There’s little doubt that Turkmenistan remains one of the most surreal places on earth, and certainly the most surreal place in Central Asia. But Kazakhstan seems determined to make its own mark in the bizarro-world category—in ways both good and bad. To wit:
- President Nursultan Nazarbayev has decided to be the subject of a new children’s fairy tale about himself. A newly published book heralds Nursultan Nazarbayev’s achievements on the international diplomatic scene in the form of illustrated fables, state news agency Kazinform reported. The book, titled “Leader of the Nation Nursultan,” was published to coincide with the president’s 71st birthday yesterday.
- The retailer, Saks Incorporated just got a license to open a Saks Fifth Avenue store in Kazakhstan in August 2012, which will be the country’s first Saks store. Still no word on when they’re getting a Starbucks.
- On the not-funny side of things, I have no idea what’s going on in the western province of Aktobe. Two months ago, a man blew himself up at a police station there. Now, RFE/RL is reporting an ongoing gunfight between police and an unknown armed group in the same area.
- And of course, let’s not forget Sting’s sudden discovery of international oil worker solidarity.
None of this makes Kazakhstan a particularly unique place in the world. Lots of countries, including (especially?) the United States have their eccentricities. But in Kazakhstan, there is a definite incongruity to their excesses—the growing tendrils of a personality cult around Nazarbayev, the ludicrous vanity architecture projects, or the astounding wealth of Almaty contrasted with the grinding poverty just outside the city.
Kazakhstan should be proud of and brag about its success, which is genuinely stunning. But that wealth has become entangled with bizarre monuments and reactions to it. And that’s what’s really interesting about it, I suppose.
The Khan Shatyr giant inflatable yurt-like tent is, naturally, ostentatious, ridiculous, and awesome.