Aigul Kuspan, the ambassador of Kazakhstan to the Kingdom of Belgium and head of mission of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the European Union, looks at the life and achievements of Kazakhstan’s first president Nursultan Nazarbayev.
6 July 2020 marked the 80th birthday of the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan - Elbasy Nursultan Nazarbayev. Rise of my country from just a chunk of Soviet Union to a trusted partner in international relations – including the EU and Belgium - is a story of a leadership success for which First President should be granted. He had to build a country, to establish an army, our own police, our internal life, everything from roads to the constitution. Elbasy had to change minds of Kazakh people to 180 degrees, from totalitarian regime to democracy, from state property to private property.
Kazakhstan in international relations
First President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev took a historic decision in 1991 to renounce the World’s fourth largest nuclear arsenal, enabling Kazakhstan and the entire Central Asian region to become free of nuclear weapons. Due to his strong desire on making World a peaceful place for all of us, he is recognized as an outstanding statesman within Kazakhstan and all over the World.
Proactive diplomacy became one of the key tools in ensuring the sovereignty and security of Kazakhstan and the consistent promotion of the country’s national interests. Based on the principles of multi-vector cooperation and pragmatism, Nursultan Nazarbayev established constructive relationships with our closest neighbours China, Russia, Central Asian countries, and the rest of the World.
From a European and international perspective, the heritage of the First President is equally impressive: Nursultan Nazarbayev has committed his life in contributing to regional and international peace, stability and dialogue. With his European counterparts, he has established the foundations for the landmark EU-Kazakhstan Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (EPCA). He initiated numerous international integration and dialogue processes, including Astana Peace Talks on Syria, the UN General Assembly resolution calling for an International Day Against Nuclear Tests, the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA), the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), and Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States (Turkic Council).
Nursultan Nazarbayev at UN Security Council, 2018
The chairmanship of Kazakhstan in the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2010 and the UN Security Council in January 2018 (which form the agenda for security issues for the whole world) has shown success and viability of the path chosen by Nursultan Nazarbayev in the international arena.
OSCE Summit in Nur-Sultan, 2010
Kazakhstan is an important and trusted partner for the European Union. With his European counterparts, First President has laid the foundations for the landmark EU-Kazakhstan Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (EPCA) which entered into force on March 1st, 2020. The Agreement marks the beginning of a brand new stage of Kazakh-European relations and provides wide opportunities for building up full-scale cooperation in the long term. I am confident that the effective implementation of the Agreement will allow us to diversify trade, expand economic ties, attract investments and new technologies. The significance of cooperation is also reflected in the trade and investment relationship. The EU is a Kazakhstan’s principal trading partner, representing 40% of the external trade. It is also the main foreign investor in my country, accounting for 48% of the total (gross) foreign direct investment.
Nursultan Nazarbayev and Donald Tusk
Bilateral relations between Belgium and Kazakhstan
Being accredited as an Ambassador to the Kingdom of Belgium, I am pleased that the relationship between Kazakhstan and Belgium has been continuously strengthened since my country’s independence. On December 31st, 1991 the Kingdom of Belgium officially recognised the state sovereignty of the Republic of Kazakhstan. The foundation of the bilateral relations started by an official visit of President Nazarbayev to Belgium in 1993, where he met with King Boudewijn I and Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene.
Nursultan Nazarbayev visited Brussels eight times, most recently in 2018. Cultural exchanges have taken place between Belgium and Kazakhstan beyond high-level visits. In 2017 our countries celebrated their 25th anniversary of the bilateral relationship. There have also been several high-level visits from the Belgian side to Kazakhstan. First visit in 1998 of Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene, as well as two visits of Crown Prince and King of Belgium Philippe in 2002, 2009 and 2010. Inter-parliamentary relations are developing positively as an effective tool for strengthening political dialogue.
Meeting with King Philippe
Strong diplomatic relationship has been continuously developing by supporting mutually beneficial trade relationship. The economic exchanges between Belgium and Kazakhstan have also had a substantial increase since 1992 with priority areas of co-operation in energy, healthcare, agricultural sectors, between seaports and in new technologies. In 2019, the amount of commercial exchanges increased to more than €636 million. As of 1 May, 2020, 75 enterprises with Belgian assets were registered in Kazakhstan. The volume of Belgian investments into Kazakh economy has reached €7.2 billion during the period of 2005 to 2019.
