Did the President of Kazakhstan steal my luggage?

Here’s a picture of Nursultan Nazarbayev, president of Kazakhstan, gently brushing past some flowers in a metro station:

Nazarbayev in the subwayAnd here’s one of him on an apartment block:

Poster of Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan's president, on an apartment block

And here he is in a bookshop, looking somewhat surprised to be on the bestseller list:

Nursultan Nazarbayev the bestseller!

And this is a picture of a baggage carousel without my luggage on it 😦

Empty baggage carousel

I’ve now been back from Kazakhstan for five days. My luggage hasn’t.

I probably should blame my airline for this, but can I rule out Nazarbayev? I have, after all, just spent two weeks in his country asking people questions about him and how he came to write the country’s national anthem (he’s the only world leader to have written one), and most people I met found my questions extremely annoying.

Surely one of them told him about me and asked for revenge? He’s a man with almost unlimited power; pinching my bag wouldn’t pose a problem!

Why were people so uneasy talking about him? It could have something to do with Borat – Kazakhs being fed-up of Westerners who don’t understand their culture asking questions. But part of it is because you just don’t talk politics in Kazakhstan. It’s best not to. It’s actually illegal to criticise Nazarbayev, his family or his business interests. And given that, anyone would find it hard answering questions about him.

Fortunately, you don’t need to talk to many people to work out what they think of either the song or the man. Just go to Bayterek, a golden tower in the capital city, Astana, and watch people queue to put their hand in a cast of Nazarbayev’s palm print, and then watch their faces when the national anthem starts playing…!

Anyway, a big thanks to everyone I did meet over there and who gave me their time. Kazakhstan turns out to be filled with amazingly kind people who’ll go out of their way to help you, and will ply you with as much food and drink on you as they can (horse sausage!). They’ll also answer any (non-political) questions you have and because of them I’m really looking forward to writing about the place for my book.

First, though, I should probably go and buy some pants!

Update: my bag arrived! Sorry, Mr President – all is forgiven!

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