Europe

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Macron Suggests EU-Russia Talks. Meltdown Among EU, US Apparatchiks Follows.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 21/01/2022 - 9:55pm in

Macron stands up for the idea that the EU should have a say about being dragged into a conflict with Russia. Can't have that!

Eurasia’s Ring of Fire

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 17/01/2022 - 4:13pm in

A theory of empire, based on aspirations for control of Eurasia.

A Permanent Scar

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 13/01/2022 - 12:00am in

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Europe, Youth

Almost two years after the onset of the pandemic, young people in Europe are reflecting on the impact it has had on their lives and questioning what it will mean for their future prospects. Will the lives of European youth be precarious for years to come?...

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The Bitcoin Challenge: How to Tame a Digital Predator

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 10/01/2022 - 9:55pm in

Public authorities should refrain from taking measures supporting additional investment flows into Bitcoin and should treat it as rigorously as the conventional financial industry to combat illicit payments, money laundering, and terrorist financing

Fateful Collision: NATO’s Drive to the East Versus Russia’s Sphere of Influence

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 08/01/2022 - 8:54pm in

How using the military alliance NATO for Euroepean-loyality-building ends has made it more and more of a threat to Russia.

Hold That Anti-Fogging Spray: Duke University Researchers Find Forever Chemicals in Commonly Used Eyeglass Products

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 08/01/2022 - 3:55am in

Use of many popular anti-fogging sprays and anti-fogging cloths expose U.S. eyeglass wearers to potentially harmful forever chemicals.

‘If Someone Told Me to Go Back and Live In Romania, I Would Really Struggle’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 22/12/2021 - 8:30pm in

‘If Someone Told Me to Go Back and Live In Romania, I Would Really Struggle’

Hardeep Matharu speaks to Romanian-born Labour county councillor Dr Alex Bulat about damaging political narratives around migration, the insidious nature of British prejudice and why she has always felt more at home in the UK

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People with negative views towards migrants should put themselves in their shoes and ask themselves how they would feel if British people studying and working in other parts of Europe were scapegoated and stereotyped by politicians, the press and public, a Romanian-born Cambridge county councillor has told Byline Times.

Dr Alex Bulat first came to the UK aged three for seven months when her father – at that time a junior doctor – was invited to work in an NHS hospital in Leeds.

Having moved back here to study aged 18, she is now a Labour representative on Cambridgeshire County Council, as well as the co-founder of Migrants4Labour group and the co-chair of the Young Europeans Network at the 3 Million – a campaigning group to protect pre-Brexit rights for EU citizens.

Speaking to Byline Times, she said that one of the key aspects missing from politicised debates about migration – which could challenge people to reconsider their negative views in a constructive way – is people “seeing themselves in that situation”.

“Would they say similarly about British people living, working and studying in Spain?,” she asked. “What if the Spanish Government said those same horrible things about British people. Would they be happy? Of course not – therefore we’re not happy that those things are said about Romanians in the UK.”

Although Dr Bulat was very young when she first came to Britain, she said she always had a sense of wanting to return because of her early memories of the UK being “very welcoming”, diverse and “tolerant” – a view she admits has been “challenged at various points in my journey later on”.

“When I came here as a child, I didn’t really know anyone, I couldn’t really communicate for the first days,” she told Byline Times. “But all the children were really welcoming and we all made very good friends. I had this impression of the UK as being a very welcoming place, which was also a very multi-ethnic group.

“I grew up in a very white Romanian area and the only people who were migrants were the students who came for medical school from Turkey, Greece and other nearby countries. So, I didn’t grow up in a multicultural environment but that’s what I liked about the UK – a very tolerant country, which welcomes all cultures. So, I had only a completely positive image of the UK as a country.”


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In 2012, aged 18, she moved to the UK to study a sociology and media studies degree at Sussex University. She then went on to complete a Master’s degree at Cambridge University and a PhD at University College London on political sociology and migration studies. Brexit and the weaponisation of migration – now a central pillar in the Vote Leave Government’s ‘culture war’ agenda – has served as the backdrop of her time in the UK.

