Kazakh Breakthrough: The role of Personality in its History


In the 20th century, the world witnesses the heyday of a series of modernization instances in various parts of the world.  The first wave of “Asian tigers” in the 1970s, the countries of Eastern and Central Europe in the 2000s, current projects in Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico and other countries are well known. These are examples in which nations have managed to overcome the challenges and imbalances of historical development and radically renovate their state by occupying higher positions in the world hierarchy.

In 1990s, Kazakhstan began its journey towards modernization.  The period of rebirth of the country and the leap forward remained in difficult historical span of 1990s.  This was the page of a new chapter in the world history, where Kazakhstan was at the epicenter of many important events in the field of international security, energy and the oil market, as well as formation of a new Regionalization in Eurasia, etc. It was a time of uncertainty and global turbulence, when there was a sharp breakdown of international political system that existed for more than 70 years, and world players were looking for a convenient format for dialogue and cooperation in unknown existing conditions.
For the world, the 1990s were a time of bright new hopes, the appearance on the world map of a number of new countries.  The world community entered a new historical period: Globalization had opened up enormous opportunities for cooperation, while strengthening interdependence and revealing previously unknown challenges that were already global, all-pervasive in nature.  In such an “ever changing” international context, the formation of Kazakhstan took place, the first pages of the country’s sovereign history in the twentieth century were written.

Today, one can differently imagine what the path of sovereign Kazakhstan could be, but the personality factor of its first Leader became crucial in the history of the Republic.  It has long been recognized that one person can turn the course of History. The ability to take responsibility, to have a clear vosoin of the country’s development and to be able to implement it – these are features of historical personalities necessary for the people at critical and turning junctures of History.

Nursultan Nazarbayev played the same large-scale role in the history of Kazakhstan as world-famous reformers such as Atatürk in Turkey, Charles de Gaulle in France, Mahathir Mohammad in Malaysia, Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore, Mahatma Gandhi in India and others, played in the development of their respective countries.

Elected by the people to the highest post of the country on December 1, 1991, Nursultan Nazarbayev became the First President of the young state, which was actually at that time, in his words, “at the very edge of abyss.”  It was a time when the Kazakh leader chose the national strategy adequate to the realities and the creation of a capable model of public governance – which became the decisive factor for effectiveness of Kazakhstan.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, independent Kazakhstan had to answer a whole range of challenges for its development.  It is necessary to begin with the fact that its geographical position in the center of the continent between major powers and unstable south, determined difficult geopolitical situation and limited economic opportunities.  The Republic was in the midst of an extremely difficult socio-demographic situation.

At that time, due to the rapid collapse of the USSR, the volume of industrial production in Kazakhstan for 1990–1994 decreased by half, transport reduced by 2/3, agriculture – by 30%.  Allied industrial giants in the coal, mining and other industries stopped functioning.  Unemployment grew and began mass economic migration.  Kazakhstan had to overcome the ineffective outdated economic model, prevailing in the USSR era.

In a country that was striving for a market economy, archaic mechanisms of governance and organization of Govt. institutions remained.  It was important to maintain peace and harmony in a multinational society, which consisted of more than 130 nationalities, professing more than 30 religious traits.  The problem arose of building external relations with neighbors and large countries, it was necessary to look for our place in the world community.

Under the leadership of its First President, young Kazakhstan passed through all these thorns.  Now as the challenges and limitations of the first years look different – many of them have been transformed into opportunities for development.  Over time, it is obvious that in the period of uncertainty, the Kazakhstan’s Leader of the nation managed not only to make bold decisions for his time, but also to unite the nation in the period of crisis and bring it to a new level of development.

Nazarbayev has always been interested in advanced development experience; he has deeply studied the history of successful nations.  At one time, the evolutionary path of development in a few decades led Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and Singapore to truly revolutionary achievements.  Looking towards these countries, Kazakhstan, headed by its leader, also preferred the logic of thoughtful sequential transformations.

