EXPO 2017 opens to success, offers path to the future

With EXPO now well under way, there are clear signs of lessons from the past few decades underpinning the objectives of this event. Hosting EXPO has, for instance, enabled our government to particularly focus on infrastructural progress, the improvement of education and the promotion of Kazakhstan’s culture to international audiences in time to mark its transition to a third stage of modernisation.

In our country’s development roadmap, known as the Kazakhstan 2050 Strategy, President Nursultan Nazarbayev outlined key areas, which would serve to aid our accession to the world’s top 30 economies. One of these was developing our country’s infrastructure and transport under the Nurly Zhol programme, to facilitate Kazakhstan’s role at the heart of the New Silk Road initiative. Hosting EXPO 2017 in our capital city has permitted our government to focus on supporting the needs of the event’s foreign and domestic visitors by establishing new facilities, ensuring Astana’s prospective role as a regional hub for finance and investment.

The impressive results of this programme include the creation of the new Nurly Zhol railway station in Astana, which expects a passenger flow of approximately 12 million people a year and the addition of a new terminal to our capital’s airport. Long after expo finishes, these initiatives will continue to benefit our country by establishing new transport routes, attracting visitors and creating hundreds of new jobs. It’s no surprise, therefore, that our President has already described these new facilities as the “new pride of Astana.”

Yet it is not only our capital that has benefitted from EXPO 2017. President Nazarbayev made a point in his opening speech of inviting everyone to visit all of Kazakhstan for the amazing nature as well as the historical heritage that we have to offer. The expo has also brought together Kazakhs from all corners of our country to appreciate our united progression.

Another focal point for EXPO 2017 has been its beneficial effect upon the younger generations. The exposition aims to inspire children from all around Kazakhstan to play a role in developing these futuristic technologies by immersing them in the research at the forefront of science worldwide. The French pavilion’s main exhibition of a new Peugeot project, for example, is highly commendable for engaging with children to interest them in the fascinating design of electric cars.

This focus of EXPO 2017 on the future pioneers of Kazakhstan builds upon a range of initiatives, which provide the resources for children to excel. For instance, Kazakhstan’s Minister for Education and Science Yerlan Sagadiyev, recently announced that 93 percent of final-year students who achieve consistent top marks receive the prestigious Altyn Belgi recognition, which allows them to attend any university in Kazakhstan with all of their tuition subsidised by the government.

Schemes such as this reaffirm our commitment to supporting education, and our country is already seeing tangible results. Only last year did the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study rank Kazakh students eight out of 57 developed countries for their education in the sciences.

EXPO 2017 has also brought Kazakhstan’s existing strengths and values to the attention of the international community, reiterating our country’s commitments to moving forward together. The attendance of our opening ceremony by prominent world leaders, such as President of China Xi Jinping, President of Russia Vladimir Putin, and King Felipe VI of Spain, as well as UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, goes to show the magnitude and importance of EXPO 2017 on the global agenda.

In this regard, it is astonishing to consider how far Kazakhstan has come in the 25 years of its independence and the confidence with which it has done so. This has only been possible due to the assured leadership of President Nazarbayev and our government’s willingness to learn from its mistakes. Although we can be sure of more lessons to learn from the event’s proceedings, the first few weeks have been testament to the painstaking work of the organisers whose collective efforts are to thank for what has been an unforgettable opening to a momentous event.



Astana ready to welcome the world for EXPO 2017

2017 will undoubtedly go down as a momentous year in the history of Kazakhstan. In January, the country took up its seat on the United Nations Security Council, the first time a Central Asian nation has been given such a responsibility.

This gives our country a vital and important role in helping shape peace and stability around the world. Secondly, Kazakhstan has made valuable contributions in the search for a solution to the ongoing conflict and humanitarian disaster in Syria. Several rounds of talks under the Astana Process have taken place, bringing together all the sides of the devastating civil war, and the so called guarantor states, to help them find a lasting settlement. Now Kazakhstan has the responsibility to deliver a successful EXPO 2017 in Astana for visitors from near and far.

In many ways, EXPO 2017 has similarities with these important global responsibilities. The event spearheads an international effort to address the energy challenges of the 21st century as it helps create a more stable and prosperous future for the entire planet. This forward-looking approach to long-term stability and prosperity is entirely consistent with President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s call to the United Nations General Assembly in 2015 for “a strategy that would eliminate for good the threat of war and its causes.” A plentiful and sustainable energy supply to all parts of the world will help create conditions for peaceful co-existence.