Politically disengaged when she arrived, Dr Bulat said that changed when debates around the 2016 EU Referendum started. “It was the first moment when I realised that decisions in this country will affect me directly – if the vote goes to leave the EU then this will ultimately affect my rights in the country so I should pay attention to politics,” she said.

After the referendum result, she volunteered to advise Romanian migrants in the UK about their rights, at a time people were “scared”, “confused” and didn’t know what to do.

“One of the things I will always remember was that I was watching the referendum results on the TV in college with other students and one of my French colleagues said – after we found out the result – that it was the first time she felt like a migrant in the UK,” she told Byline Times. “I asked her ‘what do you mean?’ because I always felt as such or I have been made to feel as such.”

The 27-year-old said that the reaction to her presence in the UK has always been mixed and that this didn’t really change with the EU Referendum.

“In my first months in the UK, I do remember people asking me where am I from and some people would be ‘lovely, I’ve been to Romania’ or ‘I have Romanian friends’, but some people were quite negative,” she said. “They were saying the usual stereotypes about coming here to steal jobs or benefits or Romanians being criminals or negative views about the Romanian Roma community. It was not that I was always perceived as positive and then Brexit happened and, suddenly, I became this undesirable migrant.

“But I also speak from the perspective of a Romanian and Romanians have always had quite a negative image in the UK. The worst moment for me was actually 2014 because Romanians were suddenly given full rights to work in the UK and I remember all the tabloid media – especially on the right like the Daily Mail, Daily Express and so on – having the big headlines about ‘millions of Romanians invading the UK, coming to flood the job market’.”

She said that it took her time to understand the under-the-surface, insidious nature of prejudice which operates in Britain, whereby “some people have negative views towards migrants but they didn’t express them openly”, and believes that “Brexit often offered a platform for some people to express them more openly”.

“Growing up in Romania, some of my neighbours and people quite close to me, had negative views about migration and I grew up in quite a monocultural society,” she said. “So often you hear quite xenophobic or racist views but in Romania they were always, always expressed very openly without any shame. So then people could say ‘that’s wrong’ or debate it, but it was never hidden.

“And that’s what I realised [in the UK] when I was in conversations where people were like ‘it’s not about you, you’re okay, you’re studying, I’m not racist, it’s the others’ and I realised that there was something, culturally, I hadn’t understood before. The more I lived in the UK, the more I understood the nuances of this. When I arrived here, I thought if no one says anything negative to my face it means they’re okay with me, but that’s not always the case.”

Putting party politics aside, what she finds most upsetting about the leadership of the likes of Boris Johnson, Priti Patel and Michael Gove is their detachment from the impact of their decisions on real people’s lives. For her, one example of this was their promise, before the 2016 referendum, that the rights of EU citizens in the UK would be secure – before later announcing that they would need to apply for settled status. Another is Boris Johnson not knowing that most migrants have ‘no recourse to public funds’ and therefore cannot claim benefits.  

“A lot of the people in power in government right now are not interested in, let alone have, that lived experience,” Dr Bulat told Byline Times. “They don’t actually listen to the people who are affected by their policies. A hostile policy gets created but then a lot of the people involved have no idea how it will impact people on a day-to-day basis. It is disappointing to see people in politics who are very far removed from the realities.”

This is why she entered politics – to get issues such as immigration, from the viewpoint of migrants, on the agenda. “If you don’t have those voices in politics, change will be very, very slow,” she added.

Hardeep Matharu explores Priti Patel’s hardline approach towards other immigrants on Byline TV

The response to her political role has been mainly positive. “I never encountered anyone questioning my right to stand for election, my accent or where I’m from,” she said. “But I represent an area in Cambridge which is a very multicultural city, it is very different politically from the rest of the country.”

Online, Dr Bulat finds it’s a different story. “I encounter a lot of racist, xenophobic comments online. The classic ‘why should you have the right to stand for office when you weren’t born in the UK?’ or ‘obviously she wants to be in politics to bring more migrants in’ to just very personal, negative comments about me as a person. When people are not in front of you, and don’t have to say those things to your face, I think that makes a difference.”

