Posts tagged Independence Day

Kazakhstan’s Independence Day Today

Since a nation has to start somewhere, it might as well be today, Dec. 16th.  Happy Birthday Kazakhstan and this revolves around a student demonstration that was in Almaty back in 1986 if I’m not mistaken.  Living in Astana removes me from the statue and area where the police came to straighten out the Kazakh students who were upset about a number of matters.  I have gotten various reports about what actually happened during this chaotic time, so I’ll move on to what I know happened at our university on Dec. 7th.  That was a significant day when the president of this country came and talked to the whole student body and faculty.  I was able to get a headset so I heard what he was saying in Russian with the simultaneous English translation.  I took notes as fast as I could and this is just the skeletal version of his inspiring talk to the group assembled in the atrium

He started out by saying that the OSCE summit meeting brought in 5,000 intl. guests, 1,500 journalists from all over the world.

The President claimed that 4,000 students eventually will come to our university but that there are 484 students presently. Half the students are used to winning medals and awards in academics.  [We have the cream of the crop from all over Kazakhstan.] According to the President, five years ago it was proposed to start NU.  He spoke of the partners such as UCL, Harvard, Wisconsin, Pittsburg, Singapore, Berkeley and others that have been entrusted the task to teach the young people of Kazakhstan.  He said something to the effect directing his attention to the UCL teachers, “We trust our young people to you, thanks for accepting our invitation…it is a united effort as a team, with a great responsibility…”

Changes in education have happened rapidly since 1992 so they have needed specialists with modern knowledge so that is why there have been 20,000 Bolashak scholars who haver returned from their western education to take on responsible positions in Kazakhstan.  Also to be a part of the 21st century what is needed is modern innovations. So far we have 20 schools for gifted children in Kazakhstan [that will be feeder schools into NU]

According to the President, UNESCO revealed a survey where Kazakhstan came out first place out of 129 countries in education. However, what is needed are scientists in the innovation spheres.  He admitted that during Soviet times, students could get theory but were lagging behind.  He knows that most successful centers were those theorists who could do practical work.  He also said, “It’s not about amount of knowledge but the ability to use it”

The president made reference to the Industrial age but now we are past that and he wants to bring Kazakhstan to the international level with the Information Age.  He recognized that the paradigm is rapidly changing in this post-industrial era.

Accelerate the access to knowledge for all spheres. The President recognized that an American company will invest $35,000 in training their staff and bring about a profit of 1 million dollars.  He wondered aloud, “Think of what can happen if 50,000 American companies train their employees?”  He then asked a rhetorical question: ” Can Kazakh businesses do this? No, they cannot yet.”

The president stated that there should be a cult of continuing education in order to change the image of Kazakhstan. Be a practical class of people who know how to expect crisis and know what to do with it.  2/3rds of time should be used in training how to solve problems.

“You young people, born in 1991 don’t remember about Soviet Union was already lagging behind the western world by 50 years.”

Try to reach the individual policy of the modern technologists.  They won’t provide this knowledge for free because the world is competitive

Should use the modern technology and education of western teaching staff. The world is integrated, there is no other chance, this is a great opportunity.  Come to school to study and prove that you are the best intellectual.  Yet you need huge spiritual integrity, so you must work for benefit of your country. Get knowledge that is needed, have highest morals, be among and in the midst of other clever people. NU students should be an example. The very best time to be creative and innovate is 25-30 years of age.”  Then the President gave examples of Newton and other scientists.

“Serve people, be generous, have a noble heart, that is the key mission.”

Some may think to be successful is to have a house, etc. but more important is health of students, join sports team, follow example of foreign universities with their students’ involvement in sports

Day of Independence coming up soon – hard work by past students who sacrificed, they should be respected because they are the strength of motherland.  Now today’s students should:

1)    construct strong state of unity in Kazakshtan

2)    have tolerance

3)    be innovating

The president mentioned about Kyrgyzstan and the lack of peace there, he thought it was about everyone saving himself last spring.  He said, “My young talented friends, set high objectives, witness achievements…Be careful with peace and serenity.”

He said, “Only education can help us, the Future – generation of ideas for the good of our Motherland.”  He further inspired the students with this final word, “the key task is to respond to the global level and its example, I wish you great success.”

