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Key Economic Data 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
Millions of US $ 29,749 24,205 22,400 60
GNI per capita
 US $ 1,780 1,510 1,350 119
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

Books on Kazakstan


Update No: 354 - (25/06/10)

A mistaken move of capital?
A decade ago President Nursultan Nazarbayev, an absolute dictator, shifted the capital to Astana in the middle of the vast country from the more temperate city of Almaty, which lies in the extreme south of it.

The move was obviously motivated by a desire to prevent the northern regions, where Russians predominate, from joining up with Siberia. This is not actually a very live issue. The Russians have a pretty good deal in Kazakhstan, where Russian is 'the language of inter-ethnic communication,' while Kazakh is the national language, as befits a republic where the majority are Kazakhs. Kazakhstan has 60% of the FSU's mineral resources, including virtually every such resource known to man. The population is barely 16 million, of whom the Russians are the most educated part.

Nevertheless, at the time Russia had just had a terrible decade. It might have seemed to the Kazakh leadership that Siberia could break away and found its own state, still the largest in the world, with huge resources of its own. An independent Siberia could have established itself as an energy and mineral resource giant, becoming a strong magnate for the north of Kazakhstan to secede and join up with it.

This scenario seems intensely unrealistic today; Moscow would simply never tolerate it and has the military might to enforce its will here.

Astana is bitterly cold in winter, after Ulan Bator the second coldest in the world. Temperatures can fall to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The chilly, windswept capital has failed to lure the number of businesses or tourists that would justify the upheaval involved in moving to it.

A new indoor city in the capital
Nazarbayev, probably in effect the world's richest man, has devised a hybrid technical-utopian solution. It would be enormously expensive, it is true. But then so was the shift from Almaty to Astana in the first place.

His idea is certainly futuristic; but then like many dictators of potentially rich countries, he likes to think ahead with only a manipulative respect for the past. It is unthinkable that he would admit to failure and re-site the capital in Almaty again.

He envisages a new indoor city in Astana itself, capable of housing 20,000 and adorned with Venetian-style canals and Italianate architecture. Even while hundreds are shivering outside in winter, the chosen few will be – under their leader's latest plans – sunning themselves on a beach, taking a gondola-ride in a canal or enjoying a waterslide.

It all sounds too fantastic to be true. But the city has commissioned world-leading architects, including the UK's Lord Foster, Italy's Manfredi Nicoletti and Japan's Kisho Kurokawa, to make it a reality.

Miniature prototype already under construction
If you are as rich as Nazarbayev, you can at least begin to put your fantasies under way. He is doing so. On July 6 he is opening a smaller, climate-controlled tent mall for the Indoor City, called Khan Shatyr.

It is designed by Foster and Partners and built by Sembol, a giant Turkish construction firm. To build it, Sembol had to hire and train more than 400 Turkish climbers who could work suspended at 450ft in extreme wind and cold.

It consists of an indoor park, shopping and entertainment complex. Its upper zone has a tropical climate, with an indoor, 'beach,' waterslides, a wave machine and a tropical garden. Its lower zones have a monorail system, a running track, a small amusement park and a shopping complex. There are an abundance of pretty girls in attendance. As Baudelaire put it: 'un Eldorado banal des tous les vieux garcons.'

The Indoor City itself will use the same concept on an even bigger scale, four times the size of London's Millennium Dome. Aytekin Gultekin, president of Sembol, claims that it will attract tourists in the same way climate-controlled projects have in the past, notably in Dubai. “Here it is exactly the same situation as in Dubai, except here it is too cold and there it is too hot.” Sembol made a mint of money out of Dubai; it is now doing so out of ultra-Astana, or at least Khan Shatyr.

Foster and Partners previously designed Astana's Palace of Peace and Reconciliation, a pyramid that changes colour and houses an opera house in its basement.

The tourists are not yet coming to Astana. But the world's businesses certainly are. If you are as rich as Croesus, you can indulge your whims. You can be a megalomaniac dictator bent on conquering the elements. But you might yet end up as Icarus. The people have yet to give their verdict on this profligate extravaganza.

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