Nursultan Nazarbaev: career, interests, power

This year irreplaceable Kazakhstani president Nazarbaev is turning 77. In advance of this date we are starting publication of his biographical sketch, written in 2005 by famous Kazakhstani scientist, history PhD, professor Nurbolat Masanov for the activists of the civic society.

In some ways this might be a subjective view at the personality of the first president of the country, but undoubtedly the one deserving attention of those, who are interested in the history of Kazakhstan.

Part I. Nursultan Nazarbaev. Chosing the path

Nursultan Nazarbaev was born in the pre-war era and his formation as a young man was taking place in the Stalin-Khrushchev period, when authority of the government was untouchable, and the role of an individual was minimized, servility was on the rise. Thus it was in this era when main stereotypes and life positions of the future independent Kazakhstan were formed. They boiled down to “the one who has more rights is always right”. It was necessary to become a member of the party by any means. Only then could he come to power and secure his future.

Receiving higher education second main condition of the career was hard to achieve – for that to happen one needed to be either a son of a party boss, university professor, or have received an “assignment” from the native kolkhoz. For a regular village guy, who doesn’t have any connections in the city, which is what Nursultan was, getting into a university in Almaty was practically impossible. Add that to the fact that, according to people who know him well, wasn’t especially intelligent, erudite or knowledgeable. So, unsurprisingly he failed admission exams for the chemistry faculty of KazGU. This is when he, either on his own, or following the advice of knowledgeable people made his life choice.

For the majority of young people, for whom university wasn’t a choice, at the time life choices were limited to working at a plant and going to an army. Even though military service opened doors, for a young man in Soviet times army meant big life problems – hazing, losing health etc. The most practical ones chose a plant, and if the plant was of strategic importance then excuse from military service was a guarantee, since the deficit of workers largely surpassed army’s need of young recruits.

There weren’t many workers at Kazakhstan’s plants at the time, the majority were either government recruited chemists (early release prisoners), those who chose blue-collar work from practical reasons (an opportunity to get an apartment, high salary, assignments to go to university, etc.), or those who became workers due to inability to do anything else. Those “marginal” and similarly sized pool of early released “chemists” were the majority. And it isn’t surprising that as soon as the Soviet Union collapsed along with the whole proletarian-communist rhetoric, in the conditions of economic crisis, it was Temirtau that started to beat all records on drug abuse, crime and alcoholism.

In 1960 after graduating from the Dneprodzerjinskiy technical institute, Nazarbaev worked first as a laborer of the construction house Domenstroy of the Kazmetallurgstroy trust in Temirtau of Karaganda oblast, and then until 1969 as dispensing machine operator of a blast furnace shop, dispatcher at the same shop, and many other laborer jobs.

It was at a plant that he joined the CPSU in 1962. He was chosen by the secretary of the party bureau of the shop.

From 1964 to 1967, without stopping his work he studied at the metallurgic faculty of the Karaganda politechnic institute (in 1965 based on these faculty plant-technical college was formed).

As we can see, Nursultan was able to master a very rare and at the time important profession of pig caster and blast furnace man at a metallurgic plant of strategic importance, which evidently secured him a “white card” from the army. It was very hard to avoid army at the time – Nursultan’s health was good, he didn’t have higher education, and work at a plant evidently only delayed the draft. Until he was 28 he was under constant threat of being called in to army; so he had to hurry.

In tow years he already received party ticket, and in four years – an assignment to attend university. In 7 years he completed the maximum program for a young man – became a member of the party, received party ticket and a higher education diploma; a considerable result for a regular guy from a village!

At the same time he was able to avoid all seductions and negatives associated with factory life (parties, money,etc.) and was able to pragmatically use all opportunities factory gives. Another factor that helped was that among the workers at the plant, there were practically no Kazakhs and that he married early at 22 and became a young father.

The right life decision made by young  Nursultan, shows that either the choice was made after a wise advice of one of the older people in his closes circle, or he himself was unusually mature person and had a strong understanding of life. But whatever the case is, we can say that he was able to reap maximum rewards from this life decision; it is these difficult years, that evidently produced the poise, and ability to adapt to any life events.

Along with this, the process of Nazarbaev’s character formation during this Soviet times, took place in the backdrop of factory workforce environment. The workforces of the time, as we know, were dominated by the ideas of dialectical dualism, born out of, on one hand pathetic rhetoric about historical mission of world hegemon – proletariat and his life-forming role in the life of society, manifesting of communist ideals, creating socialist economy, and on the other hand, endless truancy, chronic alcoholism of the working class, etc; as result there was an illusion of complete party impunity.

