Lady Temperance and Duty: Dariga Nazarbayeva
On political manners, the media, and art
The most influential lady in Eurasia. This is how Dariga Nazarbayeva is introduced in the Russian magazine Profile. “Her manner of speech is restrained and unhurried, her gestures grandiose, her smile feminine and charismatic. In her outfits, mannerisms, intonation – in absolutely everything – one finds an impeccable, worldly lady” (Russian newspaper Vzglyad).
The leading lady, whose name means “healer” in Arabic, admits that she always pays close attention to her looks. She doesn’t make a big deal of it, she does not keep to any diets or exercise regimens. Her main source of energy is her work. She is already a grandmother twice-over, but she cherishes the memories from her rural childhood. She cannot stand falsehoods and values kindness, a sense of humour, and professionalism.
Dariga Nazarbayeva has been well-acquainted with the sometimes unpleasant second meaning of the phrase ‘daddy’s girl’ from an early age. As soon as she would rise to a position of political or public leadership, even in the arts, the press and internet would start buzzing ‘sagely’: well yes, of course, with a dad like that who would expect anything less... However, a new era needs new people, who, according to Dariga Nazarbayeva herself, “build on the best and strongest parts of the past – the spiritual heritage of their ancestors and culture – and achieve success”. Today it’s clear that this credo resonates equally with Dariga herself. Her political career and her national orders and medals are a clear sign of the personal achievements of the daughter of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev.
“Can a woman lead a country? Well, why not? Kazakhstan has many interesting, intelligent, talented women – bankers, entrepreneurs, managers – who, on a number of issues, outshine men. When it comes to my own role, if I can do something useful that makes the country more open, that’s great already”.
The Start of Her Career
Dariga was born in Temirtau, Karaganda Region. For a child raised in the Soviet Union, Dariga had an unusual childhood: her father, Nursultan Nazarbayev was already a high-level politician in the 1960s.
After finishing school, Dariga attended Moscow State University (MSU), but after spending two years as a student in the history department, she transferred over to her native Kazakh National University. There she focused her studies on serious topics befitting a future politician: her Candidate’s dissertation was on history and her doctoral research was in Political Science.
Dariga started her career working for the Bobek International Children’s Charity Fund. The charity gathers funds to help sick children, improve women’s and children’s welfare, sponsor orphanages, modernize schools, and support gifted children of low-income families. Dariga Nazarbayeva soon worked her way up to Vice President of the organisation, where she remained until 1994.
The next few years were spent working in the media: she was head of the national corporation Kazakhstan Television and Radio and served as the director of the Khabar Agency (until 1998).
Restoring A Long-Lost Connection
In 2004, Dariga decided to challenge herself and ran for parliament. Until 2007, she worked in the Mazhilis (the lower house of the Parliament of Republic of Kazakhstan) as a representative of the Asar Party.
In 2007, Dariga Nazarbayeva headed the Foundation of the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan and was then re-elected to the Mazhilis in 2012. Two years later Dariga became the Deputy Speaker of the lower house and leader of the political party Nur Otan.
“It is time to mitigate the growing public mistrust of power, evoked by an inefficient government apparatus failing to solve important social issues and marred by large corruption scandals”.
In parliament, Dariga, as before, presented herself as ‘her father’s helper’, but stayed at a distance that afforded her certain privileges. It is worth noting that in just a few years in the Mazhilis, Delegate Nazarbayeva laid the foundation for what her colleagues couldn’t (or didn’t want to) manage – the restoration of the long-lost connection between power and the people.
“If no one is writing anything nasty about you, you’re not doing anything of worth”.
Detractors, of course, wasted no time in reminding everyone of her lineage, but to most people, the president’s eldest daughter remained a clear, straightforward figure, not to mention that many were enchanted by her political manners long before her return to the Mazhilis.
A Host of New Possibilities
A little bit later, in 2015, there was yet more career growth: she was appointed Deputy Prime Minister and was responsible for the women’s social bloc. Dariga Nazarbayeva did not tamp down the criticism in her rhetoric, but she did become less impulsive, turning instead to a notable cool-headedness and temperance. Dariga Nazarbayeva’s year in the Cabinet was not just a way to enrich her personal political capital, it solidified the government’s social policy as well. According to political scientists, this Deputy Prime Minister stood out from her predecessors. Her initiatives and programs are not only currently being implemented, they’re in demand. Experts were forced to acknowledge the fact that the social situation, despite the economic crisis (falling oil prices and deflation) remained stable – “Nazarbayeva’s management does not allow for any systemic failures”.