Kazakhstan has never copied foreign development models – neither Asian, nor European, nor American.  Yes, in principle, it is impossible as different countries, different political, economic conditions and different historical eras.  But having independently selected universal principles of country’s development from world experience, the Kazakhstani leader was able to skillfully apply them to the national context and form his own model of effective reforms, development and effective governance.
In the early 1990s, Nursultan Nazarbayev was able to quickly develop his own program for reforming all areas of national development and successfully implement national modernization.  He presented his own development formula “First economy, then politics”, that is, initially the country relied on economic development, and on its basis, Development of democratic institutions.

Today, this experience is known as the “Nazarbayev Model” or the Kazakhstani Way.  It is based on a thoughtful and phased nation building based on a rational solution of priority tasks and the pursuit of ambitious goals in future.  It is simply impossible to fit the entire vast history of three decades into the format of this publication, but in short, the efforts of the First President of Kazakhstan have focused on three key stages of reform and development.

The beginning of the 1990s is the time of the First Modernization.  Then the task was to rebuild the public administration system, lay the foundations of a market economy and integrate into the World community.  During this period, Kazakhstan carried out “triple transit” to economic, social and socio-political spheres.  All spheres of life underwent reforms.

Kazakhstan deliberately chose democracy as model of political development.  On the basis of the new Constitution in 1995, a political system was created with the separation of the executive, legislative and judicial powers and foundation of the rule of law was laid.

Deep economic transformations were carried out and key mechanisms of a market economy were formed.  Against the backdrop of uncertainty, Kazakhstan has maintained stability and preserved ethnic and religious harmony in society.

Kazakhstan declared itself to the whole world as a state oriented towards peaceful development, and abandoned voluntarily the 4th largest nuclear arsenal inherited from the USSR.  The young state has established diplomatic relations with most countries of the world has become a member of the world community and achieved international recognition.
At that time, Kazakhstan made an unexpected move, developing a strategy for the long-term development of the country.  In 1997, Nursultan Nazarbayev presented the Development Strategy until 2030 to the public with a detailed action plan in all spheres of life.  While the post-Soviet countries were immersed in solving urgent socio-economic and domestic political issues, the First President of Kazakhstan urged his country to look further, beyond the horizon of several decades ahead.

The second modernization of Kazakhstan started in the third quarter of the 1990s and was completed in the mid-2010s.  During this period, organizationally renewed Kazakhstan began to reap good fruits of its difficult reforms & efforts, and continued to move forward as part of the national development strategy.  Under the leadership of Nursultan Nazarbayev, the economy has embarked on a trajectory of sustainable growth; a modern system of state institutions and a middle class was formed in the country.

The well-being of society has improved, if in the early 1990s, per capita GDP was $700, then by 2013 this figure reached $12,000. The quality of life has improved substantially; as a result, the World Bank has included Kazakhstan among the middle-income countries.  Through two world economic crises of 1998 and 2008-2009, independent Kazakhstan passed without tangible losses, which confirmed the strength of the young state, proving its viability.

A major successful achievement of the Republic at that time was the transfer and construction of the new capital of the state, which today bears the name of the First President – Nur-Sultan.  The new capital has solved a whole range of strategic tasks of country’s development and has become a symbol of the new historical era of our country.
This was a time of new breakthroughs in the areas of governance, political modernization, the search for promising areas in the economy and institutional reforms aimed at improving the efficacy of economic development.

In 2012, Kazakhstan was among the 50 most competitive countries in the world.  In those same years, Nursultan Nazarbayev presented a new ambitious development goal in the Strategy “Kazakhstan-2050” – to take a place among 30 most developed countries of the world in a few decades. This landmark outlined the national idea of ​​Kazakhstan, which laid the new logic of country’s development for years to come.

