Europe and Kazakhstan

This art­icle ori­gin­ally appeared in the Novem­ber 2017 edi­tion of Poli­tique Inter­na­tionale. Per­mis­sion to repub­lish has been kindly gran­ted by the author.

Dr Benita Ferrero-Waldner, former Minister of Foreign Affairs for Austria, outlines the growing interdependence of Kazakhstan and the European Union.

In 1991, as the USSR broke up, the repub­lics in Cent­ral Asia found them­selves in a new and chal­len­ging world. The region as a whole has advanced in leaps and bounds since then. Each year, the five nations of Kaza­kh­stan, Kyrgyz­stan, Tajikistan, Turk­menistan and Uzbek­istan are mak­ing great­er con­tri­bu­tions to glob­al dia­logue on issues of crit­ic­al import­ance to the coun­tries of Europe. For almost every major sphere of inter­na­tion­al policy — from energy secur­ity to the envir­on­ment, com­bat­ing people and drug traf­fick­ing, and counter-ter­ror­ism — there is an ever-grow­ing alli­ance with Europe, and the poten­tial for fur­ther col­lab­or­a­tion is enorm­ous.

A Soy­uz space­craft is trans­por­ted by train to its launch pad at Kazakhstan’s Baikon­ur Cos­modrome, where many European Space Agency launches take place.

I have taken a great per­son­al interest in the region since my first vis­it in 1999 ahead of Austria’s chair­man­ship of the OSCE, dur­ing which we focused on the region in par­tic­u­lar.   I was struck then, as I still am today, by the industry and ambi­tion of the Cent­ral Asi­an states, and of Kaza­kh­stan in par­tic­u­lar. These qual­it­ies have seen the coun­try rise from a very chal­len­ging start to become the con­fid­ent play­er on the world stage that we see today.

From the early days of its Inde­pend­ence Kaza­kh­stan has adop­ted a mul­ti­di­men­sion­al for­eign policy, and recently set out a “2050 Strategy” which aims to make the coun­try one of the 30 most com­pet­it­ive nations in the world by the mid-point of the cen­tury.

Con­sidered as a whole, the European Uni­on is Kazakhstan’s largest for­eign trade part­ner, account­ing for 50% in of its total extern­al trade, and the largest investor in Kaza­kh­stan, with a 60% share in its FDI. As for Kaza­kh­stan, it exports 60% of its oil to Europe, mak­ing it Europe’s third largest pro­vider of hydro­car­bons among non-OPEC coun­tries. In 2015 Kaza­kh­stan and the European Uni­on signed an Enhanced Part­ner­ship and Cooper­a­tion Agree­ment — the strongest pos­sible frame­work of bilat­er­al cooper­a­tion between non-neigh­bour states, which assesses 29 poten­tial areas of cooper­a­tion.

The part­ner­ship is set to grow fur­ther, as wit­nessed by Kazakhstan’s join­ing the Asia-Europe Meet­ing (ASEM) in 2014, the first Cent­ral Asi­an coun­try to do so. Kazakhstan’s land­mark elec­tion as a non-per­man­ent Mem­ber of the United Nations Secur­ity Coun­cil in 2016 will have greatly strengthened the country’s stand­ing in Europe; as will its acces­sion to the World Trade Organ­isa­tion in 2015, a devel­op­ment which was strongly advoc­ated by the European Uni­on through­out nearly two dec­ades of nego­ti­ation.

A new EU strategy for Kaza­kh­stan and oth­er Cent­ral Asi­an Coun­tries was announced in 2015, emphas­iz­ing areas for eco­nom­ic and social devel­op­ment. Since then, European lead­ers have lauded the improve­ment in busi­ness con­di­tions in Kaza­kh­stan and pushed for fur­ther invest­ment and trade in the coun­try. An improved visa régime has been mooted, as has fur­ther cooper­a­tion in edu­ca­tion.

A major pri­or­ity for both Kaza­kh­stan and Europe has been estab­lish­ing a part­ner­ship in the energy field. Kazakhstan’s vast energy resources are deemed to have played an import­ant role in the devel­op­ment of the South­ern Gas Cor­ridor (SGC) pro­ject, set to bring vast quant­it­ies of gas from the Caspi­an Basin to Europe. European coun­tries are also aware of the great poten­tial for the pro­duc­tion of green energy in Kaza­kh­stan, a ter­rit­ory well-suited for sol­ar and wind energy pro­duc­tion. “Future Energy” was the theme of EXPO 2017, which con­cluded recently in Astana.

