Natacha, ethnic russian girl, Astana, Kazakhstan
Founded by Siberian Cossacks in 1824, Astana was a fortified town isolated in the central arid steppe of Kazakhstan, on the Ishim River. Winters there are very harsh, temperatures can fall as low as -35°C, with summers being very hot (up to 40°C) and Astana has been turned from an unfinished administrative empty city into a XXIst Century version of Babylon.
Originally inhabited by impoverished Russian farmers, it has been entirely re-built after a presidential decree with the purpose of being the administrative ruling center. The capital city was officially transferred to this newly built city from Almaty in 1997, in order to be in greater proximity to people of Russian decent, mainly settled in the North.
Thousands of government employees had to move north as the administrations were transferred there so they could keep their work.
With very expensive and luxurious buildings, Astana looks like a utopian city based upon the central power’s delusions of grandeur.
There are plenty of forms and colors in the architecture, making Astana look like a patchwork suited for a multi-ethnic society. The post-modernist giantess architecture led to some failures: a building was called “Titanic” after huge cracks appeared in its foundations. The extension of the capitalist model has raised the construction of shopping malls, restaurants and cafés in a western style, but so far big chains like Mc Donald’s and Starbucks are still being prohibited.
Religious buildings, XL-sized of course, have grown in less than a decade amidst the administrative complexes. The largest synagogue in Central Asia has opened in 2004, and the biggest Mosque in central Asia funded by Qatar, with its golden domes and sixty up meter-high minarets can host up to 5,000 worshipers (the president himself is a Muslim worshiper). The pyramid-shaped Palace of peace glass construction even contains a golf course!
There also lots of cultural centers, sports areas and museums, all evoking the magnificence and greatness of the nation. Eventually it was obtained by the petrodollars and it hides a high contrast of richness, as the majority of people in the country remain poor.
© Eric Lafforgue