Merry Christmas! Here’s my final installment to this five part series of answering 11 questions about Kazakhstan. I’ve had fun recalling scenarios that happened to me or things I thought about during my 3 1/2 years of teaching in Almaty and Astana. These questions asked by another foreigner were good, I thought. I invite those who feel more knowledgeable than me, to add your comments so we can all benefit. Not much is known about this BIG country of Kazakhstan. I would wish MORE people from the West would know and visit it. Here’s the last part:
6. What is the role of Multi National Companies in Kazakhstan? The multinational companies such as Deloitte, Citibank, Shell, Chevron and other oil companies all provided jobs for those Kazakhs who were well educated. It was said that a lawyer from Kazakhstan who knew Kazakh and English and how to write well could easily start out with a salary of six digits in US dollars. The incentive among young Kazakh people is to get hired in a multi national company for better pay and a chance to travel outside the country. Sorry, since I only worked in education I can’t answer that question very well. I DO know that in Almaty, where I taught English at the university, the emphasis was on business. Many of these students got jobs right away with the multinational companies once they graduated with their “western” degrees.
7. What are the key factors driving the economy and will this be sustainable in the long run? The country is flush with natural resources in minerals and oil. They are also the highest exporter of uranium, surpassing Canada, so supposedly they have money. However, I think that there are certain people who are getting the money and others who are languishing. They do not seem to know about philanthropy, they have been taught under the Soviet system that capitalists are greedy. So when capitalism was opened up to them, they are on the take and will take full advantage of “opportunities” that come their way legally or illegally.
With this kind of mentality to be out for number one, it is not sustainable. There is corruption and those who are at the bottom will rise up against this. I think we are already seeing this happen in western Kazakhstan with the strikes at the mines. Something is very much amiss in Kazakhstan with the “slave mentality.” I saw this worked out in the university where the higher-ups lorded it over those who were to be subservient. Nothing egalitarian about conducting staff or business meetings. The human trafficking is another issue that is not good. The traffickers are moving into Central Asia and Kazakhstan is a target as well as a harbor for those victims who are trafficked from other countries.
8. How do you view the standard of living in Kazakhstan (e.g. medical facilities / poverty gap / infrastructure / education)? Medical facilities in the big cities are adequate. I visited quite a few while in Almaty. But anything outside of the big cities are probably abysmal just judging by what I know of the educational system. Imagine having a doctor who cheated on his exams, he will not make a good doctor where there are real people with real life and death problems involved.
9. Comment on tourism in Kazakhstan. Tourism could be a great thing for Kazakhstan if they could get their beautiful and scenic areas cleaned up. Unfortunately, the Kazakhs do not know how to keep their environment pristine. My husband and I visited several of the nearby lakes to Almaty and the people just throw out their garbage so that it looks like a big trash dump. There is no civic pride in keeping their park areas beautiful. People will not go to far out of the way places where it is still untouched because the roads are so bad and they would have to really rough it to have that kind of adventure. Someone with an entrepreneurial spirit would have to take advantage of what is there but I suspect they would have to pay lots of bribes in order to get anything done. Such is the corruption that exists at every level of government, local, province and up to the top management on a national level.
10. Please comment on the cultural heritage of Kazakhs. I do not know that much about the Kazakhs’ cultural heritage since I don’t know their language and really didn’t study their history much. I did ask my students to tell me about their great grandparents. They did so with great pride. You are considered a good Kazakh if you know the names of your ancestors going back seven generations.
11. What is the impact of tightening government control on country legislation (registration of religious groups) This last question is very tricky. The tightening of control of a lot of things such as not letting blogs flourish is an example of no freedom of expression by young Kazakhs. This is the freakish thing about a young country that is run by older people who were schooled under the Soviet system. Their default button is to become more centralized and tighter controlled instead of less so. Picking on certain religious groups will only backfire but it is true they are afraid of extremist, terrorist groups. Once that goes awry like an Arab spring, then that will scare off the multinationals who bring in good business for their country. Trust is needed for peace and calm to reign throughout the land. So the leader of the country is doing a very delicate and dangerous dance. Keeping the terrorist influences at bay while being courted by the Chinese who are communist and trying to relinquish the fingerprints of the stranglehold that the Soviet past gave to them. There has not been a democracy in Kazakhstan and when the leader expires, the vacuum created by no future leader being groomed for succession will be the most awful thing to witness…”