Flexing national muscles, Kazakstan moves its capital Government spruces up drab, quiet central city


AKMOLA, Kazakstan -- In a new sports jacket and tie, Aybek Nurtaev was scurrying around the top hotel in this nation's new capital -- searching for a bathroom.

"Welcome to Akmola," Nurtaev, 25, a government employee, told friends 15 minutes later in the hotel cafe. "In the main hotel on the main square of the new capital, there are no working toilets."

In another demonstration of post-Soviet nationhood, Kazakstan officially shifted its capital 750 miles north yesterday, from Almaty to this quiet city of 300,000.

President Nursultan Nazarbayev's motorcade moved down the lustrous Respublikansky Prospekt to the new, modern government complex on Akmola's main square.

"The new capital will be the face of the Kazak state," Nazarbayev told an audience of several hundred in a chill wind that at one point blew off his fur cap.

"It's all a show," declared one of Nurtaev's friends, Andrei Kadrubinsky, a builder. "The buildings have three sides and no back."

That is not quite true. The shops and apartments on Respublikansky Prospekt do have backs. But they look much like the rest of Akmola -- drab and decayed.

Expecting a windfall from Kazakstan's vast energy reserves, Nazarbayev has made an early investment in what he calls an imperative shift of the capital to the country's geographical center.

He has argued that as a transportation hub, Akmola is better than southern Almaty. Aides say Akmola will be safer than Almaty, which lies on a seismic fault, and that with the new capital more central, nationalists in Moscow will have difficulty stirring up the ethnic Russians who form a majority in Kazakstan's north.

But realistically, only one justification has been necessary.

"The president decided we will move here," said Oraz Kurpishev, the spokesman for Akmola's mayor, "so we should follow."

In a $400 million flurry of labor over the past six months, workers have slapped thousands of yards of white and brown vinyl onto the fronts and sides of a single band of shabby Soviet-era structures. Until the last minute before Nazarbayev's arrival, they swept and polished in a noble attempt to touch up three unfinished government buildings on the square.

Pub Date: 11/09/97

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