The President took questions and then he had other dignitaries give talks and words of inspiration.  What a day to remember for all the students, they had their photo taken with the President.  This pep talk was very much needed because these students have been working hard at the university and now they are on vacation.

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“Why We LOVE the U.S.” – Happy Fourth of July!!!

My economist husband reads a great deal of different material on-line and he sent me the link below. He knew I would appreciate it. He does that often and I benefit while I, in turn, send him links that I know he is tracking with and he has MANY interests.

The other night I watched “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”  I believe this is a classic that should be viewed yearly, right around Fourth of July.  Frank Capra masterfully directed this B&W movie in 1939 starring Jean Arthur, Jimmy Stewart and other characters found in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” It gives me a fresh perspective about our American democracy and just how fragile it really is.  For many who have lived in the former Soviet Union, they know what it is like to NOT have our cherished freedoms.

Read the following and if you are a westerner, especially an American – BE VERY THANKFUL FOR THE FREEDOMS YOU ENJOY!!!

Independence Day in Siberia

From a former Soviet Army truck driver, I learned the blessings of being an American.


My “there but for the grace of God” moment came on March 30, 2005. On that day, I found myself in the musty, bare apartment of 75-year-old Josef Katz, a former Soviet army truck driver who lived in the industrial wasteland of Achinsk, Siberia.

I had come to learn about the Jewish aid organization that provided him basic necessities each week, but what touched me most wasn’t his present poverty. It was the story he told me about his past, of the steps that carried him to a cramped and crumbling apartment with a vista limited to the concrete courtyard separating his warehouse of a building from the others just like it—and how it could have been my own family’s.

Like the many political prisoners who made Siberia synonymous with exile, Katz was born elsewhere. In his case, it was Ukraine, where he lived in a small town until World War II. Then, in 1944, he was packed onto a train, sent to a concentration camp and separated from his family. He managed to hang on until the next year when, at the age of 15, he was liberated by American soldiers.

Being just a boy, when the GIs—”angels” he called them—offered to take him to the United States, he thought only of finding his parents. So he turned down the soldiers’ offer. Half-starved and penniless, Katz could barely walk. Yet he made it back home, where he discovered that he alone from his family had survived.

There was a neighbor who recognized him and took him in. She spent a year nursing him back to health, and he in turn spent two years after that working to repay her. By then he was old enough to realize what he had lost by not going to America. But it was too late. He entered his mandatory military service in the Soviet army and was sent to a base in Siberia.

After his release Katz found work as a driver in Achinsk, where the grayness of the buildings, streets and perpetual slush penetrates the bones more deeply than the chill. It was in Achinsk that he, as he put it, “lived, worked and grew old.”

Katz’s decision was long made by the time I met him in his apartment five years ago. But that didn’t mean the wound of a life that might have been wasn’t fresh. When I asked him whether he regretted his choice, tears welled up.

“It was the biggest mistake I ever made,” he answered. “Many times I was crying in my heart that I missed that chance.”

My eyes weren’t dry, either. But I can’t claim it was solely compassion that moved me. It was also deep gratitude.

My own family lived in parts of Eastern Europe that later came under Soviet control. And they, too, were buffeted by historic forces of tragedy and opportunity.

The discrimination and hardship visited on Jews in the Czarist army caused my great-grandfather’s parents to have him smuggled out of Russia at the age of 14 before he could be conscripted. Against a backdrop of anti-Jewish pogroms, the prospect of building a better life convinced my great-great-grandmother to sell her home so that she, her husband and their 10 children could join the huddled masses reaching the New York shore in 1895.

Had they wavered, they and their offspring would also have grown up to face the ravages of World War II and—had any survived—a life of stifled hopes under Soviet Communism.

As their descendant, I would not have had the superlative public education where even as a student journalist I was able to test the bounds of free speech. I would not have gained the entrée and financial aid at Cornell, one of the country’s finest universities, that opened the door to the career of my choice. I would not have been able to worship freely as a Jew, to recite the Passover declaration loudly and publicly that “on this festival of freedom we pray that liberty will come to all.”

On Independence Day, I am acutely aware of the remarkable gifts I have been given because of decisions my forebears made, risks they took because of their conviction that America would receive and favor them. Because they were able to seize opportunity rather than let it slip away.

In a godforsaken apartment in Achinsk, I understood the blessings of being an American.

Ms. Krieger is the Washington bureau chief of the Jerusalem Post.

