Kazakhstan’s New Capitals

by Joshua Foust on 8/2/2011

Friend of the blog (and fellow Joshua!) Joshua Kucera is writing a dispatch series over at Slate about Almaty and Astana this week. Yesterday he took a peak at Khan Shatyr:

But the spectacular exterior and the hype surrounding the building had obscured the fact that it is, after all, a mall, a fact that is inescapable as soon as you step inside and see the Polo outlet and a Cinnabon. It would fail to impress the average suburban American teen—there are nicer malls in Astana itself. Most of the shops weren’t yet open, their windows papered over. A bucket of white paint left out in one hallway suggested some frenzied last-minute preparations to get the mall ready in time…

Kazakhstan is both far more modern and more dynamic than people think. But it is also highly sensitive about how it’s seen abroad. Kazakhstan’s effort to rope so many world leaders into attending a mall opening is of a piece with its ambitious—often shameless—desire to take a place on the world stage.

Heh. And today he has up part two:

In trying to unpack the meaning of Astana, perhaps the must fundamental question is why it exists at all. There were practical reasons to move the capital—Almaty is on an earthquake fault line, and it’s on the far southeastern edge of a vast country. But Almaty is also the most pleasant city in Central Asia—leafy, cosmopolitan, with a gorgeous setting at the foot of a mountain range. It’s much more livable than Astana, and few people who don’t have to move to the new capital do so…

Astana is rising in such a hurry that up close, the signs of shoddy construction are evident, even on the prestige projects. On the pedestrian mall that runs along Astana’s axis, the paving stones are precariously loose. A maquette of Astana’s monuments, also on the mall, appears, upon close inspection, to be made up of pen-and-ink drawings backed with cardboard, like a grade-schooler’s diorama. Chikanayev, the architect, bluntly admitted that the quality of construction in Astana was poor: “Now they just build it and leave it, not like in Soviet times, when things were maintained.”

Kucera will be posting more throughout the week.


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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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