“I’ve met people who refer to themselves as political engineers, it’s the image makers I’ve had no luck with. I’m certain that in politics, as in any other form of public work, one needs to remain themselves, reject all that monkey see, monkey do imitation business” (in an interview with Vzglyad).
In November 2016, Dariga once again appeared on national news agencies’ front pages – she became head of the ‘traditionally male’ Senate Committee on International Affairs, Defense, and Security, essentially facilitating the public takeover of a strategically vital part of the government. So, no, Dariga’s return to parliament did not weaken her position. Instead it opened a host of new possibilities. Meanwhile, the Senate got a “sober politician, devoid of illusions”. Her experience in the Mazhilis and the government helped the Nazarbayeva find a common language with a segment of the electorate she had yet to be acquainted with – the armed forces and the law enforcement and defence communities, i.e. a pillar of the government.
A Next-Generation Politician
It is no exaggeration to say that Dariga’s first two public statements in her new position were iconic. She stated that increasing the number of conscripted recruits was imperative, because “socially disadvantaged, unemployed young people frequently join various destructive groups”. Moreover, the army is an effective driver of social mobility for those young people, aiming to become public servants, stressed Dariga.
“I am a next-generation politician, one who has taken up the principles of democracy” (in an interview with Assandy-Times).
The second statement was related to protecting children and society’s demand that the death penalty be instated for paedophiles who kill children. Kazakhstan must abide by a moratorium on such punishments, noted Nazarbayeva, however the government aims to be as harsh as legally possible with regards to criminals and their incarceration. Searching for answers to social issues by turning to the law enforcement and security communities was an unexpected, but logical next mission for the senator in her new position.
In 2017, Nazarbayeva was elected as the new Chairperson of the Public Council on the Activities of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan. Another of the senator’s priorities is Kazakhstan’s potential to become a member of the UN Security Council to help advance national interests and “become a global partner in the creation of a safer and more just world”.
“Thinking of myself as the future president is funny, foolish, and pretentious. The incumbent will be chosen by Fate, now when will they be chosen? No one knows. Besides, there are far more interesting ways to occupy your time than recreational political futurology. So, excuse me from making any predictions. Those questions are best left to fortune tellers and astrologists”.
What do analysts, bloggers, and the media predict? If Dariga Nazarbayeva is appointed as Speaker of the Senate by the head of state, the country may have its potential president. Speaking of which, Senator Nazarbayeva herself considers any pretences with regards to her person as her father’s likely political heir as “inappropriate and untimely”.
Media Minus the Negativity
In 2017, at the 19th Eurasian Media Forum (EAMF) in Astana, the founder and unchallenged Chairman of the Organizing Committee Dariga Nazarbayeva considered the modernization of human consciousness, what might result from a digital revolution and complete informatisation, and whether it’s possible to create a harmonious world on a foundation of negative clichés and pessimism. A hot topic was ethics in journalism.
“We’re against a voiceless, superficial, and irresponsible media”.
Should one take something like a Hippocratic Oath to “do no harm” when choosing a profession? Dariga plans to continue the dialogue between the heads of the largest international media agencies and world-class experts at the panel session ‘Information for Peace and Sustainable Development’ at the Second Eurasian Women’s Forum.
A Breath of Fresh Air After the Bustle of Work
Senator Nazarbayeva is a mother of three and speaks fluent English, Italian, German, and Russian. Her musical fluency was evident from an early age, but her father refused to let her interview with the National Conservatory. The talent turned into a hobby: Dariga astounds listeners with a professional mezzo-soprano at charity concerts. Her repertoire includes Kazakh folk songs, opera arias, and even the works of Joe Dassin.
“Chamber singing is my main hobby, while my voice lessons are a breath of fresh air after the bustle of work”.
Dariga Nazarbayeva is the author of the books: The Democratisation of the Political System of the CIS (1997), Cooperation Between CIS Member-States and Integration Challenges (1998), On the Path to Democracy (1998), The Media and the Issue of Democracy (1998), The Eurasian Commonwealth (2000), and Geopolitics and Eurasianism (2002). She has released a CD “But Still I Love You...” (2002) and a DVD “If There Was No War” (2010).
She has been given the Order of Parasat of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Order of the Leopard 2nd Class of the Republic of Kazakhstan, as well as the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, and various medals.
Tina Stankevich, Eurasian Women's Community News Agency