July 6, 2020 marks the 80th birthday of the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan – Elbasy Nursultan Nazarbayev. The rise of my country from just a chunk of the Soviet Union to a trusted partner in international relations – including the EU and Belgium – is a story of leadership, the success for which should be granted to the first president. He had to build a country, to establish an army, our own police, our internal life, everything from roads to the constitution. Elbasy had to change the minds of the Kazakh people by 180 degrees, from a totalitarian regime to democracy, from state to private property.
Kazakhstan in international relations
First President Nazarbayev made a historic decision in 1991 to renounce the World’s fourth-largest nuclear arsenal, which enabled Kazakhstan, and the entire Central Asian region, to become free of nuclear weapons. Due to his strong desire to make the world a peaceful place for all, he is recognised as an outstanding statesman within Kazakhstan and all over the world.
Proactive diplomacy became one of the key tools to ensure the sovereignty and security of Kazakhstan and the consistent promotion of the country’s national interests. Based on the principles of multi-vector cooperation and pragmatism, Nazarbayev established constructive relationships with our closest neighbours – China, Russia, the Central Asian countries, and the rest of the world.
From a European and international perspective, the heritage of the First President is equally impressive: he has committed his life to contribute to regional and international peace, stability, and dialogue. With his European counterparts, he has established the foundations for the landmark EU-Kazakhstan Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (EPCA). He initiated numerous international integration and dialogue processes, including the Astana Peace Talks on Syria, the UN General Assembly resolution calling for an International Day Against Nuclear Tests, the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA), the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), and Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States (Turkic Council).
The chairmanship of Kazakhstan in the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2010 and the UN Security Council in January 2018 (which form the agenda for security issues for the whole world) has shown the success and viability of the path chosen by President Nazarbayev in the international arena.
Kazakhstan is an important and trusted partner for the European Union. With his European counterparts, the First President has laid the foundations for the landmark EU-Kazakhstan Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement which entered into force on March 1. The Agreement marks the beginning of a brand new stage of Kazakh-European relations and provides wide opportunities for building up full-scale cooperation in the long term. I am confident that the effective implementation of the Agreement will allow us to diversify trade, expand economic ties, attract investments, and new technologies. The significance of the cooperation is also reflected in the trade and investment relationship. The EU is Kazakhstan’s principal trading partner, representing 40% of external trade. It is also the main foreign investor in my country, accounting for 48% of the total (gross) foreign direct investment.
Bilateral relations between Belgium and Kazakhstan
Being accredited as an Ambassador to the Kingdom of Belgium, I am pleased that the relationship between Kazakhstan and Belgium has been continuously strengthened since my country’s independence. On December 31, 1991, the Kingdom of Belgium officially recognised the state sovereignty of the Republic of Kazakhstan. The foundation of bilateral relations started with an official visit of President Nazarbayev to Belgium in 1993, where he met with King Boudewijn I and then-Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene.
First President Nazarbayev visited Brussels eight times, most recently in 2018. Cultural exchanges have taken place between Belgium and Kazakhstan beyond high-level visits. In 2017, our countries celebrated the 25th anniversary of their bilateral relationship. There have also been several high-level visits from the Belgian side to Kazakhstan, first in 1998 by former Prime Minister Dehaene, as well as two visits by King Philippe of Belgium in 2002, 2009, and 2010. Inter-parliamentary relations are developing positively as an effective tool for strengthening political dialogue.
A strong diplomatic relationship has continuously developed by supporting a mutually beneficial trade relationship. The economic exchanges between Belgium and Kazakhstan have also had a substantial increase since 1992 with priority areas of cooperation in energy, healthcare, agricultural sectors, between seaports and in new technologies. In 2019, the number of commercial exchanges increased to more than 636 million euros. As of May 1, 75 enterprises with Belgian assets were registered in Kazakhstan. The volume of Belgian investments into the Kazakh economy has reached 7,2 billion euros during the period of 2005 to 2019.
The legacy of the First President
First President Nazarbayev led my country from 1990 to 2019. In the early 1990s, Elbasy guided the country during the financial crisis that affected the whole post-Soviet space. Further challenges were waiting ahead when the First President had to deal with the 1997 East Asian crisis and the 1998 Russian financial crisis, which affected the development of our country. In response, Elbasy implemented a series of economic reforms to ensure the necessary growth of the economy. During this time, First President Nazarbayev oversaw the privatisation of the oil industry and brought necessary investment from Europe, the United States, China, and other countries.
Because of historical circumstances, Kazakhstan has become an ethnically diverse country. The First President ensured the equal rights of all people in Kazakhstan, regardless of their ethnic and religious affiliation, as a guiding principle of state policy. This has been one of the leading reforms that have led to continued political stability and peace in the country’s domestic policy. Throughout further economic reforms and modernisation, social welfare in the country has increased and a growing middle class has emerged. More importantly, shifting the capital from Almaty to Nur-Sultan as the new administrative and political centre of Kazakhstan has led to the further economic development of the whole country.
One of the most important challenges that First President Nazarbayev outlined for the country was Kazakhstan’s 2050 strategy. The goal of this programme is to promote Kazakhstan as one of the 30 most developed countries in the world. The programme has launched the next phase of modernisation of Kazakhstan’s economy and civil society. It has led to the implementation of five institutional reforms as well as the Nation’s 100 Concrete Steps Plan to modernise the economy and state institutions. The First President’s ability to develop constructive international and diplomatic relations has been a leading factor in the country’s development and has led to an influx of billions of euros of investment into Kazakhstan. Meanwhile, my country has joined the top 50 competitive economies of the world.
A highlight of the First President’s legacy was his decision not to pursue a nuclear state. This promise was backed up by closing the world’s largest nuclear testing site in Semipalatinsk, as well as the complete abandonment of Kazakhstan’s nuclear weapons programme. Elbasy was also one of the leaders who promoted integration processes in Eurasia. This integration led to the Eurasian Economic Union, which has grown into a large association of member countries that assure the free flow of goods, services, labour and capital, and has benefited Kazakhstan and its neighbours.
In 2015, First President Nazarbayev announced that the election would be his last and that “once institutional reforms and economic diversification are achieved; the country should undergo a constitutional reform that entails the transfer of power from the president to the parliament and the government.”
Stepping down from his position in 2019, promptly replaced by Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the new leadership continued to operate in the First President’s spirit of economic development and constructive international cooperation. As President Tokayev mentioned in his recent article: “Undoubtedly, only a real politician, wise and forward-looking, can choose his own path, being between two parts of the World – Europe and Asia, two civilisations – Western and Eastern, two systems – totalitarian and democratic. With all these components, Elbasy was able to form a new type of state combining Asian traditions and Western innovations. Today whole World knows our country as a peace-loving transparent state, which actively participates in the integration processes.“