Kazakhstan's Culture: Eurasian Direction
The late 20th-early 21st centuries are marked by the coinage of the universal term "globalism" in the lexicon. My computer, by the way, still underlines this neologism and its derivatives with a red wavy line. Meanwhile, resistance to the unification of the whole of humanity has been growing: peaceful rallies held by opponents of globalisation in many countries often turn into fierce fighting against law-enforcement forces and end in arson incidents and arrests. Perhaps the reason for this is that people try to defend their identity in this way…
Sometimes I think about how the crew of a ship crossing the Equator would feel if they were to dress in traditional warm coats stuffed with cotton and felt hats to protect them from the tropical heat. But on the white-hot Kazakh steppes these clothes are the most cooling ones when the sun bakes and the Earth's surface cracks and it is well above 50 degrees Celsius, the body temperature remains around 36-38 degrees; but someone used to a European lifestyle would get rid of all their clothes, open an umbrella, put a sunhat on and search for shade.
Surprisingly, simple examples of this kind assist in understanding the deep meaning of geopolitics, namely a delicate balance of various national interests in the world, diverse "food-supplying landscapes" and the coexistence of distinctive national cultures.
Geopolitical unawareness is a cause of misunderstanding between people and their unwillingness to put themselves in their neighbour's – housemate's, continent mate's or planet mate's – shoes.
Unfortunately, misunderstanding was the "author" of dangerous calls like "Let us make a world revolution!" or "Deutschland uber alles!" Modern slogans like "Long live united Europe!” or "Antiglobalists of the world, unite!" also give rise to concern. Government bodies sanction or initiate the spread and realisation of such slogans and calls. Acts of violence are carried out against history and the peaceful and comfortable existence of humanity.
This draws greater attention to the unusual experience acquired by Kazakhstan, one of the few countries in the world whose everyday life brings the well-known Russian philosopher Ivan Ilyin's saying about one "nation of many peoples" to mind. This was said about Russia, but it is absolutely true about our country too. To this reflection of Ilyin we can add numerous excerpts from books and articles written by three generations of followers of the idea of Eurasianism to explain the difference between the continental and island mentalities and the mono-ethnic and multi-ethnic world outlooks.
Representatives of the European settled culture stiffen in bewilderment at the threshold of the felt dwelling of the nomads. Sometimes they, giving up their political correctness, even share their impressions with the "aborigines" and say: "We are for the first time seeing people who build imposing buildings for the dead, but felt dwellings for the living." The outsiders mean mausolea and yurts. But Russian scholar Leo Gumilev spoke enthusiastically about this very yurt – a great invention by the nomadic people because it is cool inside in summer and warm in winter. At any moment the nomads manage to pack their bags and move to another place, without leaving their property to the mercy of fate. By the way, an educated European person doesn't even think of being bewildered by the pyramids in northern Africa – mausolea of their kind in the ancient Egyptian way. However, the nomads' customs and manners are unusual to the European. At the same time, foreign guests who come from countries with a settled culture are delighted with the architecture of the present Kazakh capital, Astana, which combines the traditions of the ancestors with the proposals of modern architects. The steppe mentality's peculiarity is to respect and acknowledge the merits of stone and felt dwellings equally.
The 21st century has inherited the concerns and conflicts of the 20th. These are the never-ending problems of war and peace, the coexistence of different cultures and religions and geopolitical routine. The significance of the discoveries made by Eurasianists is increasingly obvious at the moment. Leo Gumilev said that history was not an art but a science and proved that the birth of one new ethnic group after another conformed to the laws of nature. Theoretical principles established by the Eurasianists faced fierce hostility and they were not accepted by either the West or the East. However, both fascist Germany and the communist USSR showed a biased interest in works written by Eurasianists and seized and confiscated their archives.
The full ban on works by Eurasianists was lifted only in the late 1980s just before the break-up of the USSR.
