Head of Kazakh Think Tank Addresses Country’s Development Progress Since Independence

NUR-SULTAN – On Dec.16, Kazakhstan celebrates the 30th anniversary of its independence. Director of the Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studie Zarema Shaukenova spoke about the major milestones in the formation of Kazakhstan as an independent state, how the country has coped with various crises during the years, as well as the transition of power and the country’s future prospects in her latest interview to Kazakhstan’s popular news outlet nur.kz. 

Zarema Shaukenova. Photo credit: kisi.kz

“For Kazakhstan, 30 years of independence is not just a new round of history. This stage, first of all, is associated with the identification of the Kazakh people, determination of their place, role, and mission in the world space,” said Shaukenova 

Right after Kazakhstan became independent, it was essential for the country to establish itself as a new political, economic entity of the world community, it was necessary to show the world a vision of its future development. 

“It was important to return to the origins, revive the spirit and rethink its history. In addition, the country had to rethink its economic structure, transit to new market relations, as well as support business, build new economic institutions, ties and others. At the same time, the country had to solve issues related to the preservation of territorial integrity, national security, unity within the country, and several other pressing challenges,” she added. 

At that stage, the strategic vision of Kazakhstan’s First President Nursultan Nazarbayev played a significant role, said Shaukenova, and the Kazakhstan-2030 Strategy served as a starting point for the country’s future.

The next big period for Kazakhstan started in the early 2000s characterized by rapid economic growth but also some significant challenges. Kazakhstan launched a new path of modernization, both economic and political.

“With its multi-vector foreign policy, Kazakhstan managed to maintain a balance in a complex mosaic of geopolitical processes, gradually strengthening and clarifying the position of the state on many current issues at high-level international platforms. Understanding the importance of internal unity has led to the idea of Mangilik El (Eternal Nation in Kazakh) – the spiritual unity of all ethnic groups and all citizens who think of Kazakhstan as their homeland,” she said. 

The third stage, the modern one, started in 2010 with pragmatism and a high adaptability approach to turbulence. Shaukenova said that despite the emerging challenges and risks, Kazakhstan “manages to maintain unity within the country, and carry out effective economic and political reforms.” 

“We managed to painlessly go through the political transit and elect a new head of state in 2019. The main asset of today is that our policy is characterized by the continuity of the course of the First President, the preservation of stability and peace in society, but most importantly, the desire to improve the well-being of the people by all means and contribute to the positive development of this world,” she added.

The political course of the state can be described as a course towards constructive development, she said, noting that the country’s leadership also prioritizes maintaining a balance of continuity and innovation. 

“Largely due to the balanced approach to further national development, as well as the personal experience of President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, it is possible to implement such important and large-scale reforms. The priority ‘economy first, then politics’ evolutionarily moved to the priority of socio-political transformations,” said Shaukenova.

The President had to implement a large set of political, social, and economic reforms, particularly amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the global economic crisis.

“Kazakhstan’s citizens who found themselves in a difficult situation were supported by the state, 4.5 million people received benefits. Another two million have had their loans deferred. On behalf of the head of state, a moratorium was introduced on business inspections, and small and medium enterprises were temporarily exempted from paying taxes. The state also provides assistance to solve the housing problem. People can use their retirement benefits to improve housing conditions, get a mortgage, or pay off debt,” she said.

President Tokayev called for open dialogue and his concept of a listening state is a “valid and promising concept for the country.” His election program focused on continuity, justice, and progress.

“Over the past two years, Kazakhstan has adopted and implemented a number of political reforms that also affect public administration issues. In general, political modernization started due to new social realities and existing needs, as well as President Tokayev’s direction towards the liberalization of public life,” she added.

Modern Kazakhstan uses the formula “strong President – influential Parliament – accountable Government.” While maintaining the presidential form of government, the level of participation of the legislative body in the process of making state decisions increases, as well as the effectiveness of the government’s work through strengthening its responsibility and accountability towards the citizenry.

According to the head of KazISS, preservation of cultural and historical heritage is also a priority task of the leadership of the country. 

“Today, large-scale homogenization processes are taking place in the world. This process has high costs. By losing their cultural identity, peoples abandon the diversity of views and traditions, which limits our ability to embrace diversity,” she added.

Kazakh culture has historically been conditioned by values and a system of views based on peacefulness, mutual assistance and respect. This is already an integral element of Kazakhstan’s image abroad, as well as the philosophy of its foreign policy. These are the values that country shows in the international community. For example, Kazakhstan’s efforts to promote nuclear disarmament, the Astana process on Syria and other peacekeeping initiatives vividly demonstrate how closely the values of the people and their foreign policy are intertwined, said Shaukenova. 

“Our cultural heritage and the history of the nation are priceless and unique. However, their preservation needs constant efforts.” She mentioned Nazarbayev’s Ruhani Zhangyru (Modernisation of Kazakhstan’s Identity) program and “The Seven Facets of the Great Steppe” article, as well as the article of the Head of State Tokayev – “Independence Above All” – aimed at preserving identity and culture.  

When it comes to the future development of the country, Shaukenova thinks that the modern period is characterized by a high degree of uncertainty. 

“However, this uncertainty is associated with transformation processes in the world. The world is faced with a choice of further path and development. The political, economic and social processes we are observing are proof of this. For example, there is a clear focus on sustainable development. In terms of economic development, we observe how Asian states grow, gaining their strength. Amid the pandemic, China is the only large economy that emerged from the crisis of 2020 with positive growth and is strengthening its economic positions, both regionally and globally.”

The interview was originally published in Russian in Nur.kz


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