This year marks the 175th anniversary of the birth of Abai Kunanbaiuly, the eminent Kazakh poet, composer and philosopher. To mark this occasion in Kazakhstan, a special commission has been created. It plans to organise large-scale events both domestically and internationally to celebrate the life of this great nationalist, who was born on August 10, 1845 and died on July 6, 1904.
Here Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev talks to Inside Recent about what Abai stood for and his contributions to uniting the people and the country:
Why is Kazakhstan celebrating this anniversary?
It is not just a celebration, but rather a spiritual enlightenment.
Abai Kunanbaiuly left an indelible mark on the history of our country as a scientist, thinker, poet, visonary, founder of new national literature, translator and composer. His poems and prose reflected national identity, life, worldview, character, soul, faith, language, traditions and the spirit of the people which were later recognised as the world of Abai.
How is Kazakhstan keeping alive Abai’s legacy?
Last year, I took part in reading excerpts from the works of Abai which was proposed by a schoolgirl named Lailim. This initiative, in which many actively participated, from schoolchildren to adults, including world-famous individuals, lasted several months.
Thanks to this, the whole of Kazakhstan again studied the heritage of Abai. This is respect for Abai and an effective way of raising children. I hope that the challenge of reading Abai’s poems this year in honour of the poet’s anniversary will be revitalised in a new way.
Is the legacy of Abai useful today?
First President Elbasy Nursultan Nazarbayev in his article “Course towards the future: modernisation of Kazakhstan’s identity” emphasised the importance of renewing public consciousness. The preservation of national identity and its adaptation to modern requirements has become a national issue. Because the modernisation of identity paves the way for the breakthrough development of the country in the 21st century.
In this regard, I believe that the legacy of Abai is very useful. The works of the great poet are relevant today. Abai’s ideas can always be spiritual food for all of us.
Therefore, it is necessary to rethink the rationale and rational use of his labour in the modernisation of the nation.
How is Abai relevant in today’s context?
Revival is not a departure from the past and the discovery of only new values. Revival is not a departure from the past and the discovery of only new values. In fact, this is a phenomenon that seeks to develop our national heritage in tandem with today’s positive trends.
At the same time, we cannot move past Abai. The great thinker more than a century ago called on the nation to be modernised, develop, become new.
The First President – Elbasy said: “Despite the changing time and changing world, our people are not disappointed with Abai, over time, they discover for themselves the new aspects and secrets of his greatness.
“Abai will forever coexist with his native people, invoking the people of Kazakhstan for centuries to reach new heights.”
This clearly indicates that the poet’s legacy is valued as an eternal will.
Looking at the works of Abai, we see that he always sincerely wanted the country to be promoted and prosper, and he fully magnified this idea. And science and education are the basis of progress.
Abai, with all his soul and body, wished that the Kazakhs continued to learn and develop. He said, “Do not boast until you master science,” thus he will not be at his best until he possesses knowledge.
He said: We do not want to buy science for livestock, emphasising that for the prosperity of the country it is necessary to master science. We need to understand the instructive teaching of the Great Abai: Do not think about profit, think about conscience, strive to know more.
These findings are relevant today. More important than ever. This is because in the XXI century we see that the goal of science is to strive for the top, to move forward.
And our task is not only to keep up with progress, but also to take the initiative.
To do this, we need, first of all, to modernise the education system. A lot of work has been done for these purposes, but there are still gaps in domestic education. Ways to improve it are highlighted in the election programme and at the August conference last year.
What steps have the government taken to improve domestic education?
The adoption of the Law On the status of a teacher is one of the positive initiatives in this direction. This is a step towards improving the quality of education. In general, in any society, the position of a teacher is special. Teachers play a key role in raising a consciously aware generation.
We must respect and honour teachers. Therefore, the state should improve the status of the teaching profession and create conditions for its carefree functioning.
Abai especially emphasised that one of the good deeds is the study of language. The poet in his twenty-fifth speech further says that a different language will give a person the following: Having studied the language and culture of other peoples, a person becomes equal among them, is not humiliated by worthless requests.
That means it is also important for us to be on a par with people who are ahead of us. And in the new current historical context, we all need to pay attention to the development and glorification of our native language and raise its status.
In addition, learning English is a priority. The more languages young people learn, the wider their opportunities. However, they must know their native language.
Why is learning science so important?
The young generation, as Abai said, will benefit our people only if they are completely familiar with science, respect their language and really are a polyglot.
