Kazakhstan became a Union republic in the
Soviet Union in 1936. In the 1930s, forced
collectivization of the livestock management led to the
death of hundreds of thousands of Kazakhs. Under Soviet
leader Josef Stalin, entire ethnic groups were expelled
to Kazakhstan from other parts of the country. At the
dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Kazakhstan
became an independent state with Nursultan Nazarbayev as
president. He ruled the country with an iron hand until
2019, when his hand-picked successor Kasym-Zjomart
Tokayev took over.
Josef Stalin forcibly collectivized Kazakhstan's
agriculture and livestock management 1930-1932. The
consequences were disastrous for the nomads. Over one
million are estimated to have died of starvation and
hardship, and many fled abroad. Between 1926 and 1937
the number of Kazakhs in Kazakhstan decreased from four
million to just over two million.
List of most commonly used acronyms containing Kazakhstan. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.
As a Union Republic of the USSR from 1936, Kazakhstan
partly got new borders, which included former Russian
territories in the north.
In the context of the Second World War (1939-1945),
Stalin drove entire groups of people from other parts of
the Soviet Union to Kazakhstan - Volga Germans, Crimean
Tatars, Soviet Poles and Greeks, Chechens, Ingushians
and other Caucasus peoples, as well as Koreans from
eastern Siberia. The deportees were dumped on the steppe
and managed to do their best.
Space racing and natural disaster
There were also penal camps for political and other
prisoners. There were many camps around the coal mining
town of Karaganda. At the same time, large parts of the
heavy industry of the Soviet Union were moved eastwards,
including to Kazakhstan, to be protected from German
attacks. Scientific institutions were also placed there.
After World War II, the first Soviet nuclear bomb in
1949 was tested in Kazakhstan - and more would follow.
In 1955, the Bajkonur space base was built in the mostly
cloudless desert east of Lake Aral. From there, vehicles
were postponed as part of the space race with the United
After Stalin's death in 1953, the new Soviet leader
Nikita Khrushchev decided that agricultural production
would increase by growing "virgin" pasture in northern
Kazakhstan. To help him, he had Kazakhstan's new party
leader: Leonid Brezhnev. Overexploitation of the steppe
laid the foundation for a natural disaster in May 1963,
when the ground lay unprotected for hurricane winds that
blew away the thin, uppermost soil layer. At one point,
6 million hectares of land disappeared, corresponding to
2 percent of Kazakhstan's area.
When Brezhnev overthrew Khrushchev in 1964, the
Kazakh Dinmuchamed Kunajev became the highest leader in
Kazakhstan. He was the leader of the republic for more
than two decades, characterized by corruption but also
by calm and stability. When the new Soviet leader
Michail Gorbachev deposed Kunajev in December 1986 in
favor of a Russian, this triggered bloody anti-Russian
riots in the then capital Almaty.
Nazarbayev becomes president
In June 1989, a Kazakh, Nursultan Nazarbayev, took
over as party leader in Kazakhstan. The following year,
he was appointed to the newly appointed post of
During President Gorbachev's time, for the first
time, people were able to speak openly about the
environmental disasters caused by Soviet rule in
Kazakhstan. Opposition groups were formed, among other
things, to protest against the explosions of nuclear
weapons at the city of Semipalatinsk.
Nazarbayev in the longest supported Gorbachev's
endeavor to preserve the Soviet Union, by restructuring
the Union in new form. Kazakhstan became the last
republic of the dying Soviet Union to declare
independence, on December 16, 1991. Nazarbayev and other
rulers remained in their posts in the new Republic of
Kazakhstan inherited much of the Soviet nuclear
weapons; the newly formed state had the world's fourth
largest nuclear arsenal. But Nazarbayev announced his
intention to dispose of it and joined the disarmament
agreement Start-1. The nuclear warheads were eventually
transferred to Russia or assembled, with assistance
from, among others, the United States.
The economy is being reshaped
Soon there was a deep economic crisis in the new
state. Kazakhstan had had the role of commodity producer
of wheat, meat, coal and metals in the Soviet Union. In
addition, there was some heavy industry. Demand for
these goods disappeared greatly when the Soviet Union
disintegrated. Kazakhstan also lacked a functioning
A decision was taken on a rapid transition to market
economy. Kazakhstan adopted a privatization program that
was considered radical. Privatization primarily led to
the enrichment of the old Soviet elite. Poverty spread
and inflation soared.
Around 1995, the economy reached a bottom position.
Production of goods and services was about half what it
had been at the beginning of the decade. The state was
near bankruptcy and had difficulties in paying wages and
pensions. Major financial reforms helped reverse this
trend. Among other things, the chaotic tax system was
simplified and laws were passed to protect private
property and enterprise. Opportunities were opened for
foreign investors to buy into companies that extract the
country's raw material wealth.
With the democratic reforms promised, things went
worse. The first parliamentary elections were held in
1994, but there was a display of electoral fraud and it
was annulled the following year by the Constitutional
Court. A new election was held in December 1995. It was
also characterized by irregularities but the result was
approved by the authorities. Nazarbayev's supporters won
big. According to the constitution, the president would
also be elected in general elections, but Nazarbayev
instead organized a referendum in which 95 percent of
the participants agreed to extend his mandate.
The capital is relocated
In 1997, drastic cuts were made in the state
administration. In the same vein, the capital was moved
from Almaty to the more centrally located Aqmola, which
in 1998 changed its name to Astana ("capital" in Kazakh;
in 2019 the city was renamed Nursultan). With the move,
Nazarbayev probably wanted to try to strengthen the ties
between the country's northern, Russian-dominated parts
and the Kazakh-dominated south.
