Kazakhstan announced today that it has formally applied for a seat at the United Nations Human Rights Council. In its release to state media, Kazakh Minister for Foreign Affairs Yerzhan Kazykhanov promoted the UNHRC’s work, and announced that Kazakhstan had met 88% of the Council’s recommendations.
Democracy has seen hard sledding in the Trans-Caspian region in the wake of the Soviet Union’s fall, and the transition from the iron fist of communism to more open democratic norms has been the subject of a great deal of criticism from the West, much of it merited. It is nevertheless worth keeping in mind that most of Kazakhstan’s leadership came of age as Soviet apparatchiks, academics, and functionaries, and that the Soviets decimated civil society as an intermediating force between the people and the state.
There’s a lot left to do. But when one of the former Soviet republics, even one with an uneven record like Kazakhstan, makes a bid for Western integration and recognition, we should encourage that transition. Exposure to Western norms and commerce will have the dual effects of acclimating the political and business leadership to the way functional democracies handle themselves and their societies.
Even aping a commitment to human rights is a step forward, and offering Kazakhstan a seat at this table will encourage it to make further movement toward Western-style democracy. This will not be — can not be — an overnight process, as there are decades upon decades of bad habits to unlearn, and this generation of leaders must adapt to a rapidly changing world. But the plain fact that Kazakhstan is making this move of its own initiative bodes well for its future, a future we would do well to encourage.
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