Cooper­a­tion in inter­na­tion­al and domest­ic secur­ity is anoth­er key com­pon­ent in the Europe-Kaza­kh­stan part­ner­ship. Kaza­kh­stan has been fully sup­port­ive of EU region­al pro­grammes aimed at coordin­at­ing efforts in the field of counter ter­ror­ism, counter-nar­cot­ics and bor­der man­age­ment. The country’s pion­eer­ing policy of nuc­le­ar dis­arm­a­ment, and the con­crete steps it has taken to pre­vent nuc­le­ar pro­lif­er­a­tion world­wide, have con­tin­ued to receive the EU’s full back­ing since the early 1990s.

As a European dip­lo­mat who has fol­lowed the rise of Cent­ral Asia since the fall of the USSR with great interest, the mutu­al bene­fits of an ongo­ing part­ner­ship between Kaza­kh­stan and the coun­tries of Europe seem self-evid­ent. From a European per­spect­ive, it is now cru­cial to build on the momentum for engage­ment with Kaza­kh­stan afforded by these pos­it­ive recent devel­op­ments, and keep strength­en­ing a fruit­ful part­ner­ship based on com­mon interests and shared val­ues. I look for­ward to see­ing what pro­spects the future holds in this respect.

Dr Ben­ita Fer­rero-Wald­ner is a prom­in­ent Aus­tri­an dip­lo­mat and politi­cian. Fer­rero-Wald­ner served as For­eign Min­is­ter from 2000 to 2004 and was the ÖVP’s can­did­ate in the 2004 Aus­tri­an pres­id­en­tial elec­tion, which she nar­rowly lost with 47.6% of votes. She has served as the European Com­mis­sion­er for Extern­al Rela­tions and European Neigh­bour­hood Policy, and as the European Com­mis­sion­er for Trade and European Neigh­bour­hood Policy, and is cred­ited with being the key dip­lo­mat in the 24 July 2007 release of five Bul­gari­an nurses and a Palestini­an doc­tor imprisoned by Libya. She also worked to improve con­di­tions for chil­dren infec­ted with HIV/Aids.

Wu-Stan Clan: Central Asia’s ancient rap tradition

It’s all about improvising. Who has the sharpest verses with the most musicality and rhythm and wisdom and wit?”

That’s Alagushev Balai, a Kyrgyz inter­viewed thir­teen years ago by the author Peter Finn. He’s describ­ing aity­sh, Cent­ral Asia’s adversari­al, ad-libbed per­form­ance tra­di­tion that’s half music and half sick flow.

Did­ar Qam­iev, born 1988, is a cel­eb­rated mem­ber of Kazakhstan’s new gen­er­a­tion of akyns.

Aity­sh is a con­test between two par­ti­cipants, or akyns. They sit across the room from each oth­er, impro­vising rhythmic, rhym­ing rebut­tals on sub­jects sug­ges­ted by the audi­ence. Though good-natured and often comed­ic, aity­sh has teeth. When one akyn needs to diss anoth­er, noth­ing is off lim­its: there’s a long-stand­ing cus­tom that allows akyns all forms of slander. They make back­han­ded polit­ic­al state­ments, cri­ti­cise each other’s style, flirt, and flat-out insult one anoth­er.

Dur­ing an aity­shakyns sing their songs in turns,” said Balai. “It is a music­al dia­logue, like a debate. When one akyn starts an argu­ment, the second one should con­tin­ue it start­ing a new rhyme or fol­low­ing the competitor’s one.”

The akyn’s goal is to con­vince his audi­ence that’s he is the bet­ter per­former. Just as in a rap battle, a crowd of onlook­ers is cru­cial in decid­ing the vic­tor.

The tra­di­tion is art­ful too, and often cut­tingly satir­ic­al. Polit­ics and mor­als have alwasy been cent­ral to aity­sh, and it’s as philo­soph­ic­al as Dylan, as gritty as Nas, and — some­times — as ego­ma­ni­ac­al as Kanye.

