Kazakhstan Economic Forum 2014: imagination in search of reality

It takes some time after having attended an event like the Astana Economic Forum, meaning rushing around for three days amidst a multidimensional whirlwind of ideas, statements and debates, to get one’s mind straight again to make something out of it all. Hustling around from session to session, many of which were held simultaneously, jumping from poverty reduction to response to threats of terrorism, banking reforms and the fight for food security in the world, education problems and women’s rights, one comes back with a sizzling brew of impressions in one’s head. One thing, though, has become clear thanks to the Forum: academics and politicians, thinkers and doers, live in different worlds, obeying to different rules and standards. Unfortunately, attempts to bridge the gap remain highly inefficient.


Kazakhstan Economic Forum 2014: imagination in search of realityDo bright ideas, visionary theories, enlightened thoughts and high-brow brain and dialogue exercises stand a chance to take effect in real world politics? Once upon a time, meaning in the XVIII Century in France, it appeared to have happened indeed – but not in the way philosophers such as Rousseau and Montesquieu had meant it to happen. Alexander the Great learnt from his tutor Aristotle how to create a harmonious society and subsequently took his armies a bit everywhere to conquer the world. In the period between the First and the Second World War the Nations’ League came together to set rules for maintaining peace in the world with little other aim than to break those rules. And today, the pattern has hardly changed, as became clear once more at the VII Astana Economic Forum.

Getting bigger by the year, the VII Astana Economic brought together the impressive number of around 10,000 delegates. Not just the academics who dominated earlier Forums in previous years, but national state ministers and their deputies as well as decision makers from a wide variety of countries in the world were present on a unique occasion where personalities of various levels were engaged in open debate, thereby circumventing the usual hierarchic delegation pattern dominating most existing international dialogue institutions in the world.

This year, the Forum’s participants included representatives of state bodies of 143 UN member states, among whom were Deputy President of Afghanistan Mohammad Karim Khalili, Deputy Prime Minister of Serbia Rasim Ljajic, Deputy PM of Portugal Paulo Portas, Vice PM of Iraq Hussain al-Shahristani, Deputy PM of Georgia Georgia Kvirikashvili, more than 130 ministers, heads of central banks and their deputies, ambassadors, UN Deputy Secretary General Gyan Chandra Acharya, President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Saydik Martin, Secretary General of UNCTAD Muhith Kitui, Deputy Director General of the WTO David Shark, Vice – President of the Asian development Bank Thierry de Longumar – just to name a few.

Speaking at thr main plenary session on the last day of the Forum, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev touched upon the hard times we live in, the threat of both in-house and cross-border conflicts and, most important of all, the need to recognise the fact that economic needs should prevail over political aspirations. “We must be prepared for various scenarios of global trends,” the President told his audience. “Along with the unceasing echo of the global financial crisis, credit crunch and social tensions in the eurozone, a succession of social upheavals in the Arab world, there are new challenges.”

“First, against the backdrop of recovery in developed countries, there is a general decline in the competitiveness of emerging economies,” Nazarbayev continued. “Experts predict increased capitals offshoring, which in a negative scenario could lead to a reduction in investment in theby 50 % or more. Secondly, the income inequality is steadily growing, enhancing the gap in quality of life between the rich and the poor and increasing social tensions. The gap between the rich and the poor is not only poor countries’ problem. Thirdly, on the background of social tensions economic, social and political conflicts are becoming more frequent, escalating into real military operations, with economic sanctions imposed. The world has once again plunged into a phase of escalating tensions and increasing m ilitary capabilities. But the principle of “social” Darwinism when only the stronger one is right is definitely destructive.”

Condemning, though without mentioning names, western powers’ role in and response to recent developments in Ukraine, Nazarbayev made a strong call for mixing up political interests and socioeconomic ones. “The world today is sliding into tension escalation and military capabilities expansion. However, the principle of social Darwinism — the strongest gets the upper hand, is destructive, as it destroys everything created by previously generations, ” Nazarbayev told the Forum. “We are paying a high price for conflicts that do not lead to the solution of [our] problems, but only aggravate those problems. Many new issues arise, but the old ones such as a role of state powers in the new environment and world financial architecture remain unanswered.”

