The Future of “World Class” Slave Mentality

Having lived in Astana, Kazakhstan for one year almost a year ago, I was in the very  bowels of the new university’s glorious start. The university once opened fall of 2010 has since been named after the current president of Kazakhstan.  I witnessed first hand how much was/is being invested into the higher education of young Kazakh students. I had many Bolashak [means “future” in Kazakh] scholars who were my working colleagues and friends. After they had lived in the U.S. or U.K. one or two years, they seemed to empathize with me as the westerner trying to wade my way through the murky politics of the new university.

However, I also saw that for their own protection they had to watch out for themselves while working unswervingly for the concept of the greater good, the future of Kazakhstan.  When I was no longer a part of the game of striving and finding my place, they struggled on without me in their own energy.  I believe the “slave mentality” existed for these young people on the lower end of the pole. Many Bolashak scholars were not paid much. Some of these highly trained individuals fared far worse if they could only secure jobs in the national universities in the old part of Astana or Almaty (former capital in southern Kazakhstan).  Supposedly obedience and slavery to the old order would help them rise to the top.

Astana means “capital” in Kazakh.  It was also known as Akmola and Akmolinsk [white grave] after it had been named during the Soviet era Tselinograd. Watch, there will be a name change soon to reflect the vision of the current president, it will undoubtedly be named after him.  “Astana” is just a place holder name.

This new city on the flat steppe may seem artificial with its strange architecture but it certainly gets your attention since most of the time there is extreme wind and cold to hamper its reputation as a capital city to be admired.  Perhaps the president has done much good in moving the capital from the south of Kazakhstan to the middle of nowhere in the north, but at what cost? Think slavery with the internal migrants (sex slaves from the rural areas of Kazakhstan in the brothels of Almaty and Astana) and the labor force who have been brought in from Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to build these elaborate buildings.

I know for a fact the new university in Astana wants to be considered “world-class” but that can hardly be a reality if most of the people in the western world don’t even know about Kazakhstan.  That has to be infuriating and humbling for those Bolashak scholars who travel to U.K. Canada or U.S.  Yes, to discover people don’t even know their dear country, which they represent and is the ninth largest in the world, actually exists.

I think there is something very artificial about living in such a climate, no different from existing in the summer heat of Arizona where temperatures soar to 100 degrees F or more days on end. You can’t help but admire those who have lived in Astana for over 20-30 years.  The pecking order begins there whether you have any expertise in your field or not, if you have survived this city of wind and cold, you are to be reckoned with.  Note that those who are in the different ministries are the older generation who call the shots. They are to be respected and obeyed. The country will continue to lumber and lurch forward, all the while I wish the best for the Bolashak generation.  Please read this blog that shows photos of Astana and deals with his insights on Bolashak and Astana. “Molapse” was a fellow teaching colleague of mine when we taught at another “world class university” in Almaty. ‘Nuff said.

2 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    olzhas said,

    I have a small technical point – in your blog you keep referring to Astana’s cold climate as something extreme and impossible to live in, but it’s actually not much colder than other northern areas, especially Semey(East Kazakhstan, part of West Syberia) which is where I am coming from. Our ancestors have lived in conditions like that for centuries so it might be misleading to think of people’s living there as of metaphore for their slave mentality. Besides that I liked your insights in this piece. Not that I didn’t know about kazakhs’ faults, but it’s good to read a thinking Westerner’s opinion on my country.Thanks!

  2. 2

    kazaknomad said,

    Thanks Olzhas for your comment. You are right it is not cold the whole year in Astana, there are about three or four months where there is nice weather, bike riding kind of weather. Otherwise, I heard someone say that a Kazakh told them they get headaches if it doesn’t get cold enough for him. I think it must have been a joke. I can’t even imagine someone yearning to have cold, cold weather. I think if the climate is exaggerated enough for those people who arrive in Astana, then their expectations are such that they can handle the good days that are not so cold. They may expect worse and then are surprised that they survived. Pity those foreigners who show up not knowing what to expect and then they hightail it out of Astana. I come from cold country where I am from in northern Minnesota. We almost pride ourselves in weathering the adverse conditions. I think Kazakhs should be equally proud of surviving the cold AND hot temperatures as well.


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