Kazakhstan is blessed with a rich abundance of natural resources. Our country is  a major global exporter of oil and gas, as well as uranium and other rare earth metals. So, some may be surprised that Astana is hosting a major event that is dedicated to renewable energy. But Kazakhstan sees no contradiction between supplying today’s energy needs while also being committed to the development of sustainable and cleaner energy that will benefit future generations. The two are not mutually exclusive in our progressive vision.

For those attending EXPO 2017 under the title Future Energy, there will be the opportunity to visit numerous awe-inspiring exhibits. From pavilions hosted by dozens of countries from around the world, to the incredible gravity-defying “Reflekt” show by Cirque de Soleil, it promises to be an experience that will live long in the memory. Indeed, EXPO 2017 was a driving factor in helping Kazakhstan become one of the New York Times’ “top 52 places to visit in 2017” as it hailed the country’s “earnest transition from oil state to eco-destination.”

EXPO 2017 is more than about being just an entertaining and spectacular destination, as important as that may be. Nations from every corner of the world are coming together to share and discuss one of the most pressing issues that faces mankind – our future energy. It’s arguably the biggest and most important event that’s focused on creating a clean and sustainable future for us all. Kazakhstan has an abundance of oil and gas reserves but we are also the first to admit that global supplies are finite, which is a sign of a mature and future-looking nation that considers the long-term future of this country and all others on Earth.

The exhibition will showcase developments from around the world in the field of renewable energy, including the latest advances in areas, such as wind power, solar energy, renewable fuel and clean coal technologies. It, therefore, promises to stimulate the mind as much as it does the senses.

The event has a major role to play in Kazakhstan’s goal of becoming one of the world’s top 30 global economies by 2050. Indeed, it has been designed to “drive the next stage of our industrial development and diversification with a new emphasis on sustainability, high-tech and skills.”

The global event will also act as a catalyst for tourism to Kazakhstan by giving the opportunity for visitors from near and far to experience Astana for the first time. They will be able to take in the wider sights of our capital city, including its world-class architecture, culture and cuisine. They can also be assured of the warmest welcome and famous hospitality that the people of Kazakhstan will provide like few can do elsewhere on Earth.

So, the world, welcome to Astana and welcome to Kazakhstan!



Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meeting in Astana will be historic

The upcoming meeting of the heads of member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in Astana June 8-9 is important and historic. It is expected that India and Pakistan will become full members of the SCO, joining the six current member nations of the organisation – China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

The significance of the accession of India and Pakistan should not be underestimated. Mark Shields, a well-known American political columnist and commentator, once said, “There is always strength in numbers.” This is, indeed, the case when it comes to India and Pakistan gaining full membership in the SCO. It will significantly strengthen the SCO’s security capabilities and enhance the political and economic aspect of the organisation. With the latest expansion, the SCO will include countries encompassing over 40 percent of the world’s population. In addition, full membership could bring a number of benefits for India and Pakistan. The organisation provides a platform for bilateral dialogue, which can contribute to improving the complex – and at times strained – relations between India and Pakistan.

There is no denying that the world is currently experiencing serious challenges that are affecting all of us. Though Daesh is losing ground in Syria and Iraq, terrorist organisations and lone attackers still pose a significant global threat, as was demonstrated by the recent horrific terrorist attacks in Manchester, St. Petersburg, in the Egyptian desert, and elsewhere. Global terrorism is partly emanating from the spread of radical extremism. In order to defeat terrorism, international organisations will need to implement concrete steps to stamp out extremism. This will be an area of great focus for the heads of member states of the SCO when they meet in Astana.

Drug trafficking will be another priority area during the meeting. As well as hurting ordinary people, the link between terrorism and drug trafficking is evident and has been recognised by the United Nations Security Council. Indeed, drug trafficking has provided funding for insurgency and those who use terrorist violence in various regions throughout the world. It is well-known that drug trafficking is a huge problem in Afghanistan, which is a major concern for the SCO member states, whose territories are used by criminals for  heroin refining and smuggling. The SCO will need to have a thorough discussion and come up with concrete steps to tackle this problem.