At the main plenary session of the Forum held on May 23 with the participation of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Malaysian Prime Minister Seri Najib Razak presented a strong impetus to redraft the overall economic pattern in the world – thereby just adding to the increasingly dominating tone of voice amidst a continuing economic deadlock in the world.

“The integration of Asian economies can help developing nations climb the ladder and ensure fewer citizens are left behind,” the PM stated. “I believe Asian states must build a stronger, more lasting economic connection in the region and with the outside world, including new markets, such as the proposed Eurasian Economic Union between Kazakhstan, Russia and Belarus, which serves more than 170 million people. […] Those [economies] with high fiscal deficits and debts need measured adjustment strategies, rather than abrupt remedies. Developing economies must strengthen their fiscal, monetary and policy positions to enhance their resilience.”

Razak agreed with Nursultan Nazarbayev’s observation that the global financial system was archaic and needed to be revamped. “But, it may need time for that to happen,” he observed. “What we need to do now is ensure we have the right domestic policies that will strengthen national resilience.”

Special attention during the session was drawn by a passionate discourse by Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus from Bangladesh. By taking his own micro-credit initiative of some twenty years ago as an example, explaining that “creditworthiness” is not some arbitrary criteria imposed by banks but all about flesh and blood, he took a bonzai tree as an example. “In the woods, it grows high,” he said. “Put an excellent seed in a flowerpot, and it will remain small.”

Banks’ attitudes, which have led to a situation in which two-thirds of the world population remains deprived of financial resources, are the result of a wrong global mentality, Yunus told his audience. “Money has become a habit, an addiction, forgetting anything else,” he stated. “Money generating robots, that is what we are.”

A similar distortion has appeared in the view of employment. Like funds, employment could become self-generating. “Job-seekers could be job-givers – to themselves first of all, making all human beings entrepreneurs..” According to Yunus, in today’s dishonest socioeconomic patterns “… the system punishes the human being. It is time, instead, that the human being punishes the system.”

Speaking on various occasions during the Forum, referring to much-heard forecasts and changes in the world in store for us, Kazakhstan’s prime minister Karim Massimov in his participation of the VII Astana Economic Forum held in late May this year in the Kazakh capital, observed in this context that profound changes in global patterns are not just in store. They have been happening for some time already and are happening right now.

“By oriental point of view when the world is developing by cycles,” Massimov observed in a comment on the issue which also betrayed his Chinese academic background. “Taking into consideration the cycling development. In particular if you look at the Chinese point of view, in this year 2014 we are living in another cycle, which is completely different from what we have seen 30 years ago.”

The consequences of the coming of such a “new cycle” are huge and many things and views taken for granted have not be thoroughly revised as of now, Massimov opines: “Whether we like it or not we are living in a different world right now. And some of the rules which were  widely accepted in the global in 2013 does not work in 2014. And if we look at some of the practical realities we see that in  that globalisation does not work anymore under the previous [rules of the] game. We see that in 2014 the rules of the games have been changed.”

This year’s Forum included, among other events, the II World Anti-Crisis Conference (WAC) under auspices of the G-Global network and the United Nations. adopted a World Anti -Crisis Plan (WAP) which In its authors’ words “includes a framework for action that can be taken at the national and international levels for achieving global sustainable and balanced global growth”.

G-Global is “…a multiservice Internet platform, which congregates the world’s minds focused on global development, international s virtual projects aimed at discussion and development of mechanisms to overcome the global financial crisis,” in its organisation’s words. “G-Global in a short period of time brought together more than 25 000 000 users from 149 countries. Conditions for the international expert community for interactive, open and public debate on socio and economic, political, cultural, demographic and other issues are created daily on the resource.”

The adopted plan has been sent to the General Assembly of the United Nations in the hope that it will be accepted and carried out on the appropriate levels. A number of UN institutions, including the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and related financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are set to be tasked to carry the plan out.

“Obviously, in view of the worsening of the economic indicators in many countries and regions of the world, as well as the growing impact of the global financial and economic crisis, we must recognize that the prospects for the global economy deteriorated significantly,” the report’s introduction reads.