No one seems to know exactly where aity­sh came from, but it’s been a fix­ture for at least a thou­sand years. In the pre-Soviet days of major­ity illit­er­acy, akyns played a vital cul­tur­al role. They were the agents of social and his­tor­ic­al iden­tity, but also helped each gen­er­a­tion to expound its zeit­geist, cel­eb­rate its her­oes and hold its lead­ers to account.

Dur­ing the Soviet peri­od, unusu­ally, aity­sh wasn’t entirely scrubbed from Kaza­kh and Kyrgyz cul­ture, but requisi­tioned as a way to adapt old legends to the new rulers.

A lot of atten­tion was paid to akyn and the com­mun­ists used it as a pro­pa­ganda loud­speak­er,” said Balai. “Akyns sang about Len­in and the revolu­tion and the achieve­ments of the party.”

It was dan­ger­ous to be an akyn in Com­mun­ist Cent­ral Asia.

Dur­ing the Soviet peri­od, akyns and their poetry were strictly con­trolled,” the young per­former, Aaly Tutkuchev, told author, Elmira Köchümku­lova. “The KGB told them to write down the text of their poetry before they went out to sing in front of people.”

So tightly did aity­sh come to be asso­ci­ated with com­mun­ism, that by the col­lapse of the Soviet Uni­on the akyn art was almost extinct. Accord­ing to Finn, Kyrgyz­stan had only four akyns left in 1991. An influx of West­ern music — some of it, let’s hope, from Queens­bridge and Compton — gave aity­sh all the cachet of mor­ris dan­cing and oom­pah.

As the new nation states matured, how­ever, young people began to redis­cov­er the tra­di­tion. Across the board, by the early 2000s, Cent­ral Asia’s cul­tur­al her­it­age gained a new import­ance. In 2003, UNESCO added the akyns to its list of intan­gible cul­tur­al her­it­age. In 2001, Kyrgyz pub­lic fig­ure, Sadyk Sher-Niyaz, estab­lished the Aity­sh Pub­lic Fund, a char­it­able organ­isa­tion that pub­li­cises the art and has trained over a hun­dred new akyns.

Now, Kyrgyz and Kaza­kh akyns par­ti­cip­ate in the demo­crat­ic polit­ic­al pro­cess — passing from vil­lage to vil­lage to deliv­er a com­ment­ary, soap­box-style.

Akyns have always giv­en heart to the Kaza­kh people in times of hard­ship and misery,” Kazak akyn, Did­ar Qam­iev told the research­er, Jangül Qojakh­met­ova. “Dur­ing the Great Pat­ri­ot­ic War, in 1943, an aity­sh in Almaty raised people’s spir­its and hopes. Con­tem­por­ary aity­sh enlight­en people and enrich them spir­itu­ally.”

Banking on Islam: Central Asia’s future in the world of Islamic finance

Unsur­pris­ingly, things changed in Cent­ral Asia after the end of the USSRLike Rus­sia, industry was privat­ised and mar­ket cap­it­al­ism embraced. How­ever a less obvi­ous trans­ition is the uptake in Islam­ic fin­ance (IF) facil­it­ies, both as a com­mer­cial source of invest­ment and liquid­ity, and private bank­ing ser­vices.

The fin­an­cial dis­trict in Almaty, Kaza­kh­stan, where Islam­ic has its first foothold in Cent­ral Asia.

Accord­ing to Reu­ters, Islam­ic fin­ance growth world­wide has been double-digit since 2000, and this trend is mani­fest­ing in Cent­ral Asia with the emer­gence of new facil­it­ies and incor­por­a­tion into wider glob­al IF net­works. Islam­ic fin­ance is struc­tured by, and com­plies with, sharia law — espe­cially in con­sid­er­a­tion to the goods and ser­vices it funds (for example, pork or alco­hol) and the pro­hib­i­tion of par­tic­u­lar forms of interest. These insti­tu­tions have grown in tan­dem with a glob­al reviv­al of Islam­ic iden­tity since the late twen­ti­eth cen­tury, and a dis­il­lu­sion­ment with ‘west­ern’ bank­ing forms and the per­ceived reg­u­lar­ity of their fail­ure to suc­cess­fully under­write risk. In tan­dem, the Soviet policy of reli­gious sup­pres­sion once enforced in Cent­ral Asia was lif­ted after inde­pend­ence, cre­at­ing a region­al renais­sance of Islam­ic obser­va­tion and expres­sion across this Muslim major­ity region, which fur­ther facil­it­ates the enthu­si­ast­ic embrace of IF.