It is, therefore, a welcome sign that the SCO summit is expected to produce a joint statement by the heads of state on the joint fighting against international terrorism and the Convention on countering extremism.

However, as Kazakhstan frequently pointed out, to stamp out drug trafficking originating from our region, as well as defeat terrorism, a major effort is required to develop the economies of these countries and integrate them regionally and into the global economy. Kazakhstan has been helping secure peace and stability in Afghanistan and should continue to work closely with other members of the SCO to help the country get back on its feet. In fact, all member states of the SCO would benefit from closer economic cooperation, especially taking into account the massive potential of the emerging markets, including Kazakhstan, that make up the SCO.

From its inception, the main objectives of the SCO have been to maintain peace, stability and security in the region, as well as to develop economic and humanitarian cooperation. The expected accession of India and Pakistan will undoubtedly raise the SCO’s prestige, but more importantly it will, hopefully, facilitate the achievement of the SCO’s aims.

There will be a lot of important issues on the agenda when the heads of member states convene in Astana and there is no doubt that finding solutions to some of the pressing regional problems will not be an easy task. Nevertheless, the historic significance of the meeting should provide the necessary incentive for the member states to agree upon concrete measures that will contribute to the security and development of the region.



Switching to Latin alphabet will facilitate Kazakhstan’s development

We are living in an increasingly globalised and interconnected world. Advancements in technology and transportation have made the planet smaller, making it easier for people from all corners of the world to engage and communicate with each other over great distances.

The spread of the English language, which has essentially become a global language, has also made communication easier among countries from different continents. Indeed, in today’s world it is essential for any nation that wants to prosper to promote the use of certain languages and alphabets.

Latin is the most widely used alphabetic writing system in the world. It is used by approximately 70 percent of all countries, making it an essential part of communicating across the globe, especially in terms of technology, business, science and education. Currently many databases and software programmes don’t support the Cyrillic text, making it very difficult for IT and technology experts. On a practical level, those of us who use the Latin alphabet to type on smartphones will know how less cumbersome it is to use than Cyrillic.

The timing seemed right for President Nursultan Nazarbayev to publish an article in a state newspaper on April 12, renewing his earlier pledge of a switchover of the Kazakh language from Cyrillic to the Latin alphabet by 2025. It followed considerable discussions about switching to the Latin alphabet that have been ongoing in Kazakhstan ever since the country became independent in 1991. Indeed, according to a recent Newsweek report, the assessment of Camilla Hagelund of risk analytics firm Verisk Maplecroft, was that the initiative “reflects the public mood” in the country.

Earlier this year, President Nazarbayev announced the Third Modernisation of Kazakhstan, which involves creating a new model of economic growth that will ensure the country’s global competitiveness and help Kazakhstan join the top 30 most-developed countries by 2050. The President stated that these large-scale reforms should be complemented with advanced modernisation of Kazakhstan’s national identity, which will provide the core for political and economic development.

It is, therefore, logical that the President has decided that now is the right time to begin the process of switching the Kazakh language from Cyrillic to the Latin alphabet. There is a strong case to be made that this switch will bring more economic development to the country and help consolidate Kazakhstan’s integration into the global economy.

This is essential in today’s world. International businesses and financial exchanges take place using the Latin alphabet. It is, therefore, completely understandable that Kazakhstan, a country that is keen to enhance its international business and investment reputation, is looking to adopt measures that ensure its modernisation and competitiveness.

This move should be welcomed by businesspeople and investors, both in Kazakhstan and globally. Switching to the Latin alphabet will undoubtedly lead to more commercial cooperation between Kazakhstan and other nations.  Looking regionally, the change will also bring Kazakh in line with other Turkic languages, such as those spoken in Turkey, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan, which all use the Latin alphabet. It is also expected to make it easier for international investors to do business in Kazakhstan, which will contribute to the overall development of the nation and increase the standard of living of its citizens.

Switching to the Latin alphabet also facilitates President Nazarbayev’s initiative to promote the English language in Kazakhstan, especially among the younger generation, to ensure that they can compete globally. Proficiency in this language is growing quickly. The most recent census data indicated that 1.9 million Kazakhs understand English, with around half of those speaking it. It’s a good start but to enhance Kazakhstan’s competiveness in the global market even further, this number will need to increase.