The world does not change every day, but every hour. In each area, new challenges and new requirements appear. News in science is pushing man forward. The time has come when you can defeat only with intellect.
To keep up with the times, we need to have a clear mind. This step requires the ability to combine the best aspects of civilisation with national interests. At such a time, we must abandon our stereotypes and habits.
For this reason, Abai was dissatisfied with some of the actions and always criticised they do no seek deep thought, deep scientific knowledge, lying and gossip whipping like wool.
The poet urged people to master different types of art. He clearly knew that all this was a matter of time, and spoke in advance about this with the nation. Even the idea of forming an intellectual nation, which we are talking about today, can be considered as being initiated by Abai. The great thinker sought in every word to develop a nation.
Why is it important to study Abai in depth?
To know Abai is to know oneself. Self-knowledge and continuous self-development of a person, giving priority to science and education – are an expression of perfection. This is the intellectual nation. In this regard, Abai’s word should become the guiding force of the generation.
Abai called for raising every Kazakh child as a patriot of the country. His legacy is the school of wise patriotism, the foundation of reverence for the country. Therefore, if we want our citizens to be educated, we should not get tired of reading Abai and memorising his poems.
We need to learn to love the country and the nation, as Abai did. Although the great poet sharply criticised the flaws of the nation, he had only one thought – to raise Kazakhs, his people.
The rich heritage of Abai serves the formation of a new quality of the Kazakh nation. Reflections in his works instil in every person a sense of patriotism in relation to his people, country and land. That is why the absorption of the fruits of labour into consciousness and the transformation into the lifeforce of the young generation is one of the important steps in the revival of the nation.
Why is it important to respect the state?
We need to strengthen our statehood in order to prosper as a sovereign state. It should be understood that the maintenance of law and order and public order is a universal responsibility.
If the people do not have respect for the authorities, it will lead to criticism of the country. Therefore, the importance of respect for the state needs to be explained to the citizens, and especially the youth.
In this case, it is necessary to pay attention again to the heritage of Abai. The great poet in his works exalted country goals and national unity.
He came up with the idea of creating a just society. The views of Abai are of paramount importance for the society and welfare of Kazakhstan in the 21st century. The positions of the wise Abai are consistent with the principles of a civilised state.
Justice will be firmly entrenched only if the rule of law, government transparency and accountability to the people are at a high level, and civil society representatives are actively involved in state affairs.
Why is it important to have a constructive dialogue between the state and society?
My concept of “A State that Listens to the Voice of the People” was proposed for the development of the idea of a just society. A constructive dialogue between the state and society strengthens trust in the state.
Members of the government, including ministers and rulers, should take into account the proposals and wishes of citizens when making decisions on issues of state and social importance. I think that this is the only condition for the formation of a just society, about which Abai spoke.
The great poet did not say in vain: Important advice is lost, the country began to whisper. It also indicates that people are dissatisfied with the ruler.
The government should always listen to the people, so that our contemporaries, who “have no other business but whispering, are not skilled in the household” do not grow.
Representatives of the state and the public created the National Council of Public Trust to discuss and resolve problematic issues. I worked closely with its members to ensure that the council did not become official.
Why is meritocracy important?
The work of Abai also emphasises the problem of meritocracy. He appreciated a person based on his merits, and not on his status. The great poet gave the right direction to Kazakh youth.
Currently, Kazakhstan is undergoing a process of political modernisation. With the support of the First President – Elbasy, a new generation of leaders has appeared.
However, there are often reports that our country needs radical political changes. But it is important to come to a nationwide agreement on this issue, to truly assess the state’s capabilities and to responsibly approach the assigned responsibilities.
Those who think about change do not care about the future of the country, they simply focus on populist ideas.
Populism has become global in nature as a negative trend. The voices of groups that do not have a clear strategy and seek power with empty slogans are often heard all over the world. Speaking of such noisy people, Abai says: They are poisoning idle talk, they will leave us in the cold someday.
In fact, this is a dangerous trend that undermines the development of any country and weakens the uniqueness of the nation.
As Abai said, excessive boasting, counting others below oneself and contention are completely unsuitable for us. We need to take every step clearly, and thoroughly analyse what is happening in the world and in our country. It is important to put peace and unity above all – that is the key to our stability and development. You should think about the interests of the state, while maintaining the
relationship, to appreciate the work done.
Only pursuing such a policy will we be able to achieve all our strategic goals and make Kazakhstan one of the most developed countries.