In January 1999, an early presidential election was
held, which was announced with only a few months'
notice. Nazarbayev was re-elected with almost 80 percent
of the vote, but the result was questioned by both the
opposition and the OSCE. The parliamentary elections in
October 1999 were won by the President's support party
Fäderneslandet. But the election was neither free nor
fair, and parts of the opposition boycotted it.
In 2000, Parliament gave Nazarbayev so many
privileges that in practice he was guaranteed lifetime
power. The terrorist attacks in the United States in
2001 led Nazarbayev to further strengthen his position.
Referring to the security-political threat posed by
armed Islamists in the region, he also tightened his
control over the peaceful domestic political opposition.
At the same time, the country experienced record
growth. This increased the demands for political
democratization and economic liberalization.
In the parliamentary elections in the autumn of 2004,
the Fatherland and its allies won virtually every
mandate. The only real opposition party, Ak Zjol, was
given a single mandate. Both the OSCE and the Council of
Europe were critical and the outgoing Parliament's
President Zjarmachan Tujaqbaj resigned in protest
against the electoral fraud. Ak Zjol protested by
refusing to take his only seat in Parliament. The
December 2005 presidential election was a walking
victory for Nazarbayev, who received 91 percent of the
In the spring of 2007, several constitutional
amendments were adopted, which were stated to be
intended to increase parliamentary power. But the
president's position was also strengthened. Nazarbayev
was personally guaranteed the right to be re-elected an
unlimited number of times. At the same time, new
elections were announced, two years in advance. Before
the election, the parties were forbidden to form
alliances, which led to several party mergers during the
In the parliamentary elections in August 2007,
Nazarbayev's party, renamed in 2006 to the light of the
Fatherland, received 88 percent of the vote and all 98
electable seats. The opposition dismissed the result as
cheating and the election was criticized, as before, by
Kazakhstan was hit hard by the international
financial crisis of 2009, with rising unemployment as a
result. In March of that year, an unusual public protest
was held in Almaty, when protesters demanded the
departure of Prime Minister Kärim Mäsimov.
Many government officials were laid off in 2009,
accused of corruption. According to critics, however, it
was not a genuine fight against corruption, but rather
an attempt on the part of the regime to remove critics
and divert people's attention from the economic crisis.
In 2010, Parliament passed a new law that guaranteed
Nazarbayev and his relatives' prosecution immunity. It
also became criminal to insult the president in speech
In early 2011, Nazarbayev announced presidential
elections one year in advance. That happened since the
Constitutional Court rejected a parliamentary decision
to organize a referendum to extend the president's term
of office to 2020. The opposition objected to the
announcement of the election with only two months in
advance and decided on a boycott.
Nazarbayev won with 96 percent of the vote in the
April elections. The three fairly unknown
counter-candidates who, after all, stood up had all
expressed their support for him. The OSCE dismissed the
election as undemocratic.
Oil strike and rattles
In May 2011, oil workers in the Zhangzhou Gulf of the
Caspian launched a strike that triggered the most
serious political crisis that President Nazarbayev has
faced so far. The regime responded by bringing in the
hard gloves, the striking workers and, by extension, all
political opponents. The oil workers protested against
deteriorating living conditions and demanded higher
wages and strengthened union rights. They were supported
by pensioners, the unemployed and other groups who also
demanded better conditions.
After more than six months, in connection with the
celebration of Independence Day on December 16, 2011,
the police intervened to disperse the protesters. At
least 15 people were shot dead and dozens injured in the
riot that ensued. The riots spread to surrounding
communities. According to some sources, dozens of people
were killed. The government announced a state of
emergency, which was first lifted in January 2012, after
parliamentary elections were held.
In the January elections, the Fatherland's light
prevailed with 81 percent of the vote. Two small parties
also joined Parliament. Like previous elections, it was
judged by international observers.
The repression is increasing
A short time after the election, the regime increased
the pressure. A large number of opposition
representatives and journalists were arrested. The
police raided the headquarters of the opposition party
Algae and the party's leader Vladimir Kozlov was
During the following year, a large number of media
organizations were forced to discontinue their
operations and dozens of people were sentenced to prison
for involvement in the riots in Zhanganga. Alga was
declared "extremist" and dissolved by a court, while
Kozlov was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison.
Kozlov and his party were accused of cooperating with
the fugitive regime critics Muchtar Abljazov and
Muratbek Ketebayev. The authorities shut down several
opposition media that were reported to be funded by
The government is dismissed
In April 2015, presidential elections were held, over
a year earlier than planned. One reason for the early
elections was considered to be that Nazarbayev wanted
renewed confidence in dealing with the economic problems
that had arisen the year before through the fall in oil
and natural gas prices. As expected, Nazarbayev was
re-elected by a large margin.
In the 2016 parliamentary elections, the Fatherland
candle won with roughly the same figures as in the 2012
election, and roughly the same international criticism
was directed at lack of democracy.
In 2017, Nazarbayev initiated a constitutional
extension, which meant that relations changed somewhat
between parliament, the government and the president
(see Political system).
The economic problems continued and in February 2019
Nazarbayev chose to dismiss the entire government. In
addition to the low oil price, the Western world
sanctions against Russia from 2014 contributed to the
decline. Social unrest, with continued protests for
better living conditions, was probably also behind
The new head of government was Askar Mamin, who had
previously been the first Deputy Prime Minister,
Minister of Transport and Communications and Mayor of
Astana (now renamed Nursultan).