence are the antonyms to the words “danger” and “fear.” So, the strategy of enhancing national security is a quick and timely response of the Listening State to society’s anxieties, both those based on facts and the emotional ones.
Biological security (protection of humans from COVID-19 and other health risks), economic security, food and water security, protection of transportation facilities and increased resilience of economy to outside shocks – the Strategy of National Security is pinpointing, targeting and easing society’s fears, putting in practice the concept of the Listening State.
Few would dispute the fact that the years 2020-2021, which may be termed “the years of Covid fears,” led to an increased level of anxiety in the population, and Kazakhstan was no exception. Even though the country was one of the first in the world to take urgent measures curtailing the spread of the disease (limitations were imposed as early as March 20, 2020), Covid galvanized a lot of other fears besides the one of being hit with a new, little-known epidemic. Expectations of a shrink in the job market as a result of the pandemic-induced economic slowdown, the possibility of geopolitical conflicts and other violent developments in neighboring countries – the state has to take into account all of these factors.
“The Strategy of National Security has defined the main priorities in the field of individual citizens’ security. The Strategy focuses on the individual and his rights,” the official statement said. Indeed, what is it that Kazakhstan’s citizens are most concerned about?
Several surveys conducted in the last few years have revealed that Kazakhstan’s civic nation consists mostly of compassionate and loving people – so much so, that the citizens’ greatest fear is not the one of their own death or disease. People are even more concerned about the life and health of their loved ones – parents, children, close friends. Up to 54 percent say they fear that someone from their family or close friends’ circle might die or get critically sick. Only 11 percent are immediately concerned about their own death and 48 percent fear catching a serious disease.
The economic fears come as a close second after the fears for the loved ones. In a survey named “What Do Kazakh People Expect in 2021?” IDF Eurasia Group singled out the fear of a sudden loss of income as “the horror” of 2021, with 60 percent of respondents saying they “more or less” could envision a sudden dramatic decrease of disposable income inside their family. The reasons for that fear could be different in various social groups: some fear new lockdowns and other limitations due to COVID-19, which might lead to lay-offs and lower wages; the older generation, remembering post-Soviet inflation, fears a sudden devaluation of tenge.
Can the state stay aloof, not reacting to the fears of the population? Certainly, not the Listening State. President Tokayev and the government made sure that every citizen received assistance in the amount of 42,500 tenge already at the early stages of the pandemic. More than 450 billion tenge ($1.7 billion) were immediately allocated for the protection of economic security of the citizens most vulnerable to the economic consequences of the epidemic.
And this is just one of many examples available. Since his election to the presidential position in 2019, Tokayev has been paying constant attention to the population’s concerns and anxieties. Special legislative acts were adopted to protect people from arbitrary arrests and mistreatment in the hands of police. The President took several measures protecting citizens from possible cases of cyberbullying, new laws and regulations were adopted to compensate people in the cases when their property or health are damaged as a result of natural disasters or the catastrophes caused by the malfunction of technical devices.
Even improvements in democracy, introduced at the initiative of President Tokayev, even these improvements can be seen as one more way to make sure citizens feel secure. The lowering of the necessary threshold for political parties, fewer formalities for the organization of street actions, a special quota of 30 percent for women and young people in political parties’ electoral lists – these are measures making sure that people can have their voices heard. And this is the main thing about the Listening State.
The author is Dmitry Babich, a Moscow-based journalist with 30 years of experience of covering global politics, a frequent guest on BBC, Al Jazeera and RT.