How can a new society be developed?
The core of the new Kazakhstan is the new society. At the same time, we must focus on enhancing the dignity of our nation and enhancing the competitiveness of our people. It is also necessary to get rid of the negative traits that impede the development of society and violate our unity.
Today, a number of intellectuals around the world warn against the crisis of classical capitalism and are sceptical of its future.
Because in the world, rich and poor, educated and uneducated, the city and the village have become far from each other. The pace of this process is growing steadily. Business provides profit, educated formed a separate circle, and each began to bear responsibility only for themselves. Cities are growing rapidly, and small villages are underdeveloped.
Scientists believe that this is all associated with a weakening of social responsibility.
Will social responsibility return?
Of course, this is not an easy task. The solution to this complex problem should be sought in Abai’s “Holistic man” formula. The word holistic man corresponds to the English term A man of integrity. This is characteristic only for those who are very confident in themselves, striving for good and kindness. This concept, which is now widespread, was interpreted by Abai in the 19th century.
Human life as a whole consists of various relationships. Without this, a person would be separated from society. And communication, of course, is mutually responsible. This responsibility is violated when selfishness intervenes. That is why Abai said: “Keep your mind, strength, heart on an equal footing, and you will be filled separately from the country”, meaning that a person needs a good heart, as well as a clear mind and willpower.
He considers these three concepts constantly in unity, but believes that the first two should be subordinate. This is the philosophy of life of the Kazakh people.
Our people, who lived with such concepts in a difficult situation, were friendly to other nations. Even if he had nothing to eat, they considered it a duty to share a piece of bread. There was always respect for the elders, respect for the younger, help was provided to the disabled and support to the fallen. Glorifying and transmitting these values, our people have done everything possible to preserve them as a nation.
Is it time to rethink Abai’s concept of a “holistic man”?
Our scientists need to conduct new research in this direction. I believe that the concept of a “holistic man”, in fact, should become a fundamental pillar in any area of our lives, in government and education, in business and family institutions.
One of the themes that has become the foundation of Abai’s creativity is the fight against laziness and idleness. The poet constantly urges to be attentive, sensitive and not be distracted by negligence and entertainment. He preferred to hone it through labour.
It also delves into the psychological aspects of dealing with laziness, proving that rational actions can overcome anxiety.
The emotional intelligence, which we are talking a lot about, is also in focus. He promoted to get rid of the psychology of boasting and laziness, to work hard, to seek knowledge.
We are all well aware of the thoughts in the verses of Abai: “If you work tirelessly, you will be full”, “Satiety, Idleness, spoil a person”, “Believe in yourself, your work and mind will save you.”
Each person must firmly consolidate these key concepts and set an example for others with their honest work.
Our people understand the value of labour. We have not forgotten that the hard work of our parents became a huge force that led to victory. Now, too, there are enough exemplary cases of simple hardworking people. Recently, some of them have been presented with state awards.
How can citizens be taught that productive work directly affects the development of the country’s economy?
Abai can be considered the basis of efficiency, the motivator of the industriousness of his time. In the works of the great thinker, an example is given of where there is labour, there is good, skills of teaching the household.
He calls for new ways of working to improve the quality of life. Along with this, the poet emphasises initiative, honesty in the profession. For example, in the tenth word he concludes: “Who will not become rich if he works hard, works diligently, finds his place?”
According to Abai, in order to earn a living, you need to learn craft. Because “Wealth eventually fades away, but skill doesn’t” (thirty-third word).
I think that the ideas of the great poet are relevant today for the society of Kazakhstan. That is why today we note that getting rid of the psychology of dependence on raw materials and the maximum prosperity of small and medium-sized businesses are one of the main priorities.
Why does Abai have a special place in Kazakhstan’s culture?
Almost every modern civilized state can boast of its rich historical personalities. Among them are politicians, statesmen and public figures, leaders, poets and writers, figures of art and culture. The
Kazakh people also have plenty of outstanding personalities, and among them Abai has a special place. But we are still unable to introduce our great thinker to the world.
Over the years of my diplomatic service, I often met with politicians and experts in various fields. I exchanged views with foreigners on many issues common to mankind. In general, they are well aware of the political and economic achievements of Kazakhstan. But not enough with our spiritual and cultural values.
The question arises: “Why don’t we reveal the Kazakh culture through Abai?”
