Aigul Kuspan, former head of the Kazakh mission to the European Union and current chair of Kazakhstan’s parliamentary committee on international affairs, says the bloc often comes across as self-assured and borderline ignorant in terms of global affairs.
How do you feel in your new role as chair of the international affairs committee? What are the biggest challenges, especially when it comes to relations with the EU?
It has been almost four months since I moved from the diplomatic to the parliamentary sphere.
The activity of a parliamentarian is both new and familiar to me. On the one hand, it is new to work with legislation, interact with the government, civil society and the press on a daily basis. On the other hand, as [committee chair] I actually continue to engage in the same line of work, with the only difference that it is now parliamentary, and its geography is more extensive, it covers the whole world.
I see as my main goal in parliament the application of my knowledge and experience for the benefit of my country. The years I spent in Europe will be useful to me in the development of laws, for example, the law on the Ombudsman for Human Rights, which I was recently invited to co-author by my colleagues from the Senate. My experience has already been useful to me in the work on the amendments to the Election Law adopted by the lower house on Wednesday (May 5) according to which the position of akims [mayors] of villages and districts now becomes elective.
In the Mazhilis [Kazakhstan’s lower house of parliament] I was entrusted with the leadership of groups for parliamentary cooperation with a number of countries. Among them are France, Belgium, Lithuania. I plan to develop fruitful interaction with colleagues in the inter-parliamentary assemblies of the CIS, CSTO, OSCE, CE, TurkPA and others.
As far as cooperation with the European Parliament is concerned, the Kazakhstan-European Union Parliamentary Cooperation Committee, a regular bilateral structure, which I will co-chair, together with the MP Fulvio Martusciello (EPP, Italy), will be the obvious track.
The European Parliament (EP) resolution of February was undoubtedly received with disappointment in your country. What is your message to those MEPs who are so critical of your country on the issues of human rights and media freedom?
During my work in Brussels, I met many MEPs. I can say that I am well versed in this “European UN”. Among the MEPs there are about 100 people who have been to Kazakhstan, who know our people well and respect our values. But at the same time, most of the deputies have a very rough idea of our country. There are also those who allow themselves to be manipulated by fugitive Kazakh criminals who dress up like political martyrs, victims of the struggle for human rights. I am absolutely sure that the EP resolution is the product of precisely this kind of “toxic” cooperation that undermines trust between Europe and Central Asia, and indeed trust in European parliamentarism, which is also in the process of transit and evolution. …
However, it should be noted that a number of deputies were categorically against the adoption of the resolution. And we are very grateful to the latter for their adherence to principles and a better understanding of our country and its specifics.
I remember well how at the very beginning of Kazakhstan’s independence, the Europeans who visited our country gave very useful advice to Kazakh politicians. Moreover, they did it with infinite delicacy, every now and then assuring us that they are not mentors for our country, and that their advice is not dogma. Their behavior fully corresponded to the ideal image of a European that each of us on this side of the Iron Curtain created for himself, reading European writers and philosophers.
I would advise my colleagues in the EP who criticize Kazakhstan to always keep in mind the special civilizational mission of Europe. One of its main features is the respect for other cultures by studying and understanding them.
Kazakhstan is a country of the Great Steppe, with an ancient history and rich culture, the cradle of the Turkic states. Openness, patience and courage are genetically inherent in Kazakhs. Otherwise, they would not have held the ninth largest territory in the world. Our recent history also contained tragic pages: the horrors of famine and repression, militant atheism, nuclear tests, the death of the Aral Sea.
On the other hand, we are a young state, which in 30 years of independence has successfully overcome a long and thorny path, switched to a market economy, preserved inter-ethnic peace and interfaith harmony, and built friendly relations with all states of the world.
Recently, a European diplomat confessed to me that in 1991 he was sure that the Kazakh state would not last even 10 years. We ourselves have read with anxiety in our hearts more than a dozen works of European and American strategists who made the most apocalyptic forecasts for our state. Thank God, first President Nursultan Nazarbayev did not allow such a gloomy scenario, and President Tokayev consistently continues a verified multi-vector foreign policy and deep modernization of the spheres of politics, the economy and the social sphere. This is our choice, our Kazakh way. And all our partners should recognise and respect it.
How do you expect to help improve relations in the parliamentary dialogue between Kazakhstan and the EU?
I think that for a genuine and constructive dialogue, its participants must know and understand each other well. The knowledge of the overwhelming majority of my compatriots about Europe is advanced, and their attitude is very respectful. I would like the same attitude on the part of our European colleagues. Unfortunately, many of them are at the mercy of stereotypes which remind me former Soviet propaganda.
I look forward to an effective dialogue within the framework of the Kazakhstan-EU Parliamentary Cooperation Committee, and the Friendship Group with Kazakhstan functioning in the European Parliament, which managed to organise several events before the coronavirus pandemic, including a conference on the life of Catholics in Kazakhstan.
By the way, this year marks the 20th anniversary of the state visit of Pope John Paul II to Kazakhstan. The pontiff came to us in 2001 to thank the Kazakh people, who hosted hundreds of thousands of Catholics – Poles, Germans, Lithuanians – and also to support Kazakhstan in the year of the decade of its independence.
I would like to conclude my answer with the words of the great European humanist Romain Rolland from his article “A Warning to America”, written in 1926.
“If the United States considers itself called upon to influence the world, then the more it is obliged to understand the true essence, the true needs, the true ideals of other peoples of the world, for the duty of the strong is to help the less powerful to self-determine, and not to oppress him, forcing him to lie to his own soul. It would be a disaster for all mankind if any one race, one people, one state, however significant they may be, tried to impose on the magnificent diversity of the universe a straightforward and boring monotony of their own individuality. ”
He who has ears, let him hear!