Kazakhstan staged a show for $ 5 billion… which nobody saw

Astana was built a real futuristic city for the world exhibition and demonstration national brand in the international arena. The problem is that they forgot to invite the guests.

I could enjoy Greece almost single-handedly. As I walked through the tunnel philosophers spun around me glowed with enthusiasm by young Kazakhs. “Here is the Greek alphabet. It consists of 24 letters and was the first language of science. Please, here, take a photo on the seashore”. They pushed me to the Mediterranean decor, and finding himself alone against five, I was forced to listen to their endless explanations.

It was the second (and very Sunny) day of the Expo-2017, which took place on the periphery of the Kazakh capital Astana. This exhibition presents itself the “Olympic games of economy, trade and culture,” an event of global significance, within which each country-participant demonstrates their achievements in their own pavilion, where a crowd of people to see collected from all over the world exhibits.

Only here at the first Expo in the post-Soviet space, no crowds was not in sight.


The exhibition was held on the periphery of Astana, close to one of the many existing sites. On this occasion there was a Park. The object is called the “city of the future”, although in appearance he rather resembled a large conference center. Organizers noted that it provides itself with electricity by use of wind and hydro. The pavilions occupy the space from a small room to multiple floors, they were located in new buildings, built around a large sphere made of black glass — pavilion of Kazakhstan. When viewed from the West dome rises above the surrounding houses. “There are two ways to annoy the Kazakhs, — said one of the guests is to Mention the movie “Borat” and call them the dome “Star of death””.


Desert pavilion

To mention the obvious lack of guests was not necessary. Empty not only the pavilion of Greece. In many of them there was no one but employees. Representation of important countries like China, Germany and the United States have adopted from time to time groups of a dozen visitors, however, are reserved for outside in the queue had no soul. On the streets two out of three passers-by were name badges of the exhibition. My attention was drawn to an amazing conversation between two European delegates: “we must prepare for the fact that in the worst case, nobody will”. Over the years the Kazakh organizers gradually reduced forecasts for the number of visitors that are expected for the three-month Expo: five million, then three million, and finally two million.

On the opening day, according to official figures, it was only about 10 thousand guests, but it was an exaggeration.

The next day the crowd became even poorer. In the Chinese pavilion at the screen was displayed a view of the exhibition from the plane, but outside the allotted plot under it the street was empty, not counting dimichele cigarette guard. At lunchtime empty tables on the verandas and glassed-in second floor of the restaurant gave the whole the appearance of a provincial airport at two in the morning.

© RIA Novosti, Bolat Siginitsetinv at the International specialized exhibition “EXPO-2017” in Astana

During my last trip to Expo 2010 in Shanghai, the streets were overcrowded: the number of visitors amounted to 73 million people. The latest “specialized” Expo (such events are usually held on a smaller scale in the interval of passing time in five years World exhibitions) were organized in the coastal Korean city Yeosu in 2012 and attracted eight million visitors. Astana officially sold 670 thousand tickets, but in the matter of these figures has serious doubts. At the same time, the organization of the event was definitely worth three to five billion dollars. I thought about the organizers of the Expo, when handed the right to host the Astana? And how this capital away from the rest of the world capital, actually became a candidate?

Earlier, the Expo was a significant international event and an opportunity for the state organizer and participating countries to show their strength to a wide audience. The first exhibition was held in 1851 in London built especially for this Crystal Palace, becoming a symbol of the power and glory of Victorian Britain. World exhibition of 1889 left Paris in the inheritance of the Eiffel tower. Expo 1939 in new York held under the slogan “Building the world of tomorrow” and represented a utopian sci-Fi world from the nuclear-powered and robotic servants. For almost the entire cold war, the US and the Soviet Union erected pavilions to flaunt their social and technological superiority.

However, since the 1980s, the years Expo for the most part fell out of the field of view of the Western public. Are still held under control located in Paris the International Bureau of exhibitions, but in our times of cheap flights and developed when there is no more sense to look at a stylized representation of Spain, Thailand or Egypt. At the same time, private companies began to play a much bigger role in these shows, seeing in them an opportunity to present their products and impress potential clients. The 1999 law does not even allow the us government to allocate funds for the pavilion, which has since been fully dependent on private patrons.

Anyway, in developing countries, the Expo still attracts a lot of attention. The General public in these parts of the world still interesting to touch the distant places and peoples.

Their governments, in turn, show significant, though less numerous international audience. As the editor supported by the Chinese government newspaper the Global Times in 2010, I was forced to work on dozens of articles about the Shanghai Expo and its significance for the country. Yes, they were incredibly boring, but with the official media always is the case: they