Our school opens on Wednesday, August 31. The reason it doesn’t open before this is because the previous day is a national holiday in Kazakhstan. It is called Constitution Day, and celebrates the creation of the key statute of the country.
We have known about the events taking place on this day for a while – mainly because they have disrupted our preparation in school. The previous Tuesday one of our meetings was interrupted by the roar of two MIG planes soaring overheard, practicing for this day. Another factor is the closure of many roads –necessary for the event to take place, but leading to significant delays and frustrations for our bus route.
What event? To put it simply, a parade of patriotism and pride. A parade showcasing the youthful vibrancies of this new country, yet harking back to the dark days of the Soviet era. Attended by thousands, watched by millions, this is an opportunity for Kazakhs to reaffirm their identity with and affinity for their nation. As well as an opportunity for us to join in the fun.
When I refer to the Soviet period – Kazakhstan was part of the USSR until 1991 – what I mean is the method of showing this feeling of power and strength. It is no ordinary parade; it is very much a military march. Try remembering the old Soviet propaganda reels of soldiers marching through Moscow behind missiles to the roar of the crowd and you’re on the right track.
Fun fact: It is compulsory for a Kazakh to do military service for two years.
It took us a while to get to the road where the festivities were happening due to security blocks. We tried to jump on buses set down by the President’s house, and a man with a large hat asked us for documents. Normally this means your passport, something we luckily had returned to us the previous day. In this instance, he wanted our itinerary to prove we were on these buses, which it turns out were reserved. Nonetheless, we persevered, followed the crowd, and were soon shimmying through security barriers to get to the standing areas.
Part of this pride that became apparent to us was the desperation of many to get as close to the barriers as possible in order to get as close to the soldiers as possible. Small Kazakh flags were distributed – we snaffled one – but soon most of our group had to retreat due to being crushed and not being able to see. I toughed out the crowd, and spent the best part of two hours on tip-toes trying to get glimpses of Kazakhstan’s military might.
Might is the right word here. They have a lot of soldiers and machines to show off. Groups of soldiers slammed their shoes in unison and marched along the road as the band eased through their repertoire. In addition to the standard army, navy & air force troops, there were some more eccentric branches of the Kazakh military on show…
No idea, but I think the camouflage needs some improvement.
The President soon showed up, stood in a car, which preceded speeches and the national anthem. The tune of the latter is very similar to the anthem sung in Borat, but as far as I’m aware there were no mentions of potassium today. Lots of roars followed – they sounded fake, as if on a tape recorder, but we could see the soldiers moving their mouths. Surely they wouldn’t bother being that elaborate?
The soldiers then marched off, before the big guns were brought on. Literally. Tanks, rocket launchers, APC’s – this was an impressive show. It was at this point that I started talking to a guy next to me who spoke good English. It turns out he works for the Ministry of Defence of Kazakhstan. Good guy to know, I think. He told me they have so many vehicles and soldiers due to the country’s close proximity with China and Afghanistan. I asked about Russia – no, he retorted, Russia are our friend. Interesting, that.
The piece de resistance was the fly-over of helicopters and MIG planes that we had witnessed the week before. What we saw this time were incredibly tight ‘V’ formations, loop-the-loops, and the discharging of ECM’s that made it look like fireworks were being fired from the jets. Awesome stuff.
We did pop into school for a couple of hours to tie up some loose ends in our rooms, but not before enjoying the glorious warm weather – we’re assured it won’t last – to have a picnic in a nearby park. Very relaxed, tranquil and peaceful. The very antithesis of what we had seen just minutes before. Kazakhstan – not a country to be messed with. Take note, Sacha.
Love you all