KAZAKHSTAN: Kazakhstan at Twelve: A Nation Reborn
Kassymzhomart Tokaev «View Bio

Today Kazakhstan celebrates the 12th anniversary of its independence. While 12 years is an instant in terms of history, for our country these years of major economic and democratic reforms under President Nursultan Nazarbayev`s leadership have equaled a whole era.

During these years, our people have not only shed the shackles of a totalitarian regime and a command economy, but have been confidently building a democratic society with a market economy. Our voluntary renunciation of nuclear weapons and our responsible approach to solving international problems, as well as our steadfast support of the fight against terrorism have earned Kazakhstan respect in the world.

The Wall Street Journal recently said Mr. Nazarbayev`s success in holding the country together and moving the economy from near-collapse to strong growth is a rare bright spot in the former Soviet Union.

Horst Kohler, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, also praised Kazakhstan`s economic progress over the past 10 years, which has seen rapid growth and increases in living standards, thanks to the country`s oil wealth, structural reforms and prudent macroeconomic management. Kazakhstan is now well advanced in its transition to a market economy. Proof positive of that came in August when the IMF closed its office in Kazakhstan, after we paid our debts to it eight years early and surpassed its guidelines.

Our economy, 80% of which is private, has grown an average of 10% a year since 2000, and 9.1% during January-September 2003. Gold and foreign currency reserves have grown to nearly US$8 billion. The National Fund to manage extra oil income, based on a Norwegian model, has built up reserves of US$3 billion, about 10% of GNP. More than US$25 billion in direct foreign investment has come into Kazakhstan over these years.

The most important result is that the people of Kazakhstan began to really feel in their lives positive fruits of those harsh economic reforms. Salaries and pensions are highest in Kazakhstan compared to other CIS countries, and we boast the highest per capita private bank deposits in the former Soviet Union.

President Nazarbayev, in his 2003 state of the nation address, said: Even during the most difficult years, I never promised golden mountains to the people. But I was promising the time would come and their lives would improve. Today I am delivering on that promise, as economic growth serves our most important goal, raising our people`s prosperity.

Serious political reforms and democratization accompanied economic achievements. Twelve years ago there was only one political party in Kazakhstan, the Communists; the Supreme Soviet was just the rubber-stamp for that partys policies; there were only a handful of state-owned newspapers, and non-governmental organizations were almost nonexistent. Today, there are 7 political parties, of which four have seats in the Parliament. More than 3,500 NGOs are active across the country in such important areas as developing civil society, education, environment and fostering entrepreneurial initiative. About 2,000 media outlets, 80% private and independent, satisfy the people`s thirst for information and critical analysis. In four years, Parliament has after intense debates approved 500 important laws making it a crucial branch of our democratic government.

Independent experts believe Kazakhstan today is a recognized leader in democratic and economic development in the CIS. A concurrent resolution of the U.S. Congress, introduced just days ago by a group of key lawmakers, said an independent and democratic Kazakhstan is the cornerstone of peace, stability, and prosperity in the vitally important region of Central Asia.

These achievements have become possible because peace and stability have reigned in our multiethnic and multireligious country of more than 100 ethnic groups and 40 religions since its very first days. It was no coincidence that Pope John Paul II called Kazakhstan an example of harmony between men and women of different origins and beliefs.

These achievements in 12 years of independence are a solid foundation for further building a developed and democratic Kazakhstan.

Kassymzhomart Tokaev is the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan. This article was originally published as a supplement section in The Washington Post on December 16, 2003