I recently read a book entitled "Apples Are from Kazakhstan: The Land that Disappeared". One of the questions raised by the author Christopher Robbins was how come so a large country, which is four times the size of Texas, still remains unknown to most of the people in Europe and America. The answer was surprising for me: Kazakhstan is the land that disappeared because it was closed to foreigners under Tsarist and Soviet rule and it remained largely hidden from the world.
I was thinking about my country and then I realized that this could involve great opportunities for the people of Kazakhstan, especially when it comes to a relationship with Western countries. Actually, we can cooperate with each other without preconditions.
Few nations have had a chance to start their relations with others from the ground up. We have such a fair chance. Kazakhstan and the West do not share a bitter experience of wars and colonization. There were no crusades against ancient Kazakh nomads, and it is worthy of mention that Kazakh nation and Europeans have never had any religious or ethnic confrontation. It is easy to cooperate with NATO today because we don't face any conflict of interest in missile defense issue or some nuclear program. We owe nothing to each other and that is why we have a room for a true cooperation. It is actually true that this cooperation is already taking place: Kazakhstan joined NATO's Partnership for Peace Program in 1995; Kazakh troops participated in several joint peacekeeping exercises; and currently Kazakhstan is developing the third cycle of the Individual Partnership Action Plan.
This interaction in the political and military fields is very important but today we face another very significant challenge - the genesis of a new civil society in Kazakhstan.
Following twenty years of independence the generation of young people who had never lived under the Soviet rule has already grown up in Kazakhstan. We call them "the children of independence". These youths are just 20 years old. They are used to live in a free, independent country. They are extrovert and open-minded. They get their education in the best universities of Europe and America and they welcome the outside experience of economic development and good governance.
I think that today we are ready for more dynamic cooperation with the countries of Western Europe and North America. We need a more profound exchange of ideas and values. I believe that our commitment to certain values which is expressed in our customs and traditions is not hermetically closed. People from different societies can exchange their values and even take the elements from the other value systems and fit them into their original framework in creative ways.
In this respect we face some challenges in Kazakhstan. First of all, it is the lack of information. The information realm is dominated by Russian mass media. There is only one European TV-channel "Euronews" broadcasting in Russian. BBC and CNN are also available, but they broadcast in English and most people don't watch them. I think the first step for channeling transatlantic values would be the creation of mass media in Russian or Kazakh languages, probably TV and radio programs, providing true and fair information about transatlantic community.
Secondly, it will take some time for the people to understand the information they are given, then structure it and finally turn that information to knowledge. People need time to realize that they have a choice. And then, they need time to make that choice. Will it be in favour of transatlantic values or other ones? I believe transatlantic powers should pay attention to this issue, and NATO's approach to Kazakhstan should be flexible, tolerant and supportive.
Another important issue concerns NATO keeping balance in developing the transatlantic community. The idea of it as "a unique community of values and democracy" sounds very idealistic. In some aspects it even resembles to Soviet's attempts to build "an international socialist community". Trying to create an exclusive inner world within the frameworks of NATO makes the system of transatlantic powers locked up. They lose connection with the outside environment. It doesn't help to spread transatlantic values, and NATO is taking risks to lose its huge influence it has gained in almost every part of the world during last 20 years.
Aliya Mussabekova is a student (MA) at Moscow State University of International Relations. Aliya studied International Relations (BA) at Eurasian National University, Astana, Kazakhstan.