Struggle Between ‘New Kazakhstan’ And ‘Old Kazakhstan’ Seems To Be A Kind Of Nanay Wrestling – OpEd


Now, against the background of the floods that hit vast swathes of Western and Northern Kazakhstan and caused popular discontent with the authorities who proved unprepared in some places to cope with the element of water, Kazakhstani pro-regime propagandists are talking about how ‘Old Kazakhstan’ and the former Kazakh President, Nursultan Nazarbayev, have been trying to discredit the current Kazakh President, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

New Kazakhstan’, as Tokayev billed it, is a concept that is meant to imply the period of Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s rule after the events of January 2022. It has been and is used as the antithesis of ‘Old Kazakhstan’, which, as it was originally intended, should be associated with the period of Nazarbayev’s rule and those people who allegedly are longing for a return to the way things were under the first President of Kazakhstan. Tokayev’s supporters’ words, taken at face value, suggest that the latter ones are trying to discredit President Tokayev and regain the positions lost in recent years.

Yet both in Kazakhstan and abroad, very few people are willing to believe it. Because, first, there hardly seems to be any difference between what was then, under the presidency of Nursultan Nazarbayev, and what there is today, under the presidency of Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.  And if even there is one, it’s highly unlikely to be in the latter’s favor. When Nazarbayev took over Kazakhstan, it was the fourth largest of the fifteen Soviet\post-Soviet economies (after Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus). At the time of his resignation, in March 2019, his nation was already the second-largest of those economies (after Russia). During Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s five years in power, almost nothing in the country has positively changed. The only thing that can be noted as a change anyway is that prices have become too high and they keep increasing in the country. In 2022, Kazakhstan was experiencing higher inflation than most other CIS countries, except Ukraine on the territory of which, there was a war, that is continuing today. In May of 2023, the Central Asian nation had already overtaken Ukraine on this indicator – 15.9% vs. 15.3%. The Kazakh citizens are now hearing that the inflation rate in annual terms was reduced to 9,8% in 2023, due to the measures undertaken by the Kazakh government and central bank.

But such assertions raise doubts even among the leading Kazakhstani political experts. Kazakhstan now takes the 1st place in the EAEU in terms of inflation. In March 2024, prices increased compared to March 2023: in Kazakhstan, by 9.1%; in Russia, by 7.7%; in Belarus, by 5.6%; and in Kyrgyzstan, by 5.2%. In March 2024, compared to the same month last year, the largest increase in prices for services in the EAEU countries was recorded in Kazakhstan (+13.2%). In other words, Kazakhstan now is thinning the ‘safety margin’ accumulated earlier. In general, as may be seen from the above, there’s not much one can boast of.

And second, because there is very little difference between those, who were previously making up Nursultan Nazarbayev’s team and those who are now making up Tokayev’s team. These are largely the same people, just the positions they now occupy might be slightly different from what they occupied under Nazarbayev’s presidency. Let’s not go very far and take a look at who has not long ago been responsible for the information block at the Presidential Administration and is now at the helm of the government information policies. This is Aida Balayeva, a Kazakh politician who was Deputy Head of the Presidential administration of the Republic of Kazakhstan overseeing information policy in 2022-2023 and has been serving as the Minister of Culture and Information of Kazakhstan since 2 September 2023. This was her second appointment to this position. Previously, she held the same post in 2020-2022.

Even earlier, on 22 July 2019, Aida Balayeva was appointed as the Assistant to the second President of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. So, this all is her work history under the leadership of President Tokayev. From this, it is clear that Aida Balayeva has been and remains a very trustworthy member of the current Kazakh President’s team. The same probably can be said about the importance of her role in the first Kazakh President’s team. During Nursultan Nazarbayev’s presidency, from December 2014 to July 2019, Aida Balayeva served as the Head of the Department of Internal Policy of the Presidential Administration of Kazakhstan., in a piece entitled “Shapyrashty is the most talented tribe” and published on February 23, 2021, said: “Speaking the language of Indian castes, the members of the Shapyrashty tribe [belonging to the Senior zhuz] are Kazakh Brahmins. All other Kazakh tribes are Vaishyas and Shudras. Their role is to do menial work and try to please the Shapyrashty people. For this reason, Nazarbayev is forced to continue the medieval tradition of governing the people with the help of a narrow [inner] circle of selected people”. The author of the above article named key members of Nursultan Nazarbayev’s narrow [inner] circle, including Aida Balayeva. And many of these people now are part of Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s team. How serious the talks about a deepening confrontation between Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s team and Nursultan Nazarbayev’s supporters can be in the above-described situation? So, it’s no wonder the widely publicized struggle between ‘New Kazakhstan’ and ‘Old Kazakhstan’ seems to be a kind of Nanay wrestling.

A few words about what exactly the expression ‘Nanay wrestling’, or ‘wrestling of Nanay boys’ means. It originally refers to a circus show in which the performer’s costume and posture create the effect of two short men wrestling. In the figurative sense, the expression ‘Nanay wrestling’, or ‘wrestling of Nanay boys’ is used in many post-Soviet countries to describe a situation where there is a fake fight.

Akhas Tazhutov

Akhas Tazhutov is a political analyst from Kazakhstan.

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