One of the main narratives on migration in Britain, according to the councillor, is that migrants will be tolerated rather than welcomed. Even during the Coronavirus crisis, she says, a political choice was made to side-line their contributions.

“A lot of the press debate is ‘well, of course we want doctors and nurses and students – we just don’t want those low-skilled migrants’,” she told Byline Times. “And we have seen how this completely shifted in COVID times, when so many of our politicians suddenly realised that, actually, our hospitals can’t function without doctors, but they also can’t function without cleaners. So, the previously low-skilled, low-paid, undesirable people became the ‘key workers’ – but we still don’t hear a lot about migrant key workers.”

Having obtained settle status, Dr Bulat is also now a British citizen. When she first told friends she was applying for it, some of them asked her: “Why would you want to be a citizen of a country that treats migrants so badly?” But she sees her identity as very much connected to Britain.

“For me, it’s not only a practicality – you feel safer with citizenship – although I’m not so sure with this Borders and Nationality Bill now, but I genuinely consider myself part of the UK and having both British and Romanian citizenship reflects my identity,” she said.

“Growing up in Romania, I never particularly felt attached to a certain nationality. I’m not the person who follows all the Romanian traditions. I do post a message for the Romanian national day and so on, but I’m not the person who eats the traditional food and participates in all the Romanian events and celebrations. I was a bit remote from that even growing up. I felt differently from how my other colleagues or friends did.

“When I moved here, I came with the intention to move permanently. I think this does shape your identity. Because if you come with the intention of ‘this is the country I chose to live in and I will do everything possible to stay here and build my life and career here’, then everything works along those lines.

“All of my life is here. I’ve never worked in Romania, ever. So, if someone said to go there, I would really struggle.”

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Jobbik: What Does it Take to Deradicalise a Far-Right Party?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 21/12/2021 - 2:19am in

Jobbik: What Does it Take to Deradicalise a Far-Right Party?

Jobbik was once considered to be the greatest threat to Hungarian democracy – now it is part of an alliance trying to save it

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Mohács, a town with a population of 17,000 near Hungary’s border with Croatia – where 26-year-old Hungarian-German Patrik Schwarcz-Kiefer has won the United Opposition’s Primaries representing the right-wing party Jobbik – is a unique place. The town and its surrounding villages still have a significant German and Croatian population, living evidence of Hungary’s multicultural past. 

The United Opposition’s Primaries represent six parties with diverse political views working in unison to oust Hungary’s increasingly authoritarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz Party. Rather than competing against one another in 2022’s election, an alliance of green parties LMP and Párbeszéd, the liberal Momentum, the Hungarian Socialist Party, Democratic Coalition and the right-wing Jobbik Party will have a common candidate in each constituency and run on a single national list. 

Progressive parties cooperating with Jobbik would have been unimaginable ten years ago. So would a Jobbik candidate running on a platform to improve the lives of ethnic minorities in Hungary. In the late 2000s, the Party’s now-defunct paramilitary wing, the Hungarian Guard, regularly marched in Roma-populated settlements to intimidate the locals. Some Jobbik politicians used antisemitic tropes. 

But things in Hungary have changed a lot since Jobbik first entered Parliament in 2010. The same year, Viktor Orbán came to power with a two-thirds majority, allowing him to rewrite the constitution and begin to dismantle the rule of law in Hungary. He created new and distorted election rules that heavily favour Fidesz and shut down several independent media outlets. In the eyes of many, Hungary is no longer a democracy but a hybrid regime. 

Fidesz has transformed from a centre-right party to an anti-democratic nationalist party. Jobbik, meanwhile, travelled in the opposite direction. Its MPs in Parliament regularly articulate their dismay about the erosion of democracy and in 2020, they elected Péter Jakab as their leader – a person of Jewish heritage who used to teach in a school for disadvantaged Roma children. 

