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By Kazhegeldin, Akezhan | Harvard International Review, Spring 2000 | Go to article overview

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Kazhegeldin, Akezhan, Harvard International Review


Abstract:

The largest country in Central Asia, Kazakhstan, has been an independent, democratic state for only 8 years. Currently, the country is in a catastrophic economic crisis. Funds are lacking for everything from baby formula for infants to pensions for the elderly. The envoys of the current president regularly travel to Washington to request credits and grants. But Kazakhstani democrats expect a different kind of aid from the US -- a form of aid that would benefit not only Kazakhstan, but the other newly independent Central Asian states as well. The people of Central Asia do indeed need the basic means to exist, but what they need most of all is the ability to earn these means within the framework of the global economy.

Text:

Misconceptions of Democracy and Capitalism in Kozakhston

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the West has been fascinated with the large expanse of Central Asia. Today, this region is the focus of struggle among many historical and political cross-currents affecting the developing world. The Central Asian republics purport to reform themselves, but are held back by pervasive corruption and the lack of civil society and democratic institutions. In addition, Islamic revivalism, often in militant forms, is now affecting Central Asia in complex ways.

The largest country in the region, Kazakhstan, has been an independent democratic state for only eight years. Currently, the country is in a catastrophic economic crisis. Funds are lacking for everything from baby formula for infants to pensions for the elderly. The envoys of the current president regularly travel to Washington to request credits and grants. But Kazakhstani democrats expect a different kind of aid from the United States--a form of aid that would benefit not only Kazakhstan, but the other newly independent Central Asian states as well. The people of Central Asia do indeed need the basic means to exist, but what they need most of all is the ability to earn these means within the framework of the global economy.

Capitalism in One Family

Kazakhstan is well-endowed with natural resources. In addition to oil, Kazakhstan has substantial deposits of almost all metals, including gold, aluminum, copper, titanium, uranium, and zinc, among others. All of these resources were used in one form or another under the Soviet regime. Kazakhstan was then one of the key regions that powered the growth of the military and industrial might of the Soviet Union. However, after the collapse of the USSR, Kazakhstan suffered deep economic decline. Since 1993, when I first became a cabinet member, I considered my main task to be attracting foreign investment. I travelled the world meeting with businessmen and touted our mineral resources, our highly qualified labor force, and the possibility of unlimited new markets. From 1993 to 1997 Kazakhstan was able to attract hundreds of Western, primarily US, companies. Their investments totalled US$9 billion dollars. Kazakhstan not only managed to avoid defaulting on the multi-billion dollar debt incurred by the previous regime, but created gold and hard-currency reserves of a size remarkable for a new post-Soviet country.

However, during this period Kazakhstan failed to achieve its most important goal: creating a firm foundation for democracy. As a liberalized economy formed, an authoritarian and anti-democratic regime was emerging in Kazakhstan. As novice politicians and technocrats, we believed that everything would develop on its own. My reform-minded colleagues and I thought that once a market economy was established, democracy would follow. We believed that once Western investments started flowing in, society would become transparent; once a middle class had emerged and defined its interests, a multi-party system would appear.

Unfortunately, we were wrong. In many of the former Soviet republics one can clearly see the possibility or the actual threat of new anti-democratic regimes arising.

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