BETH MCLAUGHLIN WRITES – Ever since Russian President Vladimir Putin’s infamous remark that “Kazakhs never had statehood” before 1991, Kazakhstan has been determined to showcase and celebrate its long and storied history.
Shortly after Putin’s 2014 comments, President Nursultan Nazarbayev announced a 550th anniversary celebration of the Khanate, founded in 1465. The celebration of the Khanate’s history and culture continues four years later, with a project from the Kazakh National Academic Library to promote the country’s literature at the 2017 World Expo.
The project’s organizers coordinated with Kazakh embassies abroad to establish cultural centers in select national libraries. The country established 17 new centers in 2016, and new ones continue to rapidly open. Centers now exist in countries such as China, Finland, Hungary, and South Korea. Two centers opened this year in the United States, one at the New York Public Library, and the second at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.. Future plans for expansion include the United Kingdom, Iran, Bulgaria, and Azerbaijan.
The New York and D.C. centers include books in Kazakh, Russian, and English. The collection features works about President Nazarbayev and his administration’s accomplishments, including the construction of the new capital, Astana, and the country’s hosting of the 2017 World Expo, as well as books authored by Nazarbayev himself.
Additional works profile the country’s history and culture. Famous Kazakh writers are represented, such as Mukhtar Auezov and Sabit Mukanov, as well as famous poets Abai, Shakarim and Zhambyl. Umitkhan Munalbayeva, founder of the project and head of the Kazakh National Academic Library, said in a statement for the Astana Times that, “The books will always unite the peoples and continents.”
According to the 2017 Expo page highlighting the initiative, the proliferation of the centers are indicative of the “global interest growing around Kazakhstan, Kazakh language and culture, as well as Kazakhstan’s economic development model.”
The initiative is similar to the American Spaces run by the U.S. Department of State. Often hosted in libraries and other public sites, American Spaces provides a platform for English language programs, technology workshops, and info sessions about the United States. The goal is to increase understanding and build bridges between the United States and the host culture. Kazakhstan’s engagement in this kind of public diplomacy is indicative of its bid to increase its international standing.