Post-Communist Rebellion

University students founded Jobbik in 1999 as a debate club giving voice to a broad range of views on the contemporary Hungarian right, before creating it as an independent party. 

Alongside the student activists in metropolitan Budapest, young right-wing people were developing a subculture in the countryside. This was a generation growing up post-communism, where a botched and overenthusiastic commitment to privatisation had led to a million people losing their jobs throughout the decade. Young people in rural Hungary were seeking the direct opposite of the country’s newfound pro-western status quo. 

Newly available radical right-wing texts led them to a concept known as ‘turanism’. This creed “preached the Asian origin of the Magyar tribes who arrived in the Carpathian Basin in the late 800s,” explained Rudolf Paksa, a historian specialising in the Hungarian right. “According to turanists, Hungary’s place is in the East, not the West.” 

Nationalist musicians started to incorporate turanism into their work, reaching a new ‘national radical’ audience – perfect for Jobbik’s burgeoning political identity.

A recording in October 2006 of Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány admitting that the Socialist Party had lied continuously for the past four years led to the national radicals feeling vindicated in their opposition to the new Western, democratic order. During widely-televised protests, a group of radicals, led by László Toroczkai stormed the headquarters of the public broadcaster. 

In the wake of the protests, Jobbik’s leader Gábor Vona started to appeal to the national radicals’ sentiments. By opening up to this subculture, he hoped Jobbik could attract young people drawn by nationalist rock songs and neopagan aesthetics. In late 2008, Vona asked the leaders of the Sixty-Four Counties Movement, which to this day openly advocates racism, to help Jobbik in the upcoming elections.

By the late 2000s, national radicalism had become Jobbik’s defining identity. Inflaming anti-Roma racism, the Party’s main message was to stand up against “gipsy-crimes”. It worked: Jobbik came third in the 2009 European elections and the 2010 national elections.

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Realpolitik or Poetry

Following its electoral success, Jobbik faced new competition. Fidesz quietly started to implement some of the far-right party’s suggested policy proposals. This included writing a new constitution and becoming increasingly critical of the European Union. The Fidesz Government also announced the “Eastern Opening”, aiming to establish closer ties with Russia and West Asian countries. 

A combination of its extremism and Fidesz adopting a harder-right policy platform, Jobbik’s polling numbers started to stagnate. To grow the Party needed to change. Initially, this change was confined to its rhetoric: with more extremist statements replaced by positive messages. 

“I really welcomed this process because I knew we would not be able to solve the problems of Hungarian society if we alienated the majority of the population,” Jobbik’s Vice President, Róbert Dudás, told Byline Times. Dudas joined the Party in 2009 and will be the United Opposition’s candidate in his native north-eastern constituency in 2022. 

The new tactics paid off. In 2014, Jobbik won its first constituency seat, indicating that the new direction was worth pursuing. By 2015, the change moved from rhetoric to practical policy-making – with Gábor Vona blocking prominent individuals from the radical wing of the party from running for leadership positions and stating that those who were seeking Nazi romanticisation should look elsewhere. Though not always successful, the Party also attempted to recall some of their radical politicians from prominent positions. 

The Party even replaced its Russian-friendly ideas in its 2018 manifesto with a campaign for a common “European Minimum Wage.” Vona insisted the Party had never been an antisemitic or anti-Roma party, although he acknowledged “bad tendencies” which he was prepared to apologise for. Speaking at the Spinóza Theatre in Budapest – widely associated with the city’s liberal establishment – he sought to sell himself as a moderate and sophisticated conservative.

Some believe Jobbik’s change was purely realpolitik. The real reason is likely more poetic. Despite never winning an election, Jobbik was a successful political party. Many of its flagship policies and its critical attitude to liberal democracy ended up being fully embraced by Fidesz. Unlike other radical parties, Jobbik got to experience the world it wanted to create. 

This led its leaders to realising the dire consequences of that very world they wanted to achieve.

Some party figures admitted this openly. Vona himself stated that he had only been a child during communist rule, therefore he did not appreciate living in a democracy enough. Experiencing the alternative to the form of governance he criticised so much changed his mind. 