The progressive movement of Kazakhstan towards this goal is ensured by the current Third Modernization, which the First President announced in 2017.  Over the years, the Republic has already shown its growth potential.  Thanks to Nursultan Nazarbayev’s policy, Kazakhstan’s GDP grew from $ 22 billion to $ 184 billion. Efforts to develop the business environment have led the country to rise from 86th place in the World Bank’s “Doing Business” rating in 2005 to 25th position in 2019.

The achievement of the new development goal will be facilitated by continued reforms to create a professional state, accountable to society.  Among the priorities of this modern period are effective development of the economy, attracting investment, innovative industrialization, further social modernization and the preservation of the unity of the people.

During this period, political reforms and economic transformations continue in the country.  The future development is based on human capital and spiritual modernization within the framework of the special program “Rukhani Zhangyru”.  Three modernizations, not coinciding with each other in current tasks, together constitute a holistic process of updating and development with a single content and algorithm.  A stable national system and strong presidential power made it possible to carry out deep reform of the country.
Kazakhstan has long left the acute stage of survival of the 1990s and moved to the stage of global competition for a place among the most developed countries. The leader of Kazakhstan has always sought to integrate the Republic into emerging trends and use the new global wave of changes for the next growth.

Separately, it is necessary to note the position of Kazakhstan in the world arena. Over the years, many of the ideas and initiatives of the First President have been implemented and today are being consistently developed. Kazakhstan has become one of the key activists in the field of global nuclear security and achieved a number of results in peacekeeping policies as well as resolution of conflicts around Nagorno-Karabakh, Iran, Ukraine, Syria. The Republic has launched and continues to develop a global inter-religious dialogue based on regular congresses of world and traditional religious leaders in its capital.

The peace-loving policy of Kazakhstan contributed to the election of the country as chairman of the OSCE, SCO, OIC, non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in 2017-2019 and other international organizations. The Eurasian idea of ​​Nursultan Nazarbayev was implemented in the creation of Eurasian Economic Union.  Kazakhstan became a member of the WTO, and thanks to the implementation of major infrastructure projects, it became an operator of growing trade flows between East and West Eurasia, which go through land corridors through the territory of Kazakhstan.

The foreign policy of the country from the very beginning is constructive and based on the principle of multi-vector.  Balance in relations with various geopolitical centers of the world allows Kazakhstan to maintain mutually beneficial partnerships with Russia, China and the USA, the countries of the European Union, Central Asia, and the Islamic world.  Thanks to good relations with neighbors, Kazakhstan for the first time in history has found clear, unshakable, documented boundaries recognized by the international community.

The creation of one’s own state is a turning point in the thousand-year history of the people, who for centuries controlled the vast expanses of Central Eurasia. The turn of the XX-XXI centuries was marked for Kazakhstan not even by a turning point, but by a real tectonic shift. As a result of three stages of thoughtful modernization under the reign of the Leader, the country managed to make a “jump in time”, i.e.  very quickly, without hesitation, move from one political-historical era to a new one, from one economic system to another.

After many years, Nursultan Nazarbayev expressed: “… Kazakhstan has proved to itself and its neighbors that it can achieve its goals, no matter how large they are.  Consistency, continuity in achieving strategic goals – this is what ensures us success, sustainability of our development…”;  These short but meaningful words contain all the logic and results of the three decades of the First President as, Head of Kazakhstan.

In 2019, Nursultan Nazarbayev again assumed historical responsibility. In the framework of constitutional procedures, he transferred power to successor Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev, who a little later, in popular presidential election gained confidence of Kazakh people and today leads the Republic.  The policy of the second President, in the history of Kazakhstan is based on the continuation of the policy course of the founder of sovereign Kazakhstan.

These days Nursultan Nazarbayev is 80 years old.  And the people of Kazakhstan with special respect and appreciation shall celebrate the anniversary of their successful reformer – the Leader of the nation, who, during his reign confidently led his people of Kazakhstan through all the trials, strengthened the young state and brought it to a qualitatively new level of development.

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