Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Window on Eurasia: CIS a Continuing and Disappointing Act of Improvisation, Olzhas Suleymenov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 30 – The idea of the Commonwealth of Independent States, Kazakh writer and diplomat Olzhas Suleymenov says, was “not bad,” but it suffered, like many of the projects of the perestroika period, from “the lack of a well-thought-out plan” and thus has proved to be a continuing act of improvisation.

            In an interview carried in today’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” Suleymenov who attracted international attention and Soviet attack for his “Az i Ya” and who now serves as Kazakhstan’s permanent representative to UNESCO, says that outcome disappoints but does not surprise him (www.ng.ru/community/2012-10-30/11_result.html?mpril).

            Suleymenov recalls that he told both Mikhail Gorbachev and Aleksandr Yakovlev at the time that the peoples of the Soviet Union were “entering perestroika without a clear program and without perspective.  We knew only that Soviet power as it had become clear was bad. But was it necessary to destroy everything?”

            Clearly, the poet-diplomat says, it was not. Rather what was needed was to think through the entire system and recognize what was worth saving and how to ensure that the society did not end up without ideals as is the case now.  “People of my generation,” he says, “must think about what to say to the new generation deprived of our principles, ideals and worldview.”

            In today’s post-Soviet states what is most important for most people is “personal success and wealth, and the interests of the collective and the state stand in last place.” Indeed, Suleymenov laments, the words “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” belong “not to a socialist but to American President Kennedy.”

            “This is an ideology which we do not have today,” he continues.

            In the 1980s, Suleymenov argues, “at the start of perestroika the possibility existed to influence the situation.” But today, he says, “I see not only the mistakes of other people but also the mistakes of our entire generation,” mistakes that make todays results anything but “unexpected.”

            “Already in those years it was clear that everything was moving not in the direction it should. And now, not one of the former republics of the USSR feels itself to be a reliable bulwark for future generations,” Suleymenov suggests, noting that he is currently writing a small book directed at young people that is intended to influence the future.

            Suleymenov told “Nezavisimaya gazeta” that he grew up in the difficult war years and was struck both by the Soviet system’s publication of German poetry at the time of the German invasion and the deportations of whole nations from the North Caucasus to Central Asia, an act he saw and in June 1989 led the USSR Supreme Soviet campaign to denounce.

            The Kazakh writer noted that his priorities have shifted over time, recalling that in the introduction to his book retelling the Tale of Igor’s Host from an alternative position, it was necessary for him to combine in himself “an Islamic specialist, a Turkologist, a poet, a historian and a linguist.”

            Today, Suleymenov concluded, he is focusing on etymology, a field which should involve those who “feel the word poetically.”  To that end, he says he is “trying to generalize the results of his many years of work into a new conception of linguistics,” an effort that will represent both a return to his roots and a contribution to the future.

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