Official reception in the Egmont Palace
The legacy of the first president
First President Nursultan Nazarbayev has led my country from 1990 to 2019. In the early 1990’s, Elbasy guided the country during the financial crisis that affected the whole post-Soviet area. Further challenges were waiting ahead when the First President had to deal with the 1997 East Asian crisis and 1998 Russian financial crisis which affected the development of our country. In response, Elbasy implemented a series of economic reforms to ensure the necessary growth of the economy. During this time, Nursultan Nazarbayev oversaw the privatisation of the oil industry and brought the necessary investment from Europe, United States, China and other countries.
Because of historical circumstances Kazakhstan became ethnically diverse country. The First President ensured the equality of rights of all people in Kazakhstan, regardless of ethnic and religious affiliations as a guiding principle of state policy. This has been one of the leading reforms that has led to the continued political stability and peace in the domestic policy. Throughout further economic reforms and modernization, social welfare in the country has increased and a growing middle class has emerged. More importantly, shifting the Capital from Almaty to Nur-Sultan as a new administrative and political centre of Kazakhstan, has led to the further economic development of whole country.
One of the most important challenges Nursultan Nazarbayev outlined for the country was the Kazakhstan’s 2050 strategy. The goal of this program is to promote Kazakhstan into one of the 30 most developed countries in the World. It has launched the next phase of modernisation of Kazakhstan’s economy and civil society. This program has led to implementation of five institutional reforms as well as the Nation’s 100 Concrete Steps Plan to modernise the economy and state institutions. The First President’s ability to develop constructive international and diplomatic relations has been a leading factor of the country’s development and has led to a flow of billions of euros of investment into Kazakhstan. Meanwhile, my country has joined the top 50 competitive economies of the World.
A highlight of the First President’s legacy was his decision not to pursue a nuclear state. This promise was backed up by closing the World’s largest nuclear testing site in Semipalatinsk, as well as a complete abandonment of Kazakhstan’s nuclear weapons program. Elbasy was also one of the leaders promoting the integration processes in Eurasia. This integration led to the Eurasian Economic Union, which has grown to a large association of member countries assuring free flows of goods, services, labour and capital, and has benefited Kazakhstan and its neighbours.
In 2015, First President Nursultan Nazarbayev announced that the election would be his last and that “once institutional reforms and economic diversification are achieved; the country should undergo a constitutional reform that entails the transfer of power from the president to the parliament and the government.”
Stepping down from his position in 2019, promptly replaced by Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the new leadership continued to operate in the first President’s spirit of economic development and constructive international cooperation.
As President Tokayev mentioned in his recent article: “Undoubtedly, only a real politician, wise and forward-looking, can choose his own path, being between two parts of the World - Europe and Asia, two civilizations - Western and Eastern, two systems - totalitarian and democratic. With all these components, Elbasy was able to form a new type of state combining Asian traditions and Western innovations. Today, the whole world knows our country as a peace-loving transparent state, which actively participate in the integration processes."
Visit to Belgium for 12th ASEM Summit, 2018
Art Nouveau gem: Hotel Solvay open to the public
Excellent news for the architecture aficionados, iconic Hotel Solvay in Brussels is opening to the public! Alexandre Wittamer, the owner of the building, and Pascal Smet, Secretary of State for Urbanism and Heritage, have announced today that the Solvay House will be open to the public as from Saturday 23 January 2021. This listed and iconic Art Nouveau building was designed and built by Victor Horta between 1894 and 1903 and is part of the UNESCO World Heritage List.
“I am pleased that the Solvay House will frequently open to the public. This gives hope to the cultural and tourism sector, both of them suffering a lot because of the health crisis. From now on, both Brussels residents and tourists will be able to visit this Art Nouveau masterpiece in complete safety, and enjoy a dose of culture with a trip back in time. Thanks to this opening, Brussels will be able to further enhance its rich offer of cultural, heritage and tourist attractions. I am convinced that this way the cultural and tourist revival of our Region will receive a boost as soon as the health measures allow it,” explains Rudi Vervoort, Minister-President of the Brussels-Capital Region.