The Chinese understood this very well even in ancient times – one of their proverbs says it's better to be a dog in a peaceful time than a man in a chaotic period. However, during these precise tragic years of the 1980s, books written by Leo Gumilev reached the reader one after another – The Search for an Imaginary Kingdom, Ancient Rus and the Great Steppe, A Millennium around the Caspian, The End and Start Again, From Rus to Russia, The Black Legend and The Rhythms of Eurasia. Mr Gumilev turned out to be ready to explain and restore the right of a great intellectual achievement of the early 20th century – the teachings of the Eurasianists. By the way, all these works discuss our place in the world.
Almost all the books by Gumilev, as well as works by Russian Eurasianists published in the 1920s-1930s, hit the great current of "returned literature": from novels by Vladimir Nabokov to treatises by Leo Shestov and Nikolay Berdyayev. Books by the Eurasianists could well have been lost and remained unknown until God knows when. Only could a personality of a great scale produce a great revival of Eurasianism and tear it out of its intellectual lethargy. It was "the last Eurasianist", as Leo Gumilev called himself – "a great Eurasianist" as Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev called him.
The first Eurasian university was set up and named after Gumilev in Astana soon after the capital was moved there from Almaty. A bust of the great historian and ethnologist was put up at the main university building. This very building also hosts a museum devoted to the life and works of Gumilev with a large library of his books, as well as articles and books written by his predecessors and followers.
Fortunately, there is one country in the post-Soviet space which paid proper attention to the teaching of Eurasianism. It is recognised that it was Kazakhstan, the only country in the CIS that managed to find ways of overcoming an acute crisis of a moral, intellectual and cultural nature.
It was thanks to looking into the past unrestricted by Soviet-era dogmas and bans that this was possible, and a thorough study of the historical heritage and personalities and events from ancient times through to the present. Many sources which had not been available in the past were (and still are being) rediscovered and many studies were carried out into the histories of ethnic Kazakhs, Central Asia, the nomadic culture and their relations with other civilisations.
This breakthrough had an obvious impact on understanding the spiritual and cultural identity of the ethnic Kazakhs and creating a new intellectual and spiritual model for public life.
It is appropriate to briefly mention here a special scientific and cultural project which has been carried out in recent years – the Madeni Mura (Cultural Heritage) state programme. The programme, initiated by President Nazarbayev, is proof of modern Kazakhstan's involvement in world civilisation. In addition to everything else, it opens up the riches of our national spiritual treasures to the world.
Academic institutes of literature and the arts, philosophy, history and ethnography, linguistics and others, the National Library (based in Almaty) and the country's universities are involved in carrying out the programme. The programme is being carried out through two methods. The first is to build a huge bank of literary and architectural treasures of the ethnic Kazakhs, from conducting archaeological excavations to publishing literary heritage. This also includes searching for documentary records of the history and culture of ethnic Kazakhs in the archives and book stores in Russia, China, Iran, Turkey and France. Let us also recall the unprecedented progress in reclaiming the modern Kazakh vocabulary – the publication of the Great Kazakh-Russian Dictionary. Here we can also mention multi-volume explanatory, dialectological and phraseological dictionaries and the two-volume Kazakh Grammar.
The second method aims to publish the translations of works by foreign philosophers, linguists, historians, literary theorists, geographers and ethnographers into Kazakh. The world classics will be published in series of new translations. It should also be noted that Kazakh scientists now occupy a leading position in Oriental studies. Suffice to say that the Modern Oriental Studiesseries and other thematic magazines won full recognition with centres of oriental studies in foreign countries. In addition, it is Kazakhstan that translated rare Arabic, Persian and Turkic literary sources into Russian for the first time. This involvement played a role in setting up the Iranian-Persian and Chinese centres at the National Library. Indian and Japanese centres are expected to be opened at the National Library too.
