Kazakhstan Fetes Its President on Independence Day
Kazakhstan is greeting Independence Day in style on December 16, with a riot of celebrations to mark this year's special anniversary—20 years since the oil-rich Central Asian nation was propelled into statehood as the Soviet Union collapsed around it.As befits a special occasion in a country that knows how to throw a party, festivities are on a grand scale. New facilities are being opened across the country. The grandest of all is an arch reminiscent of Paris's Arc de Triomphe that President Nursultan Nazarbayev opened in Astana today. Standing 20 meters tall to represent the symbolic anniversary, the arch, called Infinity Land, is being billed as a symbol of Kazakhstan's statehood.Almaty hasn't done badly either, with the opening of a long-awaited metro system as a 20th-anniversary gift to the gridlocked city.More symbolically, Almaty has also gained a gigantic statue of none other than the president himself, who – according to the spin emanating from Astana – has spent the last two decades singlehandedly steering Kazakhstan into statehood.Nazarbayev has received an “endless flow” of congratulations from his adoring public, his press service reported, and “the letters’ authors link all the country’s achievements” with their president.Nazarbayev can certainly pat himself on the back for his nation-building skills: Twenty years ago Kazakhstan faced economic collapse and an uncertain political future. Now, its oil-fuelled economy is booming, incomes are rising, and Nazarbayev – who enjoys genuine public popularity – takes great pride in the country's much-vaunted ethnic harmony. At a reception for the independence holiday, he described his country as “one land, one people, one future.”Nazarbayev, 71, is also enormously proud of Kazakhstan’s political stability—though skeptics see it more as political stagnation. In power for two decades, under a special exemption Nazarbayev can stand for re-election as many times as he wishes in a country that’s never held a free and fair vote.This anniversary celebration didn’t go by without a few gifts for the man known as Leader of the Nation: Though he refused Kazakhstan’s highest honor, the People's Hero award, he accepted instead the Leader of the Nation medal in recognition of his services. He also agreed to a new national holiday in his honor: Day of the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, to be celebrated annually on December 1.Happy Independence Day, Kazakhstan!
Joanna Lillis is a journalist based in Almaty and author of Dark Shadows: Inside the Secret World of Kazakhstan.
Sign up for Eurasianet's free weekly newsletter. Support Eurasianet: Help keep our journalism open to all, and influenced by none.