Tales of Kazakstan

Kazakstan was the main topic of last Wednesday’s lunch seminar sponsored by the history and geography department. Dr. James Binney, professor of political science, spoke about his experience in the central Asian republics north of Afghanistan.

Binney spent four years teaching American politics at the Kazakstan Institute of Management Economics and Strategic Research in Almaty, Kazakstan. Four times the size of Texas, Kazakstan has a population of sixteen million and a poverty rate of fifty percent. Binney said living conditions in the country are less than desirable with a 40 percent unemployment rate, high pollution, ethnic conflict, and an average lifespan of 57 years for males. The Kazaks also struggle with high rates of alcoholism and sexually-transmitted diseases.

Kazakstan has some Muslim culture, although according to Binney the country’s people are mostly atheist due to the former Soviet Union’s influence under Joseph Stalin. Communism abolished religion in Soviet Union and its republics.

Binney said there is a lot of ethnic strife in Kazakstan since Stalin used the country as an ethnic dumping ground to get rid of various ethnic groups throughout the Soviet Union. Because of this, there are many language and identity issues among the Kasaks though most speak either Russian or English.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Kazakstan has had a difficult transition into a market economy and its government is rife with corruption and bribery issues, explained Binney.

Binney also spoke of how the United States government had in the past been in discussions with some members of the Taliban in Kazakstan in order to try to establish oil pipelines through Afghanistan.

One issue Kazakstan now has to deal with is the possibility of an influx of refugees fleeing from Afghanistan in light of the September 11th terrorist attacks on the United States, Binney said. The Kazak economy cannot support such a humanitarian crisis.

All Wednesday Lunch Seminars are scheduled for the University Center’s Faculty/Staff Dining Room from 12:05 to 12:50 p.m. For more information, contact Ted Weiss at (859) 572-5461 or by e-mail at WeissE@nku.edu.