Posts tagged Kazakshtan

More Information about THEE university in Kazakstan

The other day I started an article that was written by Joseph Kucera titled “Can a homegrown university in authoritarian Kazakhstan incubate reform?” Only time will tell but it is something to watch and I believe the rest of the world SHOULD be watching Kazakhstan. Here is the second part of the article:

The government’s original vision for the school aimed to create a new technocratic elite by focusing on science and engineering. But pressure from the foreign partners convinced Nazarbayev to include the school of humanities and social sciences, which is where things get difficult for a country that insists on controlling the public narrative.

Students are required to take a course called the History of Kazakhstan. It uses primary source documents to teach from a critical perspective rather than the government-approved version of history designed to promote patriotism more than stimulate thought. For example, one of the seminal events of the founding of modern Kazakhstan was a wave of protests in 1986, when Kazakhs opposed the Kremlin’s appointment of an ethnic Russian as first secretary of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan. The event is now portrayed as the awakening of a Kazakh political identity. But at the time, Nazarbayev, then the second-ranking official in Kazakhstan, publicly condemned the protests, a fact that is glossed over in official hagiographies.

Zbigniew Wojnowski, a Polish-born, British-educated professor who teaches the course, wrote about one student’s reaction to this revelation in an academic association newsletter, “She did not altogether reject what she had believed before, and she refrained from drawing binary distinctions into ‘Western’ and ‘Kazakh’ views on the past. Still, she was visibly excited to learn something new. ‘You know, I have never worked with primary sources before, and I assumed it had all been very simple: People strove for independence, and then they won. That’s what we were taught at school, but now I’m just not sure what to think.’”

By hiring professors accustomed to academic freedom, the authorities have begun a process they can’t control, says Alima Bissenova, an anthropology professor who grew up in Kazakhstan and earned a Ph.D. at Cornell. “You can’t control people, and if you try to control them, they’ll leave. If they started to tell me what to teach, I’ll leave,” she says. While the university does not use the tenure system, the law regulating the university guarantees academic freedom, and so far, “the authorities have fully respected that,” Katsu says.

Bissenova compared Nazarbayev University to the Tsarskoye Selo Lyceum, the Russian imperial high school, which in the 19th century brought in French and German teachers to educate the children of the elite and ended up producing liberal rebels like Alexander Pushkin. “So academics are sowing the seeds of liberal education on foreign soil without knowing what will grow out of it,” she says. “And nobody completely controls this process — not academics themselves, not the administration of N.U., not Nazarbayev. Nobody knows what will grow and how these seeds will adapt and what kind of hybrids will emerge. Some people, from all sides, might not like what will grow.”

But this, at least in part, is the idea. “We decided to bring some Western values and see how they can work and if our population and our intellectual circles are ready to accept them,” says Yerbol Orynbayev, an assistant to President Nazarbayev who has been closely involved in the development of the university.

The government has not shown much interest in adopting liberal values, however, at least in the short term. The parliament contains no opposition members, and the country has systematically closed down independent newspapers and jailed opposition activists on spurious charges. Even small protests are quickly shut down and their participants arrested. Kazakhstan’s ratings on political and civic freedom are lower than when it gained independence, according to Washington-based human rights organization Freedom House, which labels the country “not free.”

At the same time, always mindful of its image abroad, Kazakhstan has paid millions to lobbyists, PR companies and think tanks in Washington and European capitals to promote an image of a progressive, modernizing country. Nazarbayev University — whether or not it turns out to be a truly liberalizing force — neatly dovetails with those efforts. And some critics, when the university was set up, noted that a side benefit of educating the country’s youth at home rather than overseas was that it would limit their exposure to possibly dangerously liberal ideas from abroad.

(to be continued)

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Kazakh Economy: Bull or “Buddy Bear” Market?

I’m “Buddy Bear” back! Subscribers to my blog, did you miss me?  Well, I missed you too while I had my MacBook in the shop getting extra memory installed.  I went through 48 hours of withdrawal from my laptop but tried to get by on my old trusty Dell and my iPod Touch. That didn’t work so well because our Internet went out at home and was intermittent at work.  You may think this is a lot of “bull” but no, it is just another day where I will show off the Buddy Bear.  The one I am featuring first is from the Netherlands, I should have asked a Dutch person I know what they think the artist meant with the “X” eye and belly button?  Also I’m featuring a Buddy Bear from Afghanistan, which portrays a mother comforting a child who is crying with a backdrop of beautiful mountains.  I have many more photos I took of the Buddy Bears.  I suppose I could blog a whole month doing the Buddy Bears but I’ll have to stop at some point.  Enjoy them while you can, they look better in bear-person of course.  But go see them and then take a ride up the Baiterek to get a view of the city of Astana!

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Sunrise over Kok Tobe

PB020093This photo was taken from my flat on the east side balcony of a slow burning, pinkish sunrise. This was before the big snow that we had that is still hanging on even a week later.  Feeling low yesterday after having my two classes of students over on Saturdayafternooon and evening. Have to make up my classes ahead of time due to Kurbanait holiday next Friday, November 27th. 

Had three American visitors come to my first class today. They listened to three powerpoint presentations by my Kazakh students, who I’m proud to say, did a good job.  The ppts continue to get better and better.  Of course there were the usual snafus with some of the ppts not showing up because they are pptx, another version.  As usual, we were kicked out of our classroom right at 11:45 a.m. when we were initially scheduled to be there up to 11:50 with our academic class by a foundations level class. No allowances for getting our class to pick up their papers and put their coats on, we continued outside in the hallway.  The registrar better not do this kind of scheduling trick next semester where teachers are back to back supposedly having one class end at 11:50 and another start at 11:50.  Obviously whoever set this schedule up are NOT teachers!!!

Anyway, I was glad for the visitors’ comments and questions, there will be more coming to see these students’ presentations in the next week. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, the long, long semester is almost done!

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Assorted photos of Almaty’s scenery


Icicles, billboards and manhole covers, that is my life in Almaty’s scenery right now.  Also, socializing by going to parties and having people over is another part of my life.  I have a stack of books to read, however, I am reading my students’ papers with great delight.  I have run out of words for now but just know that icicles dominate the scenery, as does the black ice on the sidewalks.  I like the particular billboard above because it is in both Russian and Kazakh about building up the country of Kazakhstan.  Notice the cloud is in the shape of Kazakhstan, also the circular object is the top part of the yurt.  Finally, the manhole covers usually COVER the manholes but this one particular hole was left uncovered.  I live in a world where there are MORE questions than answers.  After a while you just get used to not knowing why things are the way they are.  Whatever will be, will be.

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