It should also be noted that Kazakhstan previously used the Latin alphabet between 1929 and 1940. Nevertheless, it is understandable that some people in Kazakhstan, especially the older generation, are anxious about how switching back to the Latin alphabet will affect their day-to-day lives. It is, therefore, the right decision that the switch will be a gradual process to ensure that everyone is able to adapt to the changes at a steady pace and inter-generational connections are not lost. As per President Nazarbayev’s suggestion, help will be given by specialists to those who do not yet use the Latin alphabet. In addition, a working group with the participation of experts in the field of linguistics has been set up by the Ministry of Education to ensure that the transition runs smoothly until 2025. To reflect its popularity of use, the Russian language will remain one of the official languages in Kazakhstan, as noted by the Kazakh leader recently.

Kazakhstan has always championed increased regional and global integration. Enhanced cooperation in the fields of commerce, business and diplomacy will contribute to creating a stable and prospering world where everyone benefits. Switching to the Latin alphabet is an important step in this direction for Kazakhstan.



Fourth Astana Process Talks Achieve Gains Toward Peace in Syria

Ending the conflict in Syria has proved to be stubbornly difficult. The lack of trust between opposing sides has led to unbearable suffering for the people of Syria. In April, the United Nations and Arab League Envoy to Syria announced that more than 400,000 people have died in this brutal civil war, making it the deadliest conflict of the 21st century.

The people of Syria have been left with almost no optimism that one day their lives can return back to normality. A tiny glimmer of hope has been resurrected, however, following the fourth high-level international meeting on Syria May 3-4 in the capital of Kazakhstan within the framework of what came to be known as the Astana Process.

The previous three rounds of talks in Astana helped facilitate dialogue between conflicting parties, which contributed to stopping the bloodshed in Syria. Unfortunately, the situation in Syria has significantly deteriorated in recent weeks. It was absolutely essential that all sides came to the negotiating table and worked out a way to deescalate the situation.

Expectations were low for the fourth round of talks, especially after the tragic events in Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib and the U.S. strikes that followed. However, hopes of a breakthrough were raised following the confirmation that all the main actors, including the representatives of the Syrian government, armed Syrian opposition and the guarantor states – Russia, Turkey and Iran – would attend.

The significance of these talks was further raised when it was announced that UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, Nauaf Oufi Tel, political adviser to Jordan’s Foreign Minister, as well as Stuart Jones, Acting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, also agreed to attend the negotiations as observers. This was the highest level of attendance within the Astana Process to date.

The two-day talks were indeed turbulent. The chances of success drifted further away when the Syrian armed opposition briefly suspended its participation at the end of the first day. The breakthrough came on the last day of the discussions, when the guarantor states signed a memorandum on creating de-escalation zones in Syria, giving the population some respite from a long and brutal war.

The establishment of the zones, aimed at reducing tensions, will be set up in four areas, namely in the Idlib province and some neighbouring territories (Latakia, Hama and Aleppo) to the north of Homs, East Ghouta and some provinces in southern Syria (Daraa and Al Quneitra).

The significance of this agreement should not be underestimated. After six years of the ongoing conflict, it was difficult to foresee a path towards peace. The establishment of the de-escalation areas is another step towards an end to the civil war.

Of course, nothing should be taken for granted. There is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that the agreement is implemented on the ground and that all sides comply with it. It should nevertheless be welcome news that all military activity, including flights of aircraft, will be banned in the designated zones. This will allow for the restoration of infrastructure, humanitarian aid delivery and essential services, as well as the return of refugees.

Undoubtedly, it will take many more meetings before an agreement can be found to end the Syrian war. All eyes will now turn to Geneva, where the next round of talks will be held before the end of May. Unlike previous negotiations within the framework of the Geneva Process, there is now some optimism that further breakthroughs can be achieved. It is most welcome news that the talks in Astana have played a crucial role in complementing and facilitating the Geneva Process. From the very beginning, this was one of the main objectives of the Astana Process.

The next round of Syria peace talks in Astana have been scheduled for mid-July. It will be important to build on the success of the previous rounds, which demonstrated that Kazakhstan’s capital continues to provide an important platform to work towards finding a political solution to the Syrian crisis. Kazakhstan’s impartial stance and its role as a mediator have ensured that all sides are able to have open discussions on a neutral territory – an important factor in ensuring the success of the talks.

