WAISers: John Brademas in Kazakhstan

Former Congressman John Brademas, President Emeritus of New York University, continues to fly around the world like the young man on the trapeze.He has sent me reports on his latest voyages, beginning with a December 2004 participation in an international conference on "Kazakhstan: Building Bridges to the West". It was held in Almaty, the old capital of Kazakhstan, located in the extreme southeast of the vast country, not far from the Chinese border. In 1997, the President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbaev, decreed that the capital of the Republic should be moved from Almaty to Astana, a provincial town about a thousand kilometers to the north.  The decree did not sit well with the legislators and the commercial magnates--they had comfortable lives on Almaty--but Nazarbaev pushed the change. He argued that because Almaty is located in a seismic zone, funds earmarked for upgrading and maintaining the capital should not be spent on it. In addition, Almaty is too distant from the commercial axis that connects present-day Europe with Asia. Nazarbaev won, and Almaty lost its status as capital.  Founded originally in 1824 as a Russian fortress, Astana brings the capital away from China and closer to Russia.  It is still a raw, unattractive town.

The conference was funded by the Andreas Papandreou Foundation. George Papandreou and  Nurtai Abykayev convened the meeting.  Abykayev is  chairman of the Kazakhstan senate, and  must be at odds with Nazarbaev,  who fortunately was not there.  He would not have tolerated the criticism of his regime. John Brademas took part in a roundtable on "The Western Perspective: United States and  European Strategic Interests in Kazakhstan and Central Asia".  The strategic importance of Kazakhstan is obvious.  It is a huge country, stretching from China to the Caspian, and it has important oil reserves. Brademas was blunt in his account of the shortcomings of democracy in Kazakhstan; its one-man rule and the obvious intention of President Nuzarbaev to stay in power. Since Almary is resentful about its demotion by Nazarbaev. the criticism  was welcome. As a good Democrat, John Brademas  balanced that with a less than flattering account of the Bush administration.  A reference to the Ukraone suggests that the next undemocratic domino to fall should be Kazakhstan. Among the participants was  the former prime minister of Canada, Jean Chrétien. It remains to be seen what impact the conference will have on Kazakhstan politics.  Bill Ratliff visited Kazakhstan a year or two ago. He may have some comment.

Ronald Hilton 2005


last updated: April 16, 2005