Urbanism and Heritage State Secretary Pascal Smet was happy that this Art Nouveau gem will now be open to all the people of Brussels and everyone who visits Brussels. “We owe this jewel to Victor Horta and Armand Solvay, of course, but also to the Wittamer family, who saved the house from demolition in the 1950s and have maintained it well all this time. That is why the Brussels Region is today giving the family a special recognition. It was an absolute priority for me to open the Solvay House to the general public and I thank Alexandre Wittamer for having dared to take this step with us.”
Given the history of the building and the initiatives taken by the Wittamer family to preserve this heritage gem, the Brussels Region has awarded the Bronze Zinneke to the Wittamer couple.
The owner Alexandre Wittamer shared his view: “It is an important moment for us. My grandparents bought the building in 1957 and saved it from demolition. They wanted to pass on their love for Victor Horta and Belgian Art Nouveau to future generations. What we are doing now with urban.brussels is following on from what we started last century. It is wonderful that both young and old can discover and rediscover Art Nouveau. Brussels can be proud of its architects and artisans of the time.”
“I’m very happy to award Alexandre Wittamer with a Bronze Zinneke. This statue, a miniature cast of the statue of Tom Frantzen in the Karthuizerstraat, is a tribute to Brussels residents who are informal ambassadors of our city. Welcoming people in a cosmopolitan, open, multilingual and people-oriented city. Like that Zinneke, a bastard dog: strong, streetwise, enterprising, complex and curious about the world. I find these characteristics in Alexandre and his family. His grandparents became the owners of the listed Hotel Solvay of our world-famous Brussels resident Victor Horta. The family converted it into a haute couture house and helped preserve it for future generations,” said Image of Brussels Minister Sven Gatz.
The Brussels government wants to enhance the value of its heritage, in particular by making it more accessible, which explains the decision to open the Solvay House to the public. In line with this, the Brussels Region financed the creation of a website and online ticket sales for the Solvay House on the initiative of the Secretary of State for Urbanism and Heritage, Pascal Smet.
Anyone can now visit the house by reserving a ticket on the website www.hotelsolvay.be for an affordable fee of 12 euro. To ensure that Horta lovers can easily plan their visit, a combination ticket with the Horta Museum and Hotel Hannon is being developed.
Art Nouveau and the Horta buildings provide a very attractive, specific tourism offer, an offer that until now was not structural, while the buildings were not always easily accessible. That is changing. After all, Brussels is the Art Nouveau capital and wants to keep that title.
Visit Brussels wants to keep using this asset both internationally and with the Belgian and Brussels visitors.
“The Solvay House is one of the absolute architectural Art Nouveau gems. Opening it up to the general public will enrich the museum offer and give Brussels an important tourism asset. We are convinced that this will improve the international reputation of our region,” says Patrick Bontinck for Visit Brusssels
“For Brussels culture and tourism, it is great news that the general public can now admire this Art Nouveau gem. The City of Brussels values this art movement throughout the year by supporting many recurring events. These include the BANAD Festival, Artonov and Arkadia asbl and its guides,” explains Delphine Houba, alderwoman for Culture and Tourism for the City of Brussels.
Now that the general public can visit it, the Solvay House reveals a hidden treasure. It was protected in its entirety in 1977 and is one of the best preserved Horta buildings, thanks to the attention and renovations by three generations of the Wittamer family, who bought it in 1957 to establish a haute couture house. The renovations happened under the supervision of the “Commission royale des Monuments et des Sites” (Brussels heritage instance) and the heritage services of urban.brussels. Since 1989, the region has spent no less than … euro for the renovation of this building. Urban.brussels has recently recognised the Solvay House as a museum institution, this way increasingly highlighting this heritage.
Commission approves €23 million Belgian measures to support production of coronavirus-relevant products
The European Commission has approved two Belgian measures, for a total of €23 million, to support the production of products relevant to the coronavirus outbreak in the Walloon region. Both measures were approved under the State Aid Temporary Framework. The first scheme, (SA.60414), with an estimated budget of €20m, will be open to enterprises that produce coronavirus-relevant products and are active in all sectors, except the agriculture, fishery and aquaculture, and financial sectors. Under the scheme, the public support will take the form of direct grants covering up to 50% of the investments costs.
The second measure (SA.60198) consists of a €3.5m investment aid, in the form of a direct grant, to the University of Liège, which aims at supporting the production by the institution of coronavirus related diagnostic tools and the necessary raw materials. The direct grant will cover 80 % of the investment costs. The Commission found that the measures are in line with the conditions of the Temporary Framework.