Schwarcz-Kiefer seems to agree with this assessment. “Jobbik said a lot of things which Fidesz later implemented,” he explained. “In practice, they turned out to be totally unacceptable ideas that take Hungary in the wrong direction.”

However, many doubted Vona’s intentions and Jobbik did not manage to convince enough moderate voters – not least because the Party still had a considerable number of far-right figures within its ranks. The result was a disastrous showing for the opposition in 2018, with Fidesz gaining its third two-thirds constitutional majority. Vona stepped down as leader.

The defeat led to an attempt by the radical, spearheaded by Toroczkai, to regain control over the Party. Instead, the radical wing seceded to establish a new group known as Mi Hazánk. Schwarcz-Kiefer explained he essentially had to completely rebuild Jobbik’s Mohács branch in 2018 after the bulk of the membership either joined Mi Hazánk or left politics altogether.  

In what Dudás calls a “membership-swap”, many ordinary members followed the departing radical leaders. But new moderates joined Jobbik. They were either convinced by Vona’s resignation (though Jobbik’s politicians are sceptical of this assessment) or the departure of the radical wing. 

With Vona’s projected moderate conservatism having failed, the Party had to reinvent itself yet again. 


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Rural Communities and Rising Migration

A clue to understanding what Jobbik now stands for can be found in the Party’s results in the United Opposition primaries where politicians like Schwarcz-Kiefer and Dudás have enjoyed success in rural areas. 

According to Schwarcz-Kiefer, there are villages in his constituency that, in the past ten years, lost up to 40% of their populations due to migration. He attributes this to the lack of jobs and community life. While he condemns communist atrocities, these are communities that have some apparent nostalgia towards the rich social and economic village life under communist rule.

Schwarcz-Kiefer blames Hungary’s post-communist political elites for neglecting villages. “During the privatisation process, people tried to selfishly take as big of a slice from the local industry as they could,” he told Byline Times. “A generation grew up who had seen their parents suddenly become unable to sell their goods.” 

Dudás, whose constituency faces the same problems, agrees. “People in the countryside feel genuine nostalgia for socialism because, though it was unsustainable, it offered a predictable future for them,” he explained. “In the current system, they don’t have that.” 

Under Viktor Orbán’s Government, the slow death of villages only accelerated. “Building an outdoor gym in an ageing village without properly functioning roads will not solve anything,” says Schwarcz-Kiefer.

Jobbik’s new target audience of disaffected villagers who lost out after communism’s collapse is not dissimilar to the national radicals of the early-2000s. 

However, while the radicals attacked the cultural status quo, Jobbik now clearly focuses on material issues and economically left-wing solutions. The Party’s messaging tends to focus on the low minimum wage and the price of petrol. Jobbik’s new slogan, “The Party of the Countryside”, clearly shows the demographic they are after.

In the 1990s, the Party of Independent Smallholders articulated the same mission and was an important and regular presence in Parliament. Its demise is partly responsible for the popularity of extremist messaging in the Hungarian countryside which was left without genuine political representation. Jobbik is now trying to fill that void.

Jobbik’s relationship with its past remains complicated. Occasionally, past discriminatory comments of older members are uncovered by the media, leading to an apology. In more extreme cases, they are asked to step down from their positions. Schwarcz-Kiefer, a more junior figure in the party, openly states that he would have left Jobbik if it had not changed. However, despite the departure of extremists and a coherent new ideology, the leadership is reluctant to completely denounce Jobbik’s past. 

There are no records of Dudás expressing extremist ideas publicly. The ideas his wing fought for eventually prevailed in the party, therefore he seemingly has nothing to gain from sugar-coating the past. Yet, even he stands by the leadership’s narrative that Jobbik has never been an extremist party, just tolerated extremist individuals who tainted its reputation.

This may be because the moderate conservatives disillusioned with Fidesz and who joined Jobbik in its radical days are not yet willing to face their guilt about the extremism they allowed to foster in their ranks. It is also possible that Jobbik simply doesn’t want to lose the voters who have supported them since the 2000s. According to a recent survey, 16% of Jobbik voters claim that they vote for the Party because they have always done so.

