[Backlog post — Article received on 20 November 2013]
In an early November visit to the United States, Ambassador Olzhas Suleimenov of Kazakhstan offered American audiences a rare glimpse into his vast literary contributions and the large literary tradition of his homeland. His impressive body of work spans half a century and is revered as one of the richest and most enduring representations of Eurasian cultural traditions. Suleimenov is more than an accomplished writer, however. He also serves as his country’s envoy to UNESCO, the United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture. In that job he has become a prominent advocate for international nuclear nonproliferation, a priority of the government he represents.
Ambassador Suleimenov is the founder of the Nevada-Semipalatinsk Movement, which is named for two of the most notorious locations for nuclear weapons testing: the state of Nevada in the U.S. and the Semipalatinsk region of Kazakhstan, which was the former Soviet Union’s major testing ground. The movement was a driving force behind the successful push two decades ago to close all nuclear testing sites and rid the Central Asian region of nuclear warhead arsenals. The Ambassador continues to be active in the cause of nuclear nonproliferation and regularly shares his expertise with other organizations advocating nuclear disarmament. He made that case wherever he spoke in Washington, D.C. and in New York.
The focus of his visit, though, was largely literary. He has been hailed as one of the most influential Russian-language authors of his generation. Ambassador Suleimenov has long been a strong proponent of cultural exchanges and a promoter of understanding between the West and the East. He spoke eloquently in the U.S. in favor of a constructive approach to globalization as well as the introduction of liberal democratic values in his native land.
His stops included a featured lecture at the Library of Congress, a keynote address at GeorgeWashingtonUniversity and a book-party speech at the National Arts Club in New York. His talks were wide ranging. He covered contemporary Kazakh literary and social realities, the mutual benefits of forging strong cultural ties between the U.S. and Central Asia, and the importance of continuing the push for nuclear nonproliferation in a multi-polar world.
At the Library of Congress, he donated a copy of his previously published masterpiece, “GreenDesert: The Life and Poetry of Olzhas Suleimenov,” which is the first comprehensive translation of his works into English. The New York University Press hosted the launch of “22 Ideas to Fix the World: Conversations with the World’s Foremost Thinkers” a collection of interviews and conversations from revolutionary thinkers around the world, including Ambassador Suleimenov.
Reflecting on the importance of the book and what it is trying to accomplish, the Ambassador noted that it is very difficult to get people from different cultures to talk about major problems and to agree on common solutions. He also argued that despite the geopolitical implications, the Central Asian region is not currently very influential in the international system. He espoused the notion – and, it’s fair to say, advocated – that Central Asia could assume a more visible role and become a hub, connecting East with West. Kazakhstan, after all, has been a crossroads for centuries.
Ambassador Suleimenov also detailed his ideas about fostering a “planetary consciousness.” In his view, this would entail teaching people to think in terms of what is best for all of humanity or the entire planet rather than just individual or narrow national interests. He tied this concept into the idea of multiculturalism and the building of channels for dialogue between people with vastly different points of view. This idea fostered the most conversation and approval among his U.S. audiences.
In responses to questions from his audiences, the Ambassador expressed hope that the still-fledging Eurasian Union – a proposed regional free-trade consortium – could help foster this type of thinking. Integrating economies and building interdependence, he argued, is a first step toward building the foundations for a planetary consciousness. The key, he argued, is to find points of commonality and interest and build cooperation.
Ambassador Suleimenov continues to engage varied audiences on a wide range of topics. He inevitably provokes critical thinking and proposes novel ideas designed to spur mutual understanding and cooperation. He demonstrates the rare combination of being a global diplomat and a literary icon.
Eugen Babau is a freelance reporter based in Virginia. Contact email: email@example.com