Monday, January 4, 2021

Pandemic Testing Leaders and Countries and Not Just in Medical Field, Suleymanov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 2 – Many think the challenge the coronavirus pandemic is posing is limited to the medical sphere, Kazakh poet, activist and diplomat Olzhas Suleymenov says; but in fact, it has challenged leaders and countries in a variety of ways often far from the medical. Some have done well; others have failed the test the pandemic has presented.

            In an end-of-the-year interview, the man most famous internationally for his work in the anti-nuclear movement and the seminal 1975 book on Kazakh identity, Az i Ya, argues that the pandemic challenge must be seen as one to the entire social and political world (

            According to him, the coronavirus has “examined the cultures, religions, nations, races, social systems, and political myths and convictions” of people around the world. Some have gotten high marks; others have failed. Those which have done the best are those who have avoided being guided by anger and hatred.

            In many respects, Suleymenov suggests, responses to the pandemic echoes the responses of colonies and metropolitan countries both in the international de-colonization movement after 1945 and in the case of Russia and the other former Soviet republics. Some in the center have retreated into imperialism, while some in the newly independent states have become racist.

            Kazakhstan must now deal with the fact that some in Russia are now talking about seizing northern Kazakhstan and some in Kazakhstan are considering expelling everything Russian from their society, language, alphabet, and even people. Both views, now being exacerbated by the pandemic, are wrong and must be fought, the poet says. 

            Fortunately, there are others in both places, he suggests, people who understand that the pandemic is a challenge to everyone rather than something that should be exploited to benefit some and harm others. But unfortunately, in Kazakhstan and Russia, too few people know their histories and thus understand the dangers of doing the latter.

            Promoting such understanding is critical not only to good relations between the former imperial centers and the former colonies but also within each, given that the Latin term res publika means “the activity of society,” not the activity of part of society but of all of it. The pandemic can teach that lesson if people are willing to accept it, the poet says.   


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