Whatever the case, next year in small towns and villages, Jobbik will have a quintessential role to play in the attempt to reestablish the western-oriented, democratic Hungary they once rebelled against.

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The post Jobbik: What Does it Take to Deradicalise a Far-Right Party? appeared first on Byline Times.

Alone and Lonely: The Economic Cost of Solitude

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 21/12/2021 - 1:55am in

This column distinguishes between two forms of solitude – loneliness and living alone – and studies their influence on the economic performance of European regions at the local level.

Thirty Years On From the End of the Cold War, the UK Must Support Post-Soviet Success

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 20/12/2021 - 10:38pm in

Thirty Years On From the End of the Cold War, the UK Must Support Post-Soviet Success

Sir Ciarán Devane, former chief executive officer of the British Council, explains why Britain must not abandon the states that achieved independence from the Soviet bloc

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For those of us who grew up when the Cold War was the overriding paradigm and an unstable stand-off between what we used to call the West and the Soviet bloc was a terrifying reality, the events of December 1991 were momentous.

By the end of that month, the Soviet Union had finally collapsed and newly independent states were now actors on the global stage.

Thirty years later, some of those states are still in the news and our relationships with them are at times very difficult. Think of the recent fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan or reports of military build-ups on the Ukrainian/Russian border; refugees on the Belarusian/Polish border – or Britain’s own relations with Russia which were so seriously damaged after the 2018 poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal with Novichok in Salisbury.

But bad news is not the whole story and to get the full picture, we need to look at each of the 15 states – spanning from the Baltic Sea to the Tian Shan mountains in central Asia – which left the collapsed Soviet Union.

Although bound by a common history, the former Soviet republics’ sheer geographical diversity has produced divergent trajectories over the past three decades.

Eastern European nations, such as the Baltic states, have embraced the European Union’s political and trading bloc and Western security alliances. Nations in the Caucasus and central Asia, meanwhile, have shared a more uneven fate pursuing their own social and economic development largely independent of transnational blocs. Russia has its own story and, as the largest of the 15, remains a world power in its own right.

How the UK has engaged with the 15 is another story. Political relationships with Russia remain tense. Relationships with the former Eastern bloc countries in the EU are unrecognisable from a generation ago – cemented by migration flows, cultural exchange and shared international objectives.

Yet, in central Asia, the picture of British engagement is more mixed. Squeezed between China and Russia, the landlocked countries of central Asia have tended to lead a more isolated existence from UK cultural, economic and diplomatic outreach, reflected in more closed economies and restrained civil societies. They are societies in which UK business, educational and soft power organisations such as British Council – my old employer – gain insufficient traction, even as the region’s strategic importance grows.

However of these, one central Asian country and the one I know best stands apart, Kazakhstan.

‘Enlightened Self-Interest’

Last week, on 16 December, was Kazakhstan’s Independence Day. On that day, Kazakhstan became the last of the former Soviet republics, to celebrate its 30 years of independence.

Kazakhstan has experienced a remarkable transformation from a Soviet dumping ground into an upper-middle income economy. In three decades, its GDP per capita has increased 18-fold, now lagging behind only EU member states Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania of the former Soviet club. Outside of Europe, Kazakhstan is the richest landlocked country in the world.

This rapid economic development is powered by a rich natural resource wealth. It has been a resounding success story in which the UK has been a strong and committed supporter. Trade between the two countries was worth a healthy £2 billion a year before the Coronavirus pandemic, with various extractives flowing out of Kazakhstan and mainly professional services and technical expertise flowing in from the UK.

When I visited Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan’s capital a few years ago, it was to attend a conference of the UK, Kazakh and central Asian creative industries as we sought to promote technical exchanges, identify mutually beneficial business opportunities and share experiences from the UK’s fastest growing business sector.

Indeed, the UK’s example is strikingly visible in the future direction of central Asia’s largest economy.