The people of Syria deserve to have hope that their country will soon witness peace and stability. It is the responsibility of the international community to make sure that this hope becomes reality as soon as possible. Nobody should jump too far ahead and assume that the agreement on the de-escalation zones is a sure sign the conflict will end. However, it is now crucial to use this momentum to strive towards stopping all violence in Syria. Kazakhstan will certainly continue to contribute to international efforts to achieve this objective. With the right political commitment and desire, the Syrian war will reach its final end.



Kazakh military is strong, regionally integrated and dedicated to peace

Every year, Victory Day on May 9 marks the moment when we celebrate the end of the Second World War and commemorate those who gave their lives. Kazakhstan sent many of its sons and daughters to fight on the front lines of World War II and many others worked hard to supply food and ammunition in the common effort against the enemy. The victory came at a huge price for those that defended their homeland. Kazakhstan lost approximately 410,000 of its citizens, who fought the Nazis as part of the Soviet Red Army. Their sacrifice is remembered forever through the eternal flame that burns at the Park of 28 Panfilov Guardsmen in Almaty.

The tragedy of World War II is a reminder that every nation, no matter how peaceful, needs to have a strong military that can protect its land and people. This is especially the case at a time when our world is facing many challenges, including global terrorism.

This year Kazakhstan is marking the 25th anniversary of the establishment of its Armed Forces. As stated in our Constitution, since 1992 they have been tasked with guaranteeing the preservation of the independence and sovereignty of the state and the integrity of its land.

Despite being a young and peaceful nation, Kazakhstan has not been reluctant to develop a proficient and powerful military. According to the 2017 Global Firepower list, Kazakhstan holds the 53rd position out of 127 countries. Of course, we hope to never need to deploy the military forces we have established, but it is a testament to the great work our armed forces and the Ministry of Defence have done since our independence.

In tandem, Kazakhstan has been consistently committed to dialogue, partnership and peace ever since our independence. As well as Kazakhstan’s tireless efforts to promote a world free from nuclear weapons, the country has also contributed to the resolution of regional and global conflicts, including in Syria and Ukraine. Our military exists purely for peaceful purposes. Indeed, Kazakhstan’s strong defence capabilities have enabled it to contribute to United Nations’ peacekeeping missions in Haiti, Western Sahara, Ivory Coast and Liberia.

It is important to remember that keeping peace is only possible through international cooperation. The ongoing crisis in Syria and the fight against terrorism have demonstrated that, only by working together, can conflicts be resolved peacefully. For this reason, Kazakhstan has continued to push for closer global cooperation on major international issues. This is why Kazakhstan has good relations with all of its neighbours, as well as with the European Union and the United States. These relations translate into important partnerships in defence as well. For instance, Kazakhstan is a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). Since its establishment in 2001, the SCO has been working towards maintaining peace, stability and safety in the region, as well as promoting the development of economic and humanitarian cooperation. Kazakhstan currently holds the SCO presidency and will host its next summit in June.

Looking further afield, Kazakhstan also aims to establish defence cooperation with states and organisations beyond its region. For this reason, Kazakhstan has been closely cooperating with NATO on security and other defence-related issues. Kazakhstan has designated a motorized  infantry battalion called KAZBAT for potential deployment in NATO-led peace support operations, under UN Security Council mandates. Kazakhstan has also been cooperating with NATO in the fight against terrorism through the Partnership Action Plan on Terrorism (PAP-T). This involves sharing information and analysis with NATO, enhancing national counter-terrorist capabilities and improving border security.The country has also been participating for a number of years in the multinational training exercise Steppe Eagle, which has played an important role in the development of Kazakhstan’s Armed Forces and its peacekeeping potential.

As Kazakhstan celebrates the 25th anniversary of its Armed Forces, we can be certain that the future of the country’s defence is clear. Kazakhstan’s military has all the attributes and possibilities to play an important role in contribution to peace and security at home and around the world. But it will also be important to build on the level of cooperation that has been established between our armed forces and other defence organisations. Through international collaboration, as well as joint military exercises and initiatives, Kazakhstan and its armed forces will be able to more effectively strengthen regional and global security in order to keep our citizens safe.