In particular, (i) the aid will cover only up to 80% of the eligible investment costs necessary to create production capacities to manufacture coronavirus relevant products; (ii) only investment projects that started as of 1 February 2020 will be eligible and (iii) eligible investment projects must be completed within six months after the grant of the investment aid. The Commission concluded that the two measures are necessary, appropriate and proportionate to fight the public health crisis, in line with Article 107(3)(c) TFEU and the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework.
On this basis, the Commission approved the measures under EU state aid rules. More information on the Temporary Framework and other actions taken by the Commission to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic can be found here. The non-confidential version of the decisions will be made available under the case numbers SA.60198 and SA.60414 in the state aid register on the Commission's competition website.
Royal British Legion Brussels history uncovered
Did you know that about 6,000 British servicemen wed Belgian women and settled here after WW2? Or that Princess Margaret's divorcee lover Peter Townsend was unceremoniously packed off to Brussels to avoid a scandal? If such things are new to you, then fascinating new research by Belgium-based UK expat Dennis Abbott will be right up your street, writes Martin Banks.
In what was something of a labour of love, Dennis, a former leading journalist (pictured, below, from when he served as a reservist on Operation TELIC Iraq in 2003, where he was attached to 7th Armoured Brigade and 19th Mechanized Brigade) delved into the rich and varied history of the Royal British Legion to help mark the RBL’s 100th anniversary later this year.
The result is a wonderful chronicle of the charity which, for many years, has done invaluable work for serving men and women, veterans and their families.
The impetus for the project was a request from the Royal British Legion HQ for branches to mark the 100th anniversary of the RBL in 2021 by telling their story.
The Brussels branch of the RBL itself is 99 years old in 2021.
The history took Dennis just over four months to research and write and, as he readily admits: “It wasn't so easy.”
He said: “The Brussels branch newsletter (known as The Wipers Times) was a rich source of info but goes back only to 2008.
“There are minutes of committee meetings from 1985-1995 but with many gaps."
One of his best sources of information, up until 1970, was the Belgian newspaper Le Soir.
"I was able to search through the digital archives at the National Library of Belgium (KBR) for stories about the branch.”
Dennis is a formerly a journalist at The Sun and The Daily Mirror in the UK and former editor of European Voice in Brussels.
He uncovered, during his research, many intriguing nuggets of information about events linked to the RBL.
For instance, the future Edward VIII (who became the Duke of Windsor after his abdication) and WW1 Field Marshal Earl Haig (who helped found the British Legion) came to visit the Brussels branch in 1923.
Dennis also says that fans of The Crown Netflix series can discover, through the RBL history, what became of Princess Margaret's divorcee lover Group Captain Peter Townsend after he was unceremoniously packed off to Brussels to avoid a scandal at the start of Queen Elizabeth II's reign.
Readers can also learn about the secret agents who made Brussels their base after WW2 - notably Lieutenant Colonel George Starr DSO MC and Captain Norman Dewhurst MC.
Dennis said: “The 1950s were undoubtedly the most glamorous period in the branch history with film premieres, concerts, and dances.
“But the history is mostly about the ordinary WW2 servicemen who settled in Brussels after marrying Belgian girls. The Daily Express reckoned that there were 6,000 such marriages after WW2!
He said:”Peter Townsend wrote a series of articles for Le Soir about an 18-month solo world tour he undertook in his Land-Rover after retiring from the RAF. My guess is that it was his way of dealing with his break-up with Princess Margaret. She was the first person he went to see after returning to Brussels.
“In the end he married a 19-year-old Belgian heiress who bore a striking resemblance to Margaret. The history includes video footage of them announcing their engagement.”
This week, for example, he met 94-year-old Claire Whitfield, one of the 6,000 Belgian girls who married British servicemen.
Claire, then 18, met her future husband RAF Flight Sgt Stanley Whitfield in September 1944 after the liberation of Brussels. “It was love at first sight,” she recalled. Stanley would often take her dancing to the 21 Club and RAF Club (pictured, main pic). They married in Brussels.
The history was submitted this week to the national headquarters of the Royal British Legion in London as part of their centenary archive.
The full RBL history compiled by Dennis is available here.
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