The Astana International Financial Centre – which has ambitions to serve as a global finance hub straddling the time zones of major Asian and European financial centres – has embraced English common law (and even English judges) as a means to mediate commercial disputes. On climate change, Kazakhstan became the first central Asian country to set a target for achieving carbon neutrality by 2060 and, at the recent COP26 UN summit in Glasgow, agreed a strategic partnership agreement with the UK on support for the green transition. 

For me, this collaboration shows the benefit of having a clear, holistic and resourced plan for a bilateral relationship, aided it has to be said by able ambassadors and embassies in the respective capitals.

Another intriguing aspect of transitions from the Soviet Union is how the various states have engaged in the wider club of nations, be it bilaterally or multilaterally.

As a newly established ‘regional powerhouse’, Kazakhstan has sought to develop its identity in that club; its nation brand. It has sought to grow its reputation as a reliable, trusted and liked partner for the international community on global issues. Whether in ensuring regional security during the Afghan crisis or taking on active roles in international organisations like the World Trade Organisation, the country is increasingly assuming international responsibilities.

During the last UN General Assembly in October, Kazakhstan was elected a member of the UN Human Rights Council for 2022 to 2024. This is the second time in 10 years that it will be fulfilling this international duty, which should be seen as a statement of expectations and standards to be upheld by all.


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My cultural relations background would applaud this international ambition. We know from the evidence that trusted, engaged states are more likely to get foreign direct investment, more likely to be supported in the UN General Assembly, and more likely to get tourists and students come to benefit form a nation’s cultural and educational assets.

It is not just about being a good citizen and supporting global solutions to global problems. This mutuality leads to change, progress and development at home. If a lesson from studying global influence is that one should join every good club going and get on the committees, then Kazakhstan is certainly doing that. It is enlightened self-interest.

So many transitions from autocracy to liberal market democracies go wrong. It remains encouraging, perhaps in our current world even remarkable, that Kazakhstan has achieved such a radical economic transformation and progress in standards of living with a relatively stable political culture and muted involvement of civil society organisations. This creates a platform for other changes.

Britain’s Role

Over the next 30 years of Kazakhstan’s development, strengthening civil society and embedding political reforms will be pre-requisites for progress and for the evolution of the country into a more knowledge-based, advanced society.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who succeeded longstanding ruler Nursulatn Nazarbayev in 2019, acknowledged as much when he came to power.

Here, the UK can be a valuable partner in shaping Kazakhstan’s growing geopolitical and economic importance, and in promoting peace, security, and development across the wider central Asian region. To do so, the UK must recognise that its power lies in its example, and in engaging with the people, institutions and government of Kazakhstan so that they experience the UK and get under the skin of the example.

Providing significant aid programmes and medical supplies to help Kazakhstan and its regional partners support migrants fleeing Afghanistan will be vital. Cultural, scientific and educational exchanges, like those Erasmus+ enables, aimed at generating a deeper understanding of shared challenges and enshrining collaboration between the UK and Kazakhstan ought to be expanded. Programmes to support women leaders in industries of the future and to share innovations in building the circular economy are crucially importance. Strengthening civil society organisations and supporting a culture of enhancing social capital and institutional strength is no less so.

It is these types of relations which help foster stronger diplomatic ties, enable technology transfers, and crucially, establish shared objectives and commitments to reforms. A stronger, more capable Kazakhstan – one which trusts the UK and shares our values of fairness and openness – will only advance the UK’s interests in the world.

In the lifetime of a nation, three decades seem trivial. But the nation-building process that Kazakhstan has undertaken in the period since the fall of the Soviet Union has borne results. As the country and its former Soviet peers look ahead to the next three decades, seeking sustainable growth and fairer, more transparent societies, the UK has an invaluable role to play in showing a path forward.

My hope is that we rise to that challenge, not only with Kazakhstan or with the post-Soviet world, but as the foundation of our approach to foreign policy.

Sir Ciarán Devane was chief executive officer of the British Council from 2015 to 2020 and is director of the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations at Coventry University

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