Cooperation between Kazakhstan, Qatar to have international impact

There are plenty of differences between Qatar and Kazakhstan as even the briefest glance at a map of the world will show. But despite these big contrasts in size, geography and climate, there are also many surprising similarities which go beyond a shared religion of the majority of their populations.

Both countries, for example, have for centuries been on global trade routes, which has given our peoples an outward outlook. Kazakhstan and Qatar, too, are rich in oil and gas resources, which have helped transform the prosperity of our people. Qatar has the world’s third largest reserves of natural gas and is already the biggest exporter of liquid natural gas.

But both countries are already looking towards a post-fossil fuel world. National strategies have already been put in place, backed by major investment, to help diversify our economies. This includes a priority given to investing in the education of our young people.

Our two countries have also been markedly successful in forging our own path in the world. In global terms, we may be relatively young nations but we already are seen to have distinctive voices and to be champions for dialogue and cooperation.

We have worked hard to build strong relations with our neighbours and forge alliances around the world with countries, big and small. Both nations are also seen as important members of global efforts to counter terrorism and extremism.

Given this shared outlook and values, the strong and growing friendship between the two countries is no surprise. This relationship was cemented by the visit of the Emir of Qatar to Astana in 2014 and of President Nursultan Nazarbayev to Doha in the following year, which led to a new determination to strengthen economic ties and cooperation on foreign policy.

Assessing the progress made in the last two years was high on the agenda when Kazakh Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov visited Qatar on April 23. In discussions with the Emir and senior members of the government, both sides were pleased with the increased financial and commercial links between the two countries but also saw plenty of scope to deepen them in the years ahead.

Kazakhstan’s ambitious privatisation plans, for example, offer an opportunity for Qatar to increase partnerships. Islamic finance, for which the new Astana International Financial Centre will be a regional base, is clearly another area for cooperation.

With its growing interest in renewable energy and green technology, there is also expected to be considerable interest in Qatar’s contribution to EXPO 2017. It is for the same reason that the Emir was given a personal invitation from President Nazarbayev to participate in the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation’s first summit on Science and Technology in Astana in September.

But with tensions increasing across the world, it was understandable that the talks went well beyond bilateral relations. This is particularly relevant now that Kazakhstan has the responsibility of sitting on the United Nations Security Council. The continuing tragedy of Syria – and its impact on the region and beyond – was a major topic of discussion.

Through the Astana Process, Kazakhstan is helping create conditions where dialogue continues and trust is built. There are many barriers to overcome but the goal is to make it easier, step by painful step, to find solutions. Widening participation to include countries, such as Qatar and others from the Arab world, if it can be agreed, might help remove obstacles to progress.

Even a decade ago, it is unlikely many foreign policy experts would have predicted the influence and status of Qatar and Kazakhstan today in the international community. The more this influence is used to build prosperity and promote peace and cooperation, the better for the world.



Kazakhstan’s embrace of diversity helps build national unity

A strong sense of national identity is perhaps the most important resource a country can have. Societies which possess these feelings of pride and belonging can grasp opportunities more easily and, perhaps even more importantly, work together to overcome challenges.

We see this national resilience in action around the world in the face of natural disasters or, all too frequently today, when terrorism strikes. Where there is a clear national identity, societies respond to such outrages calmly and with increased solidarity, which prevents the divisions and fear which are, of course, the aim of the terrorists.

In the past, national identity was perhaps easier to shape. When the global flow of people was much slower and less common, countries were more likely to be made up of those with similar ethnic backgrounds, experiences and language. But that’s no longer the case. With widespread migration, the challenge many countries have faced is maintaining or forging a strong sense of national identity from a much more diverse population.

The United States, whose population is overwhelmingly made up of immigrants who moved to build a new life, is a clear example of how this can be achieved. In its own way, Kazakhstan, too, has a huge amount in which to take pride.

From a population made up of a bewildering variety of nationalities and ethnic groupings – many of whom were forced to settle here – a cohesive society has been created in which all, regardless of background, are valued and can make their full contribution. It has enabled our country to plot a distinctive course, both domestically and internationally, over the last 25 years.

It is a sense of national identity deeply rooted in our land, our traditions, shared experiences and values. These links, as President Nursultan Nazarbayev said in his seminal opinion, “Course towards the future: modernisation of Kazakhstan’s identity,” must be protected and nurtured. It would be reckless to throw them away as they are the foundation on which our success has been built.