To vary­ing degrees oth­er Cent­ral Asi­an nations have embraced Islam­ic fin­ance (most not­ably Kyrgyz­stan), but Kaza­kh­stan leads the way in the devel­op­ment of IF. In 2009 Kaza­kh­stan became the first former-Soviet nation to issue IF guidelines, and in 2010 the first Islam­ic fin­an­cial insti­tu­tion — Al Hilal Bank — was gran­ted a license to trade through an inter­gov­ern­ment­al agree­ment between Kaza­kh­stan and Abu Dhabi. Since then, a pre­vi­ously con­ven­tion­al bank — Zaman — became an inter­na­tion­ally recog­nised Islam­ic Fin­ance insti­tu­tion, and in 2015 the gov­ern­ment out­lined its policy object­ives for the future of IF, with optim­ist­ic tar­gets set for 2020. Kaza­kh­stani gov­ern­ment­al sup­port for Islam­ic Fin­ance has included grow­ing mul­ti­lat­er­al cooper­a­tion with more estab­lished IF reg­u­lat­ory bod­ies, includ­ing the Islam­ic Fin­an­cial Ser­vices Board (IFSB), the Account­ing and Audit­ing Organ­isa­tion for Islam­ic Fin­an­cial Insti­tu­tions (AAOIFI), and the Inter­na­tion­al Islam­ic Fin­an­cial Mar­kets (IIFM). Fur­ther­more the Islam­ic Devel­op­ment Bank (IDB) has com­mit­ted to fin­an­cing invest­ment in infra­struc­ture and indus­tri­al pro­jects val­ued at $1.5 bil­lion, demon­strat­ing the impact of glob­al IF net­works.

Undoubtedly, the com­par­at­ively recent rein­sti­tu­tion of Islam across Cent­ral Asia has con­trib­uted massively to the uptake of Islam­ic fin­ance, a new reli­gi­os­ity (not neces­sary con­fined to Islam) equally per­vad­ing the pop­u­la­tion and the insti­tu­tions that uphold these society’s struc­tures. How­ever more prag­mat­ic inter­pret­a­tions of IF’s rise in the region have been mooted by for­eign schol­ars. Sebasti­an Peyrouse high­lights the poten­tial polit­ic­al bene­fits accrued by estab­lished Islam­ic states (includ­ing the Gulf States and Malay­sia) through the use of IF as a vehicle for closer eco­nom­ic, polit­ic­al and religious/ideological rela­tions. On the oth­er hand Dav­in­ia Hog­garth at Chath­am House high­lights IF as part of a wider ‘multi-vec­tor’ strategy which, in Kaza­kh­stan espe­cially, seeks to reduce eco­nom­ic reli­ance on any single for­eign part­ner by embra­cing invest­ment from a max­im­um num­ber of sources. Although cur­rent estim­ates sug­gest that Islam­ic fin­ance is of min­im­al scale in Cent­ral Asia, the con­sequences of its growth undeni­ably are not lim­ited to com­mer­cial and fin­an­cial interests, and IF’s growth will surely be tracked intently by inter­na­tion­al busi­nesses and gov­ern­ments alike.

Observ­ers must be real­ist­ic when not­ing this upwards IF trend. After all, even as the Cent­ral Asi­an nation with the deep­est rela­tion­ship with Islam­ic fin­ance, Kazakhstan’s tar­get for total IF bank­ing assets by 2020 is only 3 – 5 per­cent of the nation­al , while IF assets today make up only one per­cent. How­ever Reu­ters’ out­look for Islam­ic fin­an­cial invest­ment ranks Astana as a top rank des­tin­a­tion, with mul­tiple inter­na­tion­ally trad­ing banks includ­ing Al Baraka and May­Bank show­ing interest in Kazakhstan’s bour­geon­ing Islam­ic fin­ance mar­kets. The major­ity-Muslim pop­u­la­tion of Cent­ral Asia is cur­rently an untapped cus­tom­er base for IF insti­tu­tions, while gov­ern­ments across the region are real­ising the invest­ment oppor­tun­it­ies of IF as an altern­at­ive to Rus­si­an and Chinese sources. Though young, Islam­ic fin­ance seems likely to expand through­out Cent­ral Asia in the com­ing years.