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Sadness, Much Sadness and Going Away Party

Yesterday morning I was greeted with the very sad news that a Kazakh colleague’s daughter had died in childbirth, the baby grandson survived the delivery but this woman’s only daughter died.  Compound that with the heartbreaking fact that this same Kazakh woman had just lost her husband less than 50 days ago.  Sadness, much sadness.  Yesterday was also scheduled a going away party for me by one of the four rooms of teachers down in the bowels of our Language center.  These ladies are known to put on the best parties and they put one on for me, in my honor because I am going away from this place of employment.  I’m NOT leaving Kazakhstan!!! (unless someone else knows something differently.) In any case, I hadn’t thought about it before but those who attended my party are not Kazakh, except for one, but rather they are Kazakhstani. 

That perhaps has been the crux of my problem, I don’t see people and their ethnicity, I see my fellow teachers and my students as PEOPLE!!!  Some of these ladies were born in Russia, another in China, one is of Korean background, others are mixed or of Russian ethnicity, half of them were born in Almaty.  I told these ladies that this photo of them would be put in my blog, they seemed to have no problem with that.  No need for a written consent form.  However, I warned them that I am considered an “Enemy of the People.”  That didn’t seem to deter them either from being seen with me, a purged member of the pack.  One Kazakh lady’s sister was purged this past summer and another teacher in this picture was also purged.  Empathy draws all kinds of ethnicities together.  Perhaps that is why these ladies were brave enough to be seen with me, an American castoff, banished from the group of about fifty English teachers who are Kazakh and Kazakhstani.

The delicious spread they brought together for this going away party was superb.  They like to use any excuse for a party, I guess, even an emotional, going away party.  My favorite dish was a colorful confetti looking salad brought by Alla, Aigerim brought pancakes with cottage cheese filling, Irina brought mushrooms and pickles, Luba brought an apple cake, other salads, one with herring, were in the mix along with chocolates and goodies.  We talked about what we would all be doing during the winter break, many said they would sleep, bake, host people, play with grandchild, one joked that she would be writing a proposal for a conference paper for the next two-three weeks.  One lady said that she had just dreamt about creating a new syllabus about Stylistics, actually that was a nightmare because she didn’t know where to begin.  We laughed, we talked, we ate and drank tea in fine party spirit.

However, our thoughts were on our colleague who was grieving her huge loss.  Before the party, I set out to buy a sympathy card.  I went across campus to our university bookstore and found a beautiful, handmade card.  Two irritations normally crop up when shopping and I expressed this at the party.  One, they never seem to have envelopes to go with the card you buy in this country.  So, I bought a black piece of paper that was fashioned into a kind of receptacle for everyone who signed it and added money for the grieving mother and widow.  Second, no one ever seems to have change for a Kazakh banknote of 5,000 tenge.  That was all I had and it took about five minutes for the vendor to run down the appropriate change for me.  Now, if I express this sort of irritation that all the others agreed as a common perplexity, does that mean I hate this country?  No, I’m just venting here on this blog as I would back in the U.S. about something mundane but an unnecessary nuisance.

The way I figure it, the person who handmade the card could just as easily made by hand an envelope to sell with the card.  However, I might have an explanation for why shop vendors never have enough change when you pull out a 5,000 or 10,000 tenge note.  They are either declaring that they don’t do too much business and they don’t care whether they sell me the card or not. OR, this is to serve notice to potential thieves: “if you intend to steal from our shop, sorry we don’t have any extra money around for you to loot!”  There seems to be a twisted supply and demand about making proper change in this once planned economy gone market economy.  They need to work out the wrinkles on that one.

In the late afternoon, more disappointment to learn from my American colleague whose visa expired yesterday but the powers that be did not have the proper stamp to put in his passport. They are out of stamps, nada, nyet!!!  He has non-refundable tickets to leave Almaty for the U.S. early, early Saturday morning and so something will have to change in a hurry. Except today, Dec. 16 is Independence Day for Kazakhstan and all official offices are closed today and tomorrow.  His last shot at getting a proper visa to leave the country and return for spring semester to teach will have to happen on Friday.  What are the chances?  I’ll keep you posted but my stating this fact on this blog might make it look like someone isn’t doing their job right, so where are we to lay the blame? 

 (to be continued in tomorrow’s blog)

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