Let us consider one example to assess the significance of the Cultural Heritage programme. The Literature and Arts Institute has been commissioned to prepare a 100-volume Kazakh folklore Babalar Sozi (Ancestors' Heritage) for publication. It will include prose, religious-ethical, novelistic, martial, heroic, historical and love epics; fairy tales; legends; sayings and proverbs; laments; and poetic debates accompanied by music… These wonderful creations of the national belles lettres remained almost unknown until recently. However, nothing from our rich national heritage should be missed out. And this is only one contract commissioned to the Literature and Arts Institute! In addition, the institute is preparing a five-volume series of Kazakh translations of the best works on musicology, several volumes on Kazakh theatres, the five-volume History of Kazakh Literature, collections of studies on Kazakh poets, writers and dramatists who wrote in Russian, German, Uighur and Korean. Another original supplement to the theoretical work by the institute is a project jointly carried out with the Kazakhstan national TV and radio company – the collection of the nine-disc Anthology of Kazakh National Instrumental Musicwhich offers our national musical heritage played by the best players of the national instrument, dombyra.
We should note that it is perhaps precisely the repertoire of the theatres that provides clear evidence that plays from "all countries and peoples" are presented on the Kazakh stage. The Auezov Theatre stages Sophocles's Oedipus the King and Gogol's The Government Inspector. It also hosts Shakespeare's Hamlet and The Taming of the Shrew. The great English dramatist is, in general, very popular in Kazakhstan as he is in all countries with a great theatrical tradition. The Almaty Lermontov Russian Theatre has staged Hamlet, so has Almaty's Youth Theatre (which has also staged Twelfth Night), the Astana Drama Theatre has performed Romeo and Juliet, the Uighur Theatre King Lear and Almaty's DTA (German Theatre) Lady Macbeth… Other plays by writers such as Anton Chekhov, Aleksandr Ostrovskiy, Ivan Turgenev, Federico Garcia Lorca and Moliere are also popular in the country, and so are the national Kazakh, Uighur and Korean folklores…
Self-identification by Kazakhs is harmoniously combined with similar process by over 100 ethnic groups which make up the undivided Kazakh nation. "We, the people of Kazakhstan,…" reads the Kazakh constitution. This harmonious coexistence is specifically ensured by the fact that ethnic Russians, ethnic Ukrainians, ethnic Germans, Tatars, Kurds, ethnic Polish and other ethnic groups living in our country do not lose their ties with their relatives outside Kazakhstan and do not forget their spiritual and cultural roots.
It is hard to find in Russia or other CIS countries anything similar to the Bolashak state programme under which young Kazakh boys and girls of any ethnic origin receive an education at the first-class universities of the world, from Cambridge and Oxford to the Moscow State University. Under the Bolashak programme Kazakhs will be studying at the Russian Academy of Theatre Arts (GITIS), Moscow's State Cinematography Institute and the St Petersburg Academy of Theatre, Cinema and Television this year for the first time. This is the practical implementation of the provision that the fully-fledged existence of a nation, including one as multiethnic and multi-confessional as Kazakhstan, is impossible without full involvement in the world experience, be it the economy or finance or literature or culture.
The current reforms in Kazakhstan were possible mainly thanks to President Nursultan Nazarbayev – a leader in unconditional Eurasian direction and a politician who has repeatedly advocated promising integration initiatives. Obviously, the theoretical basis for such initiatives is of Eurasian origin. And the result of these initiatives is expected to counter dangerous challenges through culture – the best uniting factor. The following law operates here: the better we know history, the better we feel in the modern world; the better our culture is protected, the more peace and prosperity we shall have in our country.
By Tatyana Frolovskaya
New Emphasis in Foreign Policy of Kazakhstan Murat Laumulin
Democracy Is a Development Priority Yerbulat Seylkhanov, Aygul Abylgazina
Kazakhstan ?apable of a Qualitative Economic Breakthrough Irina Ivankova
Kazakhstan – Socially Oriented State Roza Zharkynbayeva
Kazakhstan's Culture: Eurasian Direction Tatyana Frolovskaya
The Kazakhs: Pictures of a Millennium-Long Life Shaizada Mynzhasarova
The Great Silk Road: Architectural Treasures of the Steppe Arman Nurmukhambetov