Heritage and the Politics of Culture
As Eastern Europe hurtled toward revolution during the summer of 1989, Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev appointed Nursultan Nazarbayev First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) on 22 June. Although the hope was to stabilize the Kazakh SSR in the midst of growing nationalist movements inside and outside the USSR, Nazarbayev made several nationalist moves almost immediately, including proclaiming Kazakh as the state language.
While Nazarbayev later had a chance to become Gorbachev’s Vice President, he chose to remain in the Kazakh Republic, ultimately becoming President of Kazakhstan on 24 April 1990, a post he has held ever since. In that time, deftly balancing national interests between Russia, China, the West, and various democratic powers in Asia, he has forged a modern Kazakhstan with an increasingly distinct national and regional identity.
The result is a Kazakh Eurasianism, which places Kazakhstan at the center of a new pan-Turkic movement, separate from Turkey and increasingly independent from Russia and Russia’s version of Eurasianism.
This paper will trace Nazarbayev’s moves in forming a modern Kazakhstan, symbolized early by the creation of a new, modern capital city, Astana, and more recently in changes to the alphabet. Nazarbayev hopes that by returning Kazakhstan to its Turkic roots, while leaving footprints in Russia and Asia, Kazakhstan will find itself in a place where it will be able to negotiate and balance between East and West in a world in which Eurasia in increasingly front and center.