Torn between two worlds — how Social Media is impacting Kazakhstan’s development

The harsh din of my alarm bursts rudely into my dreams and drags me slowly back into the real world.

Yes, 15 minutes before my actu­al wake up time, I look to my smart­phone to ground me from my hazy state, and I slowly come-to by catch­ing up with all the glob­al and per­son­al updates that happened overnight. As I scroll down end­less mes­sages, Ins­tagram updates and Face­book noti­fic­a­tions I real­ize that this sen­tence is sup­posed to be relat­able to all of us, who have a priv­ilege of liv­ing in the inform­a­tion tech­no­logy age.

Pan­or­amic view of Almaty from the hills of the Kok Tobe.

This trans­form­a­tion is truly glob­al; it impacts everything from the dis­rup­tion of tra­di­tion­al indus­tries and cre­ation of new ones to the ques­tion­able imprint of glob­al­iz­a­tion and chan­ging pat­terns of per­son­al inter­ac­tions. In Kaza­kh­stan, these changes not only shape the nature of eco­nomy but also have a sig­ni­fic­ant influ­ence on one’s iden­tity and self-image.

Over the past dec­ade, Kaza­kh­stan has wit­nessed a stag­ger­ing increase in Inter­net users from merely 3% in 2005 to more than 55% in 2016. And whilst my grandma is quite an act­ive Face­book user, a major­ity of Inter­net users in Kaza­kh­stan are urb­an mil­len­ni­als loc­ated in two major cit­ies — Almaty and Astana.

In fact, the split between rur­al and urb­an areas is so prom­in­ent that while more than 70% of the urb­an pop­u­la­tion has access to the Inter­net, only 45% of the rur­al pop­u­la­tion gets covered by nation­al pro­viders. This issue only high­lights the ever-press­ing prob­lem of an urb­an-rur­al split in Cent­ral Asi­an region.

Hav­ing been born and raised in Almaty, the biggest Kaza­kh­stani met­ro­pol­is, I always had a priv­ilege of being sur­roun­ded by clean streets, trendy res­taur­ants and shiny malls. It was only later in life that I have dis­covered the beau­ti­fully con­struc­ted image of my homet­own not to be a full reflec­tion of the nation.

For most rur­al Kaza­kh cit­izens; hav­ing access to clean hot water, heat­ing dur­ing winter, edu­ca­tion and health­care is a daily struggle to over­come. Poorly imple­men­ted agri­cul­tur­al policies com­bined with the sud­den col­lapse of the Soviet Uni­on have res­ul­ted in poverty and ill health of its rur­al pop­u­la­tion. Sim­il­arly, lim­ited access to world­wide know­ledge in rur­al regions fosters a pre-exist­ing income inequal­ity and hinders social mobil­ity for the young.

On the oth­er hand, while the Kaza­kh health­care sys­tem is col­lapsing with under­paid and over­worked doc­tors and nurses; the inher­ent kind­ness in Kaza­kh cul­ture, com­bined with the age of social media, has cre­ated a unique type of non-profit organ­isa­tion. In essence, these NGOs con­sist of online-oper­ated char­it­ies such as Dara and Kus Zholy, which are provid­ing people with second-hand cloth­ing and food — and have cre­ated crowd-fund­ing pages to help sick chil­dren get access to world-class health­care, along with sup­port­ing chil­dren with spe­cial needs. All this is being made pos­sible because of gen­er­ous dona­tions from com­munity-minded private cit­izens, who often live on the brink of poverty them­selves. This unique gen­er­os­ity is deeply inter­twined with­in Kaza­kh tra­di­tions, but is also influ­enced by Kaza­kh ego and self-image.

Uyat boladi” is a phrase that I, as a Kaza­kh woman, grew up hear­ing on daily basis. This almost always meant the end of a dis­cus­sion. For a for­eign ear this phrase, which is being repeated in each and every single house­hold sev­er­al times per day, sounds harm­less and almost poet­ic. Yet, its trans­la­tion — will be shamed — com­bined with an already self-con­scious nature of social media, serves to cre­ate harm­ful effects.