But it is also important, as the President added, that we don’t fool ourselves into thinking our national identity should be frozen. With change accelerating in our world, the nations who will be best able to cope and thrive in the decades ahead will be those with the courage to continue changing themselves. This includes taking the steps necessary to strengthen and modernise their national identities by being ready to shed those aspects which are out-of-date and will increasingly act as barriers to progress.

It is why together with programmes already begun to diversify and strengthen our economy and speed up political reform, the President has now set out a clear vision to modernise Kazakhstan’s sense of national identity along with concrete steps to help deliver this ambition. It is another sign of the determination to ensure the country is fit and ready to chart its way through what is a globally uncertain era.

It is an identity which, in some ways, will strengthen those connections with our past experience. There is nothing new, for example, about making sure our economy and way of life are sustainable. Living in tune with our environment, husbanding resources for future generations, was what our ancestors did naturally for centuries.

In the past, too, those who lived on land were open to new ideas and influences. Kazakhstan was then, as it is now, a place where cultures and civilisations met. This openness has, of course, also been one of the defining characteristics of modern Kazakhstan in its first 25 years and a major reason for our success.

But it is an approach we can’t take for granted. We have to have a willingness to continue to look and respond to what is happening beyond our borders. Unless countries are ready to learn and adapt from what we see, they will find themselves ill-prepared both for global storms which inevitably hit or to take advantage of new opportunities which change brings.

This requires, as we have said before, continued investment in education. It also needs confidence to keep modernising our national identity while preserving what makes our country and people special. It is the definition of a modern patriotism and a country which looks to the future with confidence.



Education, individuals are the keys to Kazakhstan’s continuing success

Investment in our young people has been one of the guiding principles of Kazakhstan since the earliest days of independence. The Bolashak programme, set up as far back as 1993, was, for example, a powerful symbol of our new country’s confidence and belief in the power of education as well as our openness to outside ideas.

A society lacking confidence in the future would not have had the courage to send its brightest young people to be educated abroad. Kazakhstan has reaped rich rewards from the thousands of students who have returned to work here after learning at some of the world’s best universities.

At the same time, we have seen investment in our home-grown educational institutes along with the imposition of high academic standards and recruitment of top-class staff. The result is that our universities now have a fast-growing reputation and are attracting students not just from Kazakhstan but from neighbouring countries.

But as President Nursultan Nazarbayev said April 12 in his much-discussed opinion “Course towards the future: modernisation of Kazakhstan’s identity”, if education is to drive Kazakhstan’s continued success, it must also be universal. Our ambitions rest on ensuring that all our young people – indeed the entire workforce – have the skills, knowledge and qualities needed to make a positive mark on the 21st Century.

The reasons are clear. We live in an era where the world of work is faster than ever. Industries will disappear or transform. Entire professions will become redundant. Giving people the ability to find a role in the modern economy and to adapt as sectors and professions change will be essential to both individual and national prosperity.

This is one of the major challenges facing all countries not just Kazakhstan. The societies which thrive economically, socially and in terms of global influence, will be those which find and put in place the right answers. It is why the investment that Kazakhstan is making in education – among the highest globally as a share of government spending – is so important.

What was also interesting was that the President saw the solution as education in its widest form. He made clear, of course, just how essential doctors and engineers were to the country’s future. But he also stressed the importance of the humanities and promised to increase support for them in our universities.

As well as those with scientific skills, we need, he said, those “who understand modernity and the future well.” His call to translate the most influential texts in this area into Kazakh for pupils to have ready access to them also underlined the roles that schools will play in building this knowledge.

Ensuring the young generation can compete globally is also, of course, behind the new emphasis given to English in schools. And it will be helped as well by the gradual switch to the Latin alphabet for the Kazakh language.

There will, the President said, be nothing sudden about this change. It will follow the evolutionary approach which has served Kazakhstan well in so many areas since independence. But he made clear that, within a decade, he wanted the change to be underway.

Along with computer literacy and knowledge of foreign languages, he put cultural openness at the heart of the Digital Kazakhstan programme. This includes an ambition for our country to be known not just for its rich natural resources and its remarkable success in the foreign policy arena but also for its cultural achievements.