It was in this environment that Nazarbaev was formed as a party member.

At the workplace, there was the biggest divergence between words and actions. What was postulated os priority of working class interests, of communist ideals, codex of communism builder, but in reality there was a domination of moral degradation and party-soviet bureaucracy; thus it is natural for Nazarabaev when one thing is being said and another things is being done.

This is why he can be put into a category of soviet populist politician, who cinically says grandiloquent phrases about governmental and social interests, while in reality is just used to use them as a cover to realize his personal interests. Thus, for example, before parliamentary elections of 2004 he publically guaranteed conduct of fair and free elections, but himself staged total falsification of election process.

Before presidential elections of 2005, he also promised fair and free presidential elections, but life again proved the declarative nature of his words, since the results beat all records on falsification of election results, securing him 91% of electoral votes.

To say one thing and do the opposite is a style of Nazarbaev that he learned in his youth, during Brezhnev times, a style that got ingrained from his factory entourage and to which he is still loyal after many years. Thus, it is natural that nobody from his close circle doesn’t take seriously his democratic-liberal rhetoric and judges him based on his real actions and deals.

Having passed a good school of young communist at a factory workplace and having learned main life rules there, Nazarbaev started his party career as a pretty mature young man; being an absolute pragmatic, he wasn’t burdened by much principle or ideals. Career and personal success was key to him.

Pragmatic egocentrism was at heart of all his actions. Given high adaptability and phenomenal efficiency of his reactions to life, he was able to become. Essentially, in two years he made a stellar party career, having gone from a regular laborer to a second secretary of Temirtau’s party gorkom.

In 1976 he distantly graduate from the highest party school under CC CPSU. Another five years later he became second secretary of Karaganda obkom of party.

In 1969 he was appointed the head of the industrial-transport sector of Temirtau grokom of Communist party of KSSR. In March of 1969 he was elected deputy of Temirtau city council. That same year, based on advice from secretary of Temirtau gorkom of CPSU of the time N. Davydov he was transferred to a an emptied Komsomol role and from Dec. 1969 until 1971 held a position of the first secretary of Temirtau gorkom of LYCL of Kazakhstan. He was also a member of CC of LYCL of KSSR.

In Jan. of 1971 he was elected a member of bureau of Temirtau gorkom of party. In Jun. 1971 he was elected second secretary of Temirtau gorkom of party and at the same time – deputy of Karaganda oblast sovet.

In 1973, based on advice from first secretary from Karaganda obkom V. Akulintsev he was transferred from the position of second secretary of gorkom to a position of secretary of partkom of Karaganda metallurgic plant until 1977.

From 1977-1979 he serves as a second secretary, then as a secretary of Karaganda obkom of party.

On one hand a young, energetic Kazakh, a worker, party member with a higher education, plus a father of a family, he was pushed to the top by the soviet-party system itself, since there were not many Kazakh workers, and even less party members, especially with higher education. So he had good starting conditions and they definitely advanced his political career; but the y didn’t contribute to a rise that happened to him later in life.

A secret to Nazarbaev’s success, based on evidence of those who know him, was in part due to patronage of his mother’s relative Syzdyk Abishev – at the time elder storekeeper of the Kazmyasomoltorg warehouse, director of for-profit shop, deputy director of Oktyabr regional food-trading network and other important positions.

Retail at the times of Soviet deficit of goods was a sphere of enormous influence. A support from a man like Abishev, during that time, essentially opened for his protégé any career opportunities, and like a rocketship torpedoed Nazarbaev into an orbit of big politics.

Interestingly, in the future, their careers crossed paths and moved parallel both in Almaty and Karaganda. They moved to the capital at the same time and helped each other further on down the road.

One cannot deny Nazarbaev’s personal talents – an ability and desire to work, inspire and mobilize workers to implement planned tasks, build relations with necessary people, make useful acquaintances. He fully used all of the opportunities given to him in life. But these chances weren’t enough to become a party leader and political leader of the country in the future.

There are a lot of blank spaces in Nazarbaev’s career. How did a regular worker become a party boss? How, without having any administrative experience he was able to become the leader of party organization of Karaganda metallurgic plant and then go as high as Karaganda obkom of the party? How, without having a serious experience in administrative and agricultural work, he beca,e a secretary of CC of Communist party of RK of industry?

It seems like both then and alter he was able to work with higher ups. Gossips talk of his ability to give gifts, invite guests, be a life of the party, bow down to the people of power and read their feelings.


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