The scientist Abai is a genius of the Kazakh land of a global level. He sowed the seed of mind and wisdom to all mankind. Our researchers, who have in depth studied the poetic power of Abai, say that he received inexhaustible material from Kazakh folklore, Eastern and Western word art, Russian literature and historical works.
What was Abai’s attitude towards God?
The great thinking of Abai is also clearly reflected in his religious taste and understanding. “Allah is the truth, the word is the truth, truth is never false,” he said.
It is clear that he came to this conclusion, having deeply studied, comprehended the works of the philosophers of East and West. In the thirty-eighth word, he expresses his attitude towards God.
Religious philosophers, who appreciated Abai’s spiritual horizons, pay special attention to his concept of “a faithful Muslim.” The concept of a “faithful Muslim” probably concerned not only the
Kazakhs, but the entire Muslim world. Here is our thinker and sage Abai, who continues to grow at the world level thanks to this religious point of view.
How can the real Abai be revealed to the world?
As you know, we hold traditional meetings of all religions in our capital. There is a balance between the purpose of such events and the position of the great Abai.
We all think about the poet’s desire to preserve the purity of the soul of all mankind.
As you know, the image of Abai was highly appreciated as an artistic image in world literature thanks to the novel by Mukhtar Auezov “The Way of Abai”.
But this is only one of the aspects of knowing Abai. To know the real Abai, the poet Abai, it is necessary to reveal the meaning of the ideas expressed in his poems and prose. It should be translated into the main languages of the world, preserving all its colours.
It is hard to say that we have succeeded. Translation of the true national poets into other languages is not an easy task. A translator must also have the talent of the same thinker.
Our “Abaeologists”, linguists and sympathetic citizens of Abai should pay special attention to this.
First President – Elbasy Nursultan Nazarbayev said: “Abai is not only an outstanding person who made an invaluable contribution to the spiritual treasury of the Kazakh people, but also a wise person who worked hard to make the Kazakh people a nation.
Abai is a wonderful figure among world-class thinkers. Indeed, the works of a wise poet can enrich the spiritual life of not only Kazakhs, but the whole of humanity, because the content of Abai’s works is full of universal values.
His words of edification are the common property of the peoples of the world. This is a collection of classical ideas, instructive words, sayings, edifications – although the names are different, this is a special genre.
In his words of edification, Abai demonstrates that he has flourished and reached spiritual heights, praising the heritage of mankind. The foundation of his words of edification is humanity, culture and kindness.
The letters of the French thinker Montaigne come to mind when we look for alternatives to the words of the wise Abai. However, if Montaigne thinks more about his personality and human nature, the main mission of the words of Abai’s edification is to think, to let others think, to turn the goal into a principle. The words of edification of a great thinker are a very valuable work.
How will Abai help glorify Kazakhstan?
The higher we represent Abai in world culture, the higher the honour of our nation. In the modern era of globalisation and the era of information technology, Abai’s word should make everyone contemplate.
There are enough personalities in the world who have made a significant contribution to the development of various fields of science and education, and have been recognised by universal thinkers.
For example, when thinking of China, we immediately recall Lao Tzu and Confucius. When we think of Russia, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy come to mind, and with France we recall Voltaire and Rousseau.
We must also reach such a level that when mentioning Kazakhstan we immediately remember the name of Abai. It would be a great honour if other people would greet us and say: The Kazakh people are the people of Abai.
No matter how Abai is praised, everything fits. His instructive life and true creativity are a role model not only for the Kazakh people, but also for the whole world.
Abai’s ideas about man and society, education and science, religion and traditions, nature and the environment, state and government, language and communication have not lost their significance for centuries, because the poet’s legacy is the spiritual food of all mankind.
As long as there is a Kazakh country, the name Abai will continue to grow. If we hold high his precious words as a spiritual treasure, then the dignity of our homeland before the world will certainly increase.
How can Abai be promoted?
First of all, we must promote Abai as the cultural capital of our nation. Let’s not forget that civilized countries value Kazakh identity, culture, literature and spirituality with the degree and popularity of outstanding personalities at the world level. Therefore, it is necessary to introduce Abai as a brand of a new Kazakhstan to the world community. This is the sacred duty of today’s generation.
Why are Abai’s views important for Kazakhstan?
We need to carefully read the works of Abai if we want to renew our national consciousness and create a competitive nation. His views on various processes in society today are very useful for Kazakhstan.
Abai, who reflects the image of not only his time but also of modern society, fought hard on the way to the country’s goal.