He rightly pointed out the major part that Hollywood and American culture as a whole has played in growing and maintaining its influence and stature in the world. It has been a key factor in the appeal of U.S. soft power.

No country can compete, of course, with the universal attraction of American music or films. But Kazakhstan has been perhaps too shy at promoting the achievements of its artists, entrepreneurs and scientists beyond its borders. It has perhaps too often relied instead on statistics to showcase its progress internationally.

Dry data, no matter how impressive, is not, however as powerful as human stories for communication. By identifying Kazakhs whose personal stories could help give these achievements colour and life, we can more successfully promote Kazakhstan around the world. The initiative will have another benefit. It will also provide clear role models for our own young people to emulate. By raising their ambitions, it will, in turn, create more success stories and faster progress.



Kazakhstan continues historic focus on science and innovation

It lasted less than two hours, but the impact of the first manned space flight on April 12, 1961 still rings around the world more than half a century later. The individual bravery of Yuri Gagarin, combined with the extraordinary vision and engineering brilliance which put him into orbit, remains a powerful symbol of how the most difficult challenges can be overcome. Space travel continues to inspire and encourage humanity to raise our sights.

It is why the traditional Cosmonautics Day marked on April 12 has now spread from former Soviet countries. The date is now officially recognised globally as the International Day of Human Space Flight. But there are very few countries where the day has more resonance than here in Kazakhstan.

This is not just because it was from the Baikonur Cosmodrome that Gagarin, as well as the first Sputnik four years before, started their epoch-making flights. It is also because Baikonur has played a major role in helping Kazakhstan build its own advanced space and science capability.    

These resources, in today’s global knowledge economy, have never been more important. Last year, Kazakhstan signalled its determination, through the creation of the new Ministry of Defence and Aerospace Industry, to use them to drive the modernisation of the economy.

The aim was to bring together the expertise which, until then, had been spread across the government. Its new focus will help strengthen hi-tech industries and boost research and development as well as ensure the country’s security.   

It is not just in aerospace and defence where Kazakhstan has a remarkable history. The same is true in the nuclear sphere although this time the legacy has a very dark side. Our country is still struggling with the appalling human and environmental damage caused by nearly 500 nuclear weapon tests – the reason why Kazakhstan has been such a powerful champion of nuclear disarmament.

But nuclear technology can be harnessed, of course, for peaceful as well as destructive ends. As the world struggles to limit climate change, civilian nuclear power seems certain to be a key part of the solution for delivering prosperity without adding to emissions in the atmosphere. Our national expertise, along with our role as the world’s largest producer of uranium, is key to this vital change.   

These decades of experience, our security expertise and our good relations, of course, with the world’s leading nuclear powers explains why Kazakhstan was the obvious choice to host the International Atomic Energy Agency’s low enriched uranium fuel bank. By providing low enriched uranium, the bank will enable countries to develop and fuel their own civilian power programmes without raising fears about nuclear proliferation. It has rightly been described as a global “game-changer.”

Kazakhstan’s space and nuclear track record give the country an important asset. But big steps have also been taken to bolster the country’s science and technology potential right across the board. The establishment, for example of Nazarbayev University as a world-class institution, underlines the country’s ambitions as does the investment in Almaty’s Technological University.

This summer’s EXPO 2017 in Astana on sustainable energy will also give another powerful boost to the country’s scientific and technological fields.  The decision to focus on future energy will see Kazakhstan host the world’s major players in this vital sector and allow ideas to be shared and new developments showcased. The pooling of scientific knowledge is one of the main goals of the Summit on Science and Technology of the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation to be hosted later this year in Astana.

EXPO’s legacy will be important as well. The latest techniques have been used in preparing the exhibition site, which will help raise standards across the country’s building industry. Part of the site as well has been ear-marked to be used as a high-tech hub, as well as providing new facilities for students, staff and researchers at Nazarbayev University.

There is one other important asset, which should not be forgotten in looking at Kazakhstan’s potential in the industries of tomorrow – the country’s young generation. The investment being made in education and, in particular, science is paying off.

International studies have shown Kazakhstan’s pupils score better in math and science than, for example, their counterparts in Germany, the U.K., the United States, Poland and Australia. It is a great launch pad for the future.