The airport in oil-rich Kazakhstan’s capital Astana has been renamed after long-reigning President Nursultan Nazarbayev, state media reported today, citing a government resolution that will fuel accusations of a leadership cult. According to the directive published in the state-owned Kazakhstanskaya Pravda newspaper, the resolution to change the name of Astana International Airport is effective immediately.
The apparent personality cult surrounding Nazarbayev has grown significantly during the second half of his near 30-year reign, as Kazakhstan looks to project itself as a regional economic success story.
Nazarbayev already has a national university and a series of schools for high-achieving Kazakhs named after him. He is also celebrated by a number of statues, although unlike the monuments honouring two successive leaders in neighbouring Turkmenistan, none of them are golden.
Proposals to name the capital’s airport in his honour date back at least as far as 2009 and the resolution comes as Astana hosts a specialised international expo themed on “Future Energy”.
Earlier this year, another Central Asian country, Uzbekistan, named its own airport after late autocrat Islam Karimov, who largely eschewed a personality cult during his reign of more than a quarter of a century.
Karimov died of a reported stroke last year, leaving Nazarbayev as the only president of an ex-Soviet country to have led his republic both before and after independence from Moscow in 1991. In 2010, the country’s bicameral parliament granted Nazarbayev the status of ‘Leader of the Nation’, which guarantees him immunity from prosecution and a role in policymaking if he decides to retire.
Although Kazakhstan enjoyed impressive growth during the period after the millennium, it was hit hard by the collapse of oil prices in 2014 as well as Western sanctions against key trade partner Russia over Ukraine.
Rights groups regularly accuse Nazarbayev of cracking down on political opposition, independent journalists, non-governmental organisations and labour unions.