This past weekend was no ordinary one in Kazakhstan. On the night of November 7 a military plane bearing the country’s national symbols — flag, national emblem, and presidential standards — left Almaty for the opening ceremony of the country’s new capital, Akmola. (KTK Commercial TV, November 8; Keshkilik Xabar TV, November 8) The following afternoon, November 8, President Nazarbaev, accompanied by Prime Minister Nurlan Balgimbaev and members of the Cabinet, arrived for the opening ceremony. (Xabar TV, November 8) The president announced that he and the government would start working in Akmola as early as December 10 and that an official presentation of the new Kazakh capital in Akmola would be held in June, 1998. In line with a presidential decree of October 20, Almaty will be the "southern capital" of culture and finance, and Akmola the "northern capital" of politics and administration.
November 8 represented the fifth change in date for the opening ceremony since a presidential decree, which instated Akmola, was issued in September of 1995. As recently as last year, rumors still circulated as to whether the capital would move at all, and only in 1997 did architects finally put their minds together on the layout of Akmola. (Kazakhhstanskaya pravda, November 7, 1997) Ever since, workers have been busy day and night constructing new high-rise apartment buildings at the entrance to the city, while all the time frantically affixing plastic or marble facades to old buildings. Only six ministries have moved to the steppe; the remainder have representatives who, housed in student dormitories until the close of the year, will continue to travel intermittently the 1,200 km, or 20-hour train ride, between the two cities. (Panorama, November 7, 1997) The total cost of the move is estimated at $500 million to $1 billion.
When the president first mooted his intention to move the capital in July, 1994, he justified the decision in geographic and geopolitical terms. He pointed to the fact that the surrounding mountains in Almaty allowed no room for expansion and that the city faces smog problems and is built on a faultline. A modern capital, Nazarbaev also stressed, "should be located in the center of the country." (Kaztag News Agency, July 7, 1997) Unofficial sources, meanwhile, state that the government wishes to distance itself from China, an historical enemy, and be closer to the northern regions which are heavily populated by ethnic Russians and who, for a variety of factors, might secede to Russia. The 30 percent Kazakh population in Akmola is slowly rising. Still another version contends that Nazarbaev hopes for a clean start in the new capital by distancing himself from powerful southern networks. To be remembered as the first president of both a new Republic and a new capital can also not be ignored.
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