He's been a fairy-tale hero, had a university named after him, and he can visit countless museums dedicated to himself across the country. Now Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev is set to enjoy a new privilege -- his own special holiday. The Day of the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan -- December 1 -- was established toward the end of 2011 to mark the date on which Nazarbaev won Kazakhstan's first independent presidential election in 1991.
The country has been gearing up with events glorifying the first and only post-Soviet Kazakh president. On November 20, the Education and Science Ministry announced the winner of a schoolchildren's competition in honor of Nazarbaev. Teenager Elbasy Begmat won with his extensive knowledge of Nazarbaev's biography. His name, Elbasy, means "head of the nation" and is an official title held by Nazarbaev.
After the award ceremony in Astana, Begmat said he was named Elbasy so that he could be "a wise politician like the head of the nation Nursultan Nazarbaev." He added that he planned to become an engineer "and serve our people like Elbasy." On December 1, the Astana administration says, various events will be held in the capital, including sports competitions, photography displays, book exhibitions, and concerts.
The Education and Science Ministry is going one step further, announcing that it will hold week-long events dubbed "New Kazakhstan in the New World." The initiative, described as "Nazarbaev Week" in the media, will start on November 29 and will include panel discussions, youth forums, and photo and book exhibitions on Nazarbaev. The ministry said nearly 1,500 participants from 51 countries, including scholars and politicians, had expressed an interest in taking part in the panels on topics like "Kazakhstan's Initiatives in Foreign Policy" and "The Social Modernization of Kazakhstan."
Critics say Nazarbaev has increasingly been the object of a cult of personality. That view was bolstered in August when the self-styled "head of the nation" got his place cemented in the history books with the publication of his first official biography. Last year, a giant statue of him was erected in Almaty's Park of the First President -- another of Nazarbaev's official titles. He has lent his name or likeness to countless statues, parks, museums, secondary schools, and institutes across the country. Astana celebrates its city day on his birthday, which is a national holiday. Nazarbaev, 72, has ruled in an authoritarian style since Soviet times. He has extended his own mandate through four presidential elections -- none of them considered free or fair by Western election monitors -- and a referendum.
This post appears courtesy of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.