“Therefore, in a rapidly changing world, where growth poles are shifting towards developing countries, it is necessary to revise the principles and established rules of global governance. Developing countries often play the role of passive observers, but together they constitute an important group, and can play a crucial role in solving global economic problems. We need a clear and interactive relationship between groups of international management and the rest of the world that is exposed to the same effects.”

In what are dubbed “measures provide linkage between the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and overcoming the challenges of long-term stagnation of the global economy, financial globalization and global governance issues”, the report sums up concrete steps to be taken under UN directives: “giving priority to countries with special needs: the less developed countries, groups and indigenous communities, landlocked developing countries, small island states – the struggle with the consequences of the crisis in these countries has a decisive impact on the fight against poverty and hunger; consolidation of the efforts of the major national governments to reduce global imbalances; increasing the responsibility of multilateral institutions to build a flexible global monetary system as well as promoting the establishment of new global reserve currencies; promote serious reforms of the Bretton Woods institutions to provide greater voice to developing countries.”

Other measure include “promoting further structural reforms that encourage innovation and increase productivity through the transfer of knowledge and technology; minimisation of restrictive measures to stimulate global trade and improvement of the cross-border capital flow management; ensuring that the measures to overcome the effects of the global crisis conform to the principles of economic, social stability, and promotion of the “green” and innovative development; increasing awareness of the priority of the social policy through the support of the post-crisis economic policy aimed at providing employment and recognising the role of social policy as a driver of transformation; ensuring equal access to professional education, quality education and health care.”

Special attention went yo discussions held at the latest International Forum of Women under the umbrella of G-Global under the banner “The role of women in the new economy” held within the frames of the VII Astana Economic Forum in the Kazakh capital in the third week of May this year. Among the speakers taking the floor were the Afghan Minister of Women’s Affairs Husn Banu Ghazanfar, the Kyrgyz MP Ainuru Altybayeva Ainuru, her Uzbek peer Niyazova Dzhamiliya and lady-MPs from Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. Special guest was the president of World Women Inventors and Entrepreneur’s Association Mi-Young Han.

“The mission of the International Forum of Women ‘G-Global – the role of women in the new economy’ is the development of women`s potential, the attraction of investments and innovations, as well as a systemic preparations for the participation of women entrepreneurs of the world in Expo-2017 in Astana,” the introduction to this year’s Business Women’s Conference read.

“Over 50 per cent of the world`s population are women and they are not indifferent to the situation in society they and their children live,” the statement read further down. “Those countries that explore and provide key conditions for the empowerment of women are on the right track. The achievements of Republic of Kazakhstan in the gender equality issues are recognized by the international community. In 2013,  in terms of gender equality Kazakhstan ranked 32th out of 136 countries.”

“Experts affirm that the era of ‘soft power’ when femininity , feminine qualities and policy approaches are more effective compared with the male approach,” one of the contributions to the Conference read. “The era of ‘soft power’ becomes tangible in the implementation of social modernization as feminine vision and solutions to the most pressing issues of our time cannot do without the other half of humanity.”

“Today 70 per cent of the [working] women focus on small business, which is why our main task in the Eurasian Community is to develop small and medium-size enterprise,” the chairperson of the Union of women-entrepreneurs of Kazakhstan, Meryert Kazbekova told the Forum. “By creating the new integration union for the businesswomen of Kazakhstan, new opportunities will be opened for searching a new partner and additional market. This is very important.” Kazbekova observed at one of the panel discussions.

So will the levels to which the messages and signals from the Astana Economic Forum be heeded at levels such as G7/8, G20 and other summits where the high and mighty in the world clinch deals? This is no doubt where the general friction lies. Those “leaders” come together with the official aim to reach compromises over problems they have in common. Unfortunately, problems they think they do not have in common tend to prevail over those they agree they have in common. Moreover, in any case no head of state or government can afford to overstep his or her line where it comes to their national mandates. As the latest crisis over Ukraine demonstrates, gunboat diplomacy proves to be more effective than dialogue. And speakers at events such as the Astana Economic Forum keep crying in the desert.