Russia and Kazakhstan: Identities, the Social Contract and the Challenges of Time

On May 14-15, 2019, the third Russia-Kazakhstan expert forum was held in the capital of Kazakhstan, Nur-Sultan. Here you’ll find the main points of the speech by Ivan Timofeev, Programme Director of the Valdai Discussion Club, who participated in the fifth session of the forum, titled “A New Social Contract: Values, Identity and the Transformation of Social Consciousness”.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia and Kazakhstan experienced a similar radical transformation of their respective social systems. Both countries had managed to re-establish general stability by the end of the 1990s and subsequently created the conditions for economic growth and improving the quality of life. 

In the West, both countries have long been criticised for their lack of democracy and the cropping up of authoritarian institutions. In case of Russia, the “democratic” narrative was greatly enhanced by the divergence of foreign policy interests and the growth of contradictions with respect to a number of problems. At the same time, Russia and Kazakhstan have established a framework of functional state institutions. The “colour revolutions” and social upheavals bypassed them. 

Both countries formed their own models of political identity. In Russia, a “synthetic” model emerged, where elements of the new post-Soviet statehood are based on historical continuity with both the Soviet and the imperial period. Russia refused to build its identity based on the denial of its past. The West has retained its role of “significant other”, although the similar role of Russia for the West itself is today expressed to a much greater degree. In Kazakhstan, the complex process of state identity formation continues, combining the revival of national traditions with the building of a modern state. Kazakhstan refused to build its identity on enmity towards Russia and the total denial of a common past. Instead, a pragmatic emphasis is placed on positioning the country as the historical centre of Greater Eurasia, and building constructive cooperation with all of its centres of power.

The “social contract” that has taken shape in the two countries manifests in two different ways due to the countries’ dissimilar structure and societies. However, in both countries, it will inevitably pass through several serious tests. Among them are the credibility of political institutions, the expectations and political activity of the new generation, new media and technological realities, the ability to ensure the growth of the quality of life and combine it with the adequate development of political institutions.

The relationship between economic and political modernisation will be of fundamental importance. The experience of a number of countries shows that economic development and the quality of life increase without the simultaneous development of political institutions lead to serious crises. At the same time, “democratisation” under external control can give rise to even greater problems. Both countries will have to develop their own effective formula to adapt political and public institutions to the new challenges of time.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.