Big­ger expos­ure to Kylie Jen­ner types on Ins­tagram has fuelled a new wave of insec­ur­it­ies faced by Kaza­kh women. Now expec­ted not only to be an example of a mod­est and saint-like bride to all the neigh­bours, the Kaza­kh woman is now forced to become two-dimen­sion­al: her worth is also determ­ined by the num­ber of likes and com­ments she gets on an Ins­tagram post. Being con­stantly pres­sured to be the per­fect Step­ford wife with a per­fect body and per­fect man­ners; young women enter a vicious self-depre­ci­at­ing cycle fuelled by a stream of neg­at­ive com­ments. All the while, they are forever torn by the tug of two polar oppos­ites: the hyper­sexu­al­ised female body, so nor­m­al­ised in the media; and the “Uyat boladi” con­ser­vat­ive and pat­ri­arch­al mind­set.

See­ing glor­i­fied West­ern life­style on their feed, young people strive for everything West­ern — from Caucas­oid facial fea­tures right through to the way they dress and speak. Major­ity Muslim, Kaza­kh soci­ety is now under­go­ing a trans­form­a­tion. This comes as no sur­prise to me; adverts, clin­ics, and cases of oper­at­ive adjust­ments — such as double eye­lid plastic sur­ger­ies — are becom­ing omni­present, not just in Kaza­kh­stan, but through­out the East Asi­an region as well.

Although harm­ful to the self-esteem of the young, social media has undoubtedly boos­ted Kaza­kh eco­nomy. Accord­ing to CNP Pro­cessing, an inter­na­tion­al busi­ness research firm, the e‑commerce sec­tor of the eco­nomy has gen­er­ated more than $5million in 2010 on advert­ising; while over­all the sec­tor has gen­er­ated $300 mil­lion in sales in 2012, and the fig­ure has been on the rise ever since. Online busi­nesses such as Lam­oda and Choco­life were very quick to spot the untapped poten­tial that a sparsely pop­u­lated and tech-savvy nation prom­ised. Mean­while, a niche of inde­pend­ent online retail­ers mostly oper­ated through Ins­tagram caught onto the wave, and in doing so gen­er­ated jobs and fostered the country’s eco­nomy.

As e‑commerce mar­kets grew and online news con­sump­tion became con­ven­tion­al, anoth­er trans­form­a­tion emerged — Kaza­kh­stan developed a prof­it­able blog­ger sphere. Facebook’s live stream­ing allowed inde­pend­ent voices to be heard, while You­Tube provided a legit­im­ate and user-friendly plat­form. One of the most prom­in­ent examples of these inde­pend­ent voices is Yerzhan Rashev — a cre­at­or and host of the Rashev Show and an occa­sion­al live stream­er, who not only freely expresses his opin­ions about the nation’s devel­op­ment but also is expli­cit about cor­rup­tion with­in the branches of gov­ern­ment. He cham­pi­ons for trans­par­ency, a good mor­al code, and self-improve­ment; all delivered in an artic­u­late man­ner that encour­ages dis­cus­sion and fur­ther debate (usu­ally in the com­ment sec­tion). Young­er comedi­ans — teams Yuframe and Joke­asses, high­light import­ant social issues in a more light-hearted man­ner, but yet again encour­age their audi­ence to be bet­ter than the gen­er­a­tion of post-Soviet tur­moil with its pre­ju­dices and “Uyat boladi” mind­set.

Social Media is already mak­ing its impact on Kaza­kh­stani self-image as young people are becom­ing more tol­er­ant towards each other’s dif­fer­ences; it also fills them with hope for a bet­ter future by bring­ing the sum of human know­ledge in the world to their fin­ger­tips — and hope­fully by exten­sion help­ing them to learn to think crit­ic­ally. Social media and the Inter­net have just star­ted to pen­et­rate the Kaza­kh mar­ket, and there is a lot of pro­gress to be made in terms of digit­al free­dom and cen­sor­ship of the inform­a­tion. I can’t help but won­der what would the future entail for a young and pro­gress­ive Kaza­kh soci­ety? Would the pro­gress made in the last dec­ade and the kind inher­ent in Kaza­kh cul­ture be enough to cre­ate a mod­ern, demo­crat­ic and open-minded soci­ety — or would social media con­tin­ue to harm self-esteem of the young while also widen­ing the eco­nom­ic inequal­ity between urb­an-rur­al pop­u­la­tions? Yet again, Kaza­kh­stan is at the cross­roads. The ques­tion is: what path will the nation choose to take?