Yang Cheng:Kazakh name change double-sided coin


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Yang Cheng:Kazakh name change double-sided coin

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev recently apparently suggested changing the country's name from Kazakhstan to Kazakh Eli, which means "The Land of Kazakhs," causing hot debates within the country. Even the strong impact of the devaluation of the Kazakh national currency did not dilute the discussion.

Before this suggestion was raised, many Kazakh language media had already started to use the name. The core reason for Nazarbayev's proposal is that Kazakhstan has far exceeded other "-stan" countries in Central Asia in terms of economic development and international influence. With the suffix "-stan," the potential of the country will be restrained.

It is clear that in the eyes of Nazarbayev, being a "-stan" often means being associated with corruption and failure and some other negative connotations. Kazakhstan, which has ambitions of ascending into the global top 30 countries, a strategic goal not that impossible for the country, is certainly not reconciled to staying as it is now.

The president also cited the example of Mongolia, saying that Mongolia is viewed more favorably by foreigners than Kazakhstan and its name lacks the suffix "-stan." What he hinted is that countries with the suffix "-stan," originally an Indo-Iranian suffix meaning "country" or "land," are often seen as weak countries or failures.

There have been precedents of the country's name-changing. Over the past 80 years, the administrative name of the entire territory has changed six times.

For example, as part of the Russian Empire, it was briefly independent as Alash Orda following the fall of the Tsarist regime. During the Soviet era, it was named the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, it changed its name to the current form.

If we say the suffix "-stan" can change how other countries see Kazakhstan, such sayings may be doubtful. The name of a country is only a symbol, while its real development is key for judgment.

In the eyes of many Western countries, Kazakhstan is still under a typical authoritarian regime and risks evolving into a typical "sultanate." The investment environment of Kazakhstan is unlikely to improve substantially even if it changes its name. The special relations between politics and business will continue to dominate.

From an economic perspective, the changing of the country's name requires a large amount of work as all legal documents and national labels need to be replaced, which will obviously consume a great many financial and human resources.

And legally, the change of name requires an amendment of the constitution. Is it rational to start the complex amendment procedure just for this?

The name-changing is more like a national identity-building movement based on ideology and political interests. This has been an indispensable part of the development process of the newly independent Central Asian countries since the fall of the Soviet Union.

The change of capital from Almaty to Astana, the new capital's construction, the changing of street names and the construction of new landmark buildings all indicate this.

Another part of the background to Nazarbayev's proposal could easily be overlooked.

Kazakhstan will join the Eurasian Economic Union with Russia and Belarus in 2015. Some nationalistic forces within Kazakhstan may get a boost over worries that the country's sovereignty will be affected. Perhaps one of the president's purposes is to enhance the significance of the country's independence.

The process of the country's name-changing seems like the two-faced Roman god Janus. One side represents freedom, friendship and some other positive aims, while the other side represents division, violence and destruction.

The name of Kazakhstan embodies the joint development of multi-ethnic groups. Calling it Kazakh Eli may highlight the Kazakh as the main ethnic group, which may bring unstable elements to the current stability, which was not won easily.

本文最后更新时间: 2014-03-17 22:37:00         阅读次数: 6198

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