Since independence in 1991, Kazakhstan’s ‘southern capital’, Almaty, has engaged in fairly extensive efforts at ‘Kazakhising’ local toponyms. Now the central arteries of the city, once part of the old Soviet planimetry, display ‘genuinely’ Kazakh names. Streets once bearing the names of Bolshevik icons like Kalinin and Kirov are now named after legendary heroes (Kabanbai Batyr) or other figures from Kazakhstan’s nomadic past (Bogenbai Batyr). The example of Furmanova ulitsa offers a fitting metaphor to describe the sense of political stagnation that pervades today’s Kazakhstan. A sense that much-needed change has been postponed until the inevitable, though not yet imminent, leadership change.
Externally, the Kazakhstani government continues to promote its image of internal dynamism and international leadership. Success in obtaining the rotating chairmanships of prestigious multinational organisations such as the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and OSCE is treated as an indicator of Kazakhstan’s international vitality. Data on GDP growth and economic vigour are often offered in support of this narrative.
However, when the situation is observed internally, it seems that Kazakhstan’s politico-economic evolution has definitely entered an intermediate stage, in which the (authoritarian) impetus of the 1990s and the 2000s has been replaced by the immobility typical of the end of an era.
Virtually every political conversation going on in the country touches sooner or later on the critical issue of what will happen when Nazarbayev leaves power. And debates on the President’s (political and biological) longevity are usually accompanied by speculations on the existence of potential arrangements for a pre-determined succession.
It was through this very prism that commentators analysed the reshuffle of late September 2012, when outgoing Prime Minister Karim Masimov was appointed to run the Presidential Administration. Similarly, in December 2011, the dismissal of Timur Kulibayev (one of Nazarbayev’s sons-in-law) from the chairmanship of Samruk-Kazyna, Kazakhstan’s sovereign fund, stimulated much debate about the importance of family connections for the presidential succession.