We all know well that each Kazakh has a dombra in a respectable place. I believe that in every family there should also be a book by Abai and a novel by Mukhtar Auezov “The Way of Abai”.
The next generation should follow the clean path of Abai. This is the fulfilment of the dream of the great poet.
Therefore, we must learn from the thoughts of Abai.
What are the events that will be organised to commemorate Abai’s anniversary?
This year more than 500 events will be organised at the international, national and regional levels dedicated to the 175th anniversary of Abai.
The main event will be the International Scientific and Practical Conference Heritage of Abai and World Spirituality, which will be held in August in Semey in collaboration with UNESCO. Also in October, Nur-Sultan will host an international conference on the topic of Abai and issues of spiritual revival.
These events will allow a comprehensive study of the personality and heritage of Abai and open the way to his work for the benefit of the new Kazakhstan of the 21st century.
One of the important projects is the translation and publication of the works of the great poet in ten languages. In particular, the work of Abai will be translated into English, Arabic, Japanese, Spanish, Italian, Chinese, German, Russian, Turkish and French.
Several documentaries and the television series “Abai” about the life, heritage of the poet, his role in the development of Kazakh culture will be created.
The field of poetry is not an exception. Theater and music festivals will be held at the national and international levels. This year the awards are dedicated to the work of Abai. The State Prize for the best works in the field of literature and art will now be called the Abai State Prize.
The inauguration of Abai’s personality and heritage continues abroad. It is planned to create “Abai Centres” at the embassies of Kazakhstan in Russia, France, the United Kingdom and other countries.
These cultural events need to be organised without squandering.
The cemetery of the Kunanbai Oskenbaiuly dynasty in the village of Akshoky, East Kazakhstan Region, will be improved.
At the same time, I believe that the government should take the following measures to exalt Abai’s personality at a high level:
Semipalatinsk region is one of the most sacred places in the history of the Kazakhs. Therefore, the city of Semey, which occupies a special place in the spiritual development of the country, should be attributed to the historical centre.
The birthplace of the Great Abai, Shakarim and Mukhtar Auezov deserve special respect. In this regard, it is necessary to develop the socio-economic aspect of the city and modernise its historical and cultural objects in accordance with new requirements. I instruct the government to take appropriate measures regarding this.
As part of the anniversary year, it is necessary to create favourable conditions for the public who want to decorate the sacred place of Abai – the famous Zhidebai and honour the spirit of the great poet.
In addition, it is necessary to pay special attention to the state historical-cultural and literary- memorial reserve-museum of Abai Zhidebai-Borili and turn it into a centre of scientific and educational work.
In Zhidebai, it is necessary to establish a new building dedicated to the museum, the Heritage of Abai.
State support is needed for the Abai journal, which was founded in 1918 in Semipalatinsk by Mukhtar Auezov and Zhusipbek Aimauytov and has been published since 1992.
These and other large-scale events will be held to honour the spirit of the great Abai and glorify his
rich heritage. Therefore, I urge all Kazakhstan people to take an active part in this noble initiative.
We attach great importance to the 175th anniversary of Abai as an event that will renew public consciousness and give impetus to our development as one country, a whole nation.
I think that the main goal of this event is some kind of reporting back to the national teacher of the country. Critique of Abai is serious and constructive critique.
Through the initiative of the First President – Elbasy and the support of the country we have conquered great heights. We set the goal to enter the top 50 most advanced countries and achieved this ahead of schedule.
We plan to join the top thirty. And we will achieve this. Abai’s legacy can also help us achieve this goal. The next question is whether we can comprehend the help of Abai.
Can Kazakhstan make sense of Abai’s thoughts?
The celebration of glory should stimulate the search for ways to fulfil the great task facing the nation.
We wish every citizen to think about our country in anticipation of this celebration. What did Abai give us? What did Abai demand from us? What did Abai expect from us? What affairs in the country did Abai admire? Could you learn from this? Which affairs upset Abai? Did we manage to get rid of this?
In other words, we can be satisfied thinking about whether we are doing the five best things that the poet spoke about and whether we are getting rid of the five enemies.
The legacy of Abai is a sacred value that opens the way to unity as a nation and the development of our people.
Ultimately, if we follow the advice of Abai in any area of life, we will become strong as a country and achieve our goals as a state.
The dream of Abai is the dream of the people. We should not spare our strength in fulfilling the dreams and responsibilities of the people. Abai’s helpful instructions lead new Kazakhstan to such heights in the 21st century.