Among the foreign policy events of the last months of 1991, preceding the proclamation of independence of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the first visit to our country by Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), Hans-Dietrich Genscher, one of the most influential figures in the history of Germany and world politics of that time, occupies an important place.
It should be emphasized that in 1990-1991, under the leadership of the First President Nursultan Nazarbayev, the sovereignty of our republic in the field of foreign policy, proclaimed in the Declaration on State Sovereignty of the Kazakh SSR of October 25, 1990, began to be realized in practical terms, and Kazakhstan began actively entering the arena of international economic relations. Political and diplomatic support of Kazakhstan’s economic relations with foreign countries became one of the main tasks of the republic’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which I headed on behalf of the President.
The arrival of Mr Genscher was preceded by the visit of the Minister of Finance of Germany Theodor Weigel, who visited Alma-Ata on 24 September 1991. At the request of the German side, which showed significant interest in Kazakhstan, he was received by President Nazarbayev. During the conversation, they discussed the prospects for further political and economic development of the USSR and the union republics, establishing cooperation between Kazakhstan and international financial organizations, particularly the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, ways for Germany and the European Community to support the republic, and developing economic cooperation with German business circles. The Minister promised to convey to Federal Chancellor Helmut Kohl and his government the proposal of the Kazakh President on expanding economic ties and joint work of business people on the territory of the republic.
Literally a few days after Mr. Weigel’s arrival, the German Embassy in Moscow sent us a note, which conveyed a proposal to organize for Deputy Federal Chancellor, Minister of Foreign Affairs Hans-Dietrich Genscher to visit Kazakhstan in mid-October and requested for him to meet with President Nazarbayev, the Prime Minister, the Chairman of the Supreme Council and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kazakh SSR.
Mr. Genscher was one of the eminent German politicians of the second half of the 20th century. As leader of the Free Democratic Party of Germany – partner from 1969 to 1998 in the ruling coalitions, first with the SPD, and later with the CDU / CSU, he was Vice-Chancellor and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Germany from 1974 to 1992. In this capacity, he played a critical role in the peaceful unification of Germany and the formation of a new system of international relations in Europe after the end of the Cold War.
Mr. Genscher and his wife arrived in Alma-Ata on the evening of 16 October 1991. He was accompanied by a delegation of 90 people, which included the Ambassador of Germany to the USSR Klaus Blech, the Consul General of the Federal Republic of Germany in Kiev, Heineck Graf von Bassewitz, Foreign Ministry diplomats, the security service and other officials.
Next morning, the distinguished guest was received by President Nazarbayev. Welcoming him, the President, according to my notes, remarked with satisfaction “the good attention to Kazakhstan from Germany and its leadership.” He stressed his readiness to move on to concrete negotiations to establish fruitful economic cooperation with the business circles of Germany. It was noted that given the important role of Germany, this would help develop good relations with the entire European Community. The head of the republic stressed that we were ready to receive German business people and bankers, consider the creation of joint ventures in the fields of oil and coal production, processing of non-ferrous metals and manufacturing of export products, and provide conditions for assembling modern equipment. A request was made for assistance from Germany in training personnel for work in a market economy, assistance in organizing trips for our specialists to partake in work experience in German companies, as well as student exchange. It was also proposed to consider the issue of direct air communication between Germany and Kazakhstan, and the development of tourist exchange.
President Nazarbayev emphasized Kazakhstan’s determination to enhance all-round ties with Germany, including through the mutual opening of consular posts. He also raised the issue of the possibility of creating a fund to support entrepreneurship in Kazakhstan and assistance in this from the European Community. He noted that all the necessary conditions are being created in the republic for the implementation of the legal rights and interests of all its inhabitants, including persons of German nationality, who were represented at all levels of government.
In response, Mr. Genscher thanked the President for the welcome and the opportunity to get acquainted with the republic personally. He stressed that Germany respects the course of Nazarbayev and his important role in political processes in the USSR. According to him, Germany has a substantial interest in developing relations with Kazakhstan, noting that the offered opportunities for exporting products from Kazakhstan are of particular importance, and promised to make every effort to strengthen cooperation through the Ministry of Economy of Germany. The minister promised to pass on the proposal on direct air communication to the relevant departments of his country.
The German politician reacted positively to the request for assistance in personnel training and expressed his readiness to send a delegation to substantively discuss training programs for Kazakhstani specialists to engage in a market economy. He noted the interest of the German side in assisting the development of the German language in Kazakhstan, as well as the imminent opening of a German cultural center in Kazakhstan. The Foreign Minister also announced his support for the efforts to open a consulate general of the Federal Republic of Germany in Alma-Ata.
As Mr. Genscher noted, the geographical position of Kazakhstan creates an opportunity for the country to become a kind of bridge or link in international cooperation, and Mr. Nazarbayev’s “responsible policy” facilitates Germany’s interest in strengthening ties with Kazakhstan, which is seen as an important and attractive partner for his country.
Later, in his book Memories (Erinnerungen), published in 1995, Mr. Genscher, describing in detail the discussion of issues during this conversation, expressed his following observations: “Nazarbayev, at the final stage of the existence of the Soviet Union, was one of the most powerful political figures. He was also one of the most far-sighted representatives of sovereign states that exist since the end of 1992 on the territory of the former Soviet Union. History will show whether his pragmatic conception of political, social and economic transformation is more successful than other models in the long run. During the transition years, he managed to maintain the stability of his multinational state. That’s worth a lot.”
At the end of the conversation, a press conference was held for Soviet and foreign journalists. President Nazarbayev thanked the outstanding political figure on the global level, Vie-Chancellor Genscher, for his initiative to visit Kazakhstan and expressed satisfaction with the results of the negotiations, which he briefly outlined, and announced their agreement to develop close economic ties between Germany and Kazakhstan.
The minister said in his statement that Kazakhstan was an important republic for Germany in the Soviet Union, whose wealth in the field of raw materials and energy sources makes wide economic cooperation possible. Mr. Genscher said that in the interests of developing such relations, Germany plans to open a consulate and a cultural center in Alma-Ata. According to him, the residence of almost a million German citizens in Kazakhstan makes such cooperation especially attractive. Mr. Genscher also welcomed the intention of the leadership of Kazakhstan to develop cooperation with the European Community. Having thanked Nazarbayev for meaningful and serious discussions, which gave him an understanding not only about the development of Kazakhstan, but also the possibility of a more precise assessment of the development of the situation in the Soviet Union, he invited the President to pay an official visit to Germany. At the end of the press conference, both sides answered questions from local and foreign journalists.
On the same day, I had a conversation with Mr. Gensher in the office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kazakh SSR, which was located in a beautiful wooden mansion on the ‘Mir’ (Peace) street (now Zheltoksan St). Mr. Genscher became the first foreign minister of another country to visit the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan.
Welcoming the distinguished guest and thanking him for the initiative to visit the Ministry, I expressed confidence that his visit to Kazakhstan will make an important contribution to strengthening and expanding cooperation between our countries. I briefed the Minister on data related to trade and economic cooperation, noting that Germany ranks second in terms of supplies to Kazakhstan of metallurgical equipment, medicines, equipment for the food, light, chemical and construction industries. There were 12 joint Kazakh-German enterprises in various sectors of the economy. Cultural contacts were maintained through the “friendship associations,” contacts through the partner cities, while the days of culture of Kazakhstan were organized twice in Germant. I noted that radical reforms are being carried out in the republic for the transition to a market economy, and relevant legislation is being created.
Mr. Genscher positively assessed the further development of relations with Kazakhstan, supporting the possibility of Germany’s assistance in creating a market economy, developing technologies and better using minerals and natural resources.
In the previously mentioned book, the Memories, Mr. Genscher wrote the following about the meeting at our Ministry: “The Minister of Foreign Affairs told me how the republics coordinated their foreign policy. The Council of Foreign Ministers has existed since January 1991, and at its last meeting in September, the future status and functions of the Union Foreign Ministries were discussed. This Council should be a body for the development of strategy and coordination of the Union and the republics, taking into account the interests of the latter. As such, there was a guarantee that the republics could jointly determine the foreign policy of the Union. Of course, the republics themselves would represent their bilateral interests. Kazakhstan is already a member of international relations. In this regard, Mrs. Arystanbekova pointed to the visit of President Nazarbayev to China and his dialogue with the leadership in Beijing. In addition, dynamic relations were being developed with Turkey, South Korea and the United States, as evidenced by the visit of US Secretary of State James Baker.”
The German side was well aware of our position in relation to consular missions. On September 29, 1991, at the Foreign Ministry, I had a conversation with the Plenipotentiary Minister of the Embassy of Germany in Moscow Mr. Heigen at his request. The German side wanted that during Mr. Genscher’s visit, a joint statement would be adopted on the opening of the Consulate General of Germany in Alma-Ata. Our side made a firm proposal to open the Consulate of Kazakhstan in the FRG in response to the opening of the Consulate General of the FRG in our republic. This issue was discussed during the conversation between Mr. Genscher and the President of Kazakhstan, at which an agreement was reached to begin negotiations on the opening of consular offices on a reciprocal basis.
During his stay in Alma-Ata, Mr. Genscher also met with representatives of the local German community in the House of Friendship, the editorial office of the Deutsche Allgemeine newspaper, laid flowers at the Glory Memorial in the Park of 28 Panfilov guardsmen, and visited the Medeo mountain complex. On the evening of October 17, the distinguished guest flew to Kiev.
Subsequently, Mr. Genscher met more than once with the leadership of the already independent Kazakhstan. The Embassy of Germany in Kazakhstan was opened the next year after his visit, a reciprocal step followed in 1993. Over almost three decades of our cooperation, the First President Nursultan Nazarbayev made seven official visits to Germany, while the presidents and federal chancellors of the FRG made six visits to Kazakhstan. Mr. Genscher, meanwhile, has invariably remained a good friend of our country, consistently supporting the strengthening of bilateral cooperation even after his departure from office.
The importance of long-term cooperation with Germany was reaffirmed by the official visit to Germany of the President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev on 5 December 2019. At a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Head of State noted that Germany is the first country of the European Union that he is visiting in this capacity. “It says a lot,” he stressed. Calling Germany “a key European partner” of Kazakhstan, the President noted that 86% of Germany’s trade with Central Asia is with Kazakhstan. It is especially important in his view that “more than 80% of German investments in our economy are in the non-resource sector,” while “Germany is the world leader in mechanical engineering, processing of resource materials, and so on. Therefore, we are interested in cooperation with the country.”
Later, congratulating the leadership of Germany on the 30th anniversary of the country’s unification, President Tokayev stressed that “the restoration of Germany as a single state has undoubtedly become one of the most important events of the 20th century,” calling it “an advanced state with a strong political system, a developed economy, achievements in science and education, industry and innovations”, and “not only a driver of Europe’s development, but also an authoritative power, whose achievements are globally recognized throughout the world.”
Today, in the year of the 30th anniversary of independence, remembering the first visit of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany Hans-Dietrich Genscher to Kazakhstan in October 1991, it should be stressed that it was he who laid the foundations for political dialogue and strengthened economic and cultural cooperation between our countries, and contributed to the transformation of Germany into one of the main partners of Kazakhstan in the European Union.
The author is Akmaral Arystanbekova, the Ambassador-at-Large of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kazakh SSR and the Republic of Kazakhstan in 1989-1991.