The first president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Photo: Anatoly ZHDANOV
On December 1, the autobiographical book of the first president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, “My Life. From dependence to freedom.” In his memoirs, the patriarch of world politics appears as a direct participant in many important political events of the last half century, from the end of the USSR to literally today. When assessing the collapse of the Soviet Union As a great geopolitical catastrophe, the politician analyzes the reasons for the collapse of a huge country. His conclusions are not only a look at the past, but also a testimony of the future, a warning for those who try to do politics without knowing the rules and forgetting about the caution.
THE ECONOMY SHOULD BE
Unlike many of the USSR nostalgists, who have long ignored the not-so-attractive reality through the veil of romantic fantasies, the tough politician Nazarbayev seriously evaluates what was happening in the Soviet Union on the eve of the collapse. objectively. He has no doubt: the changes in the country should have already occurred, the problems require urgent solutions.
“Of course, two people cannot destroy the State. Especially a state like the Soviet Union. The defeat of the economic system in competition with market countries, the inability of the single-party political system to develop democracy, the crazy arms race, the suppression of the personal initiative of the people by the dogma of collective property… – there are many reasons for the collapse of the USSR,” Nazarbayev recalls.
The economy is the basis of social well-being and “the primacy of politics over the economy has serious consequences,” recalls the politician. “In the 1970s and 1980s, the Soviet Union fell chronically behind countries with market economies. The search for a way out of this impasse was not even carried out properly… Relying on the country’s countless natural and labor resources only weakened and spoiled us,” says the politician.
Recalling the miners’ strikes that shook the country and also affected Kazakhstan, Nazarbayev analyzes the reasons for what was happening: “The strike demonstrated once again: the root of all our problems is that one person is not the owner of even a company. nor of a land. , and therefore treats state property at random… . Whether he works with high productivity or is there all day, he will still receive the same salary. What then is the meaning of striving to work well?
The political structure of the Union, according to Nazarbayev, also did not meet the demands of the time. “Although the state was called the Soviet Union, the parliament – the Supreme Council, local authorities – regional, municipal and district councils, there was not even a hint of solving any problems after consulting with the people,” says the politician. However, admitting for him the mistakes of the Soviet leadership does not in any way mean the inevitability of the collapse of the USSR. In his opinion, the most important reason for the great political cataclysm was that the politicians of the USSR, after having initiated a mature process of change, instead of correcting their mistakes, began to make new, even more catastrophic ones.
DEMOCRACY AND PERMITSIBILITY
According to Nazarbayev, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of the socialist camp were a direct consequence of the perestroika policy pursued by the president of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev. But this consequence was completely unforeseen. “Gorbachev himself did not want this. He made plans to democratize state life and expand glasnost. I think that if Gorbachev knew the end that awaits perestroika, he would not even have started it, ”says Nazarbayev.
According to the politician, Gorbachev was disappointed by his ignorance of reality: the economy and the country as a whole. “One of the reasons why Gorbachev could not effectively govern the state was his poor knowledge of life and the people,” Nazarbayev writes. This was the reason for reckless actions, such as the campaign against bad memory alcohol or the refusal to incorporate serious and highly professional economists into his team.
Having lost the initiative in economic policy, the leaders of the USSR focused on democratizing the country’s political life, but even in this they failed to maintain the necessary firmness and coherence in the implementation of the changes. “In general, perestroika provided for the democratization of social life and with this it sought to awaken the latent initiative in the people, that is, it set wonderful goals from the beginning. Unfortunately, all this remained in words. Responsibility at all levels has decreased. Discipline has worsened. It was not taken into account that discipline is a prerequisite for any job and that, without it, democracy will sooner or later lead to chaos and anarchy,” Nazarbayev writes.
The State cannot exist without order, with a nominally impotent government, Nazarbayev reminds again and again. “In such a large country, just establishing proper order, strengthening organization and accountability could be life-changing,” he writes, warning those who equate democracy with permissiveness. “Democracy is the form of existence of the State. In no way can it be understood as the right to say and do what one wants, as a debauchery bordering on irresponsibility. People fear extremes above all: anarchy and despotism. Democracy must be in the middle. The initiators of perestroika did not take this into account,” explains the politician.
INFLUENCE ON THE COURSE OF HISTORY
Discussing the reasons for the collapse of the USSR, Nursultan Nazarbayev more than once returns to discuss the responsibility of a politician for his actions, for his country. “Could a leader who respects himself and his people say: “If the Soviet Union collapses, I will not be president”? Would no one respond to this: “You are the president, don’t let your country collapse. If you can’t, leave! – writes Nazarbayev, remembering the times of Gorbachev’s reign. And this idea, perhaps, will be useful to any politician in our difficult times.
However, Nursultan Nazarbayev’s autobiography is not just for politicians. It is a deep, wise and philosophical look not only at the political problems of our time, but also at the relationship between the State and the individual, at the nature of power and responsibility. The latter is especially important for the author: having gone through his life from a metallurgist to the first president of Kazakhstan, Nazarbayev knows firsthand how every step he takes affects the destiny of a person and the destiny of the world. .
“We are politicians. But not the historians. They say that it is easy for a historian to be intelligent, because he knows what happened next, he can simultaneously see both the event and its consequences. But a historian cannot do what a politician can do; he is not destined to influence history,” Nazarbayev writes in the preface, emphasizing that his memoirs “cannot be considered either as an ordinary biography or as a historical study.” In fact, in his memoirs, Nazarbayev appears not as the embodiment of political success, but as a wise man who saw a lot and managed to understand a lot, is not ashamed of his mistakes, but is able to honestly admit them and draw conclusions. . It wouldn’t hurt any of us to learn this skill.
This book is a 700-page memoir about how states are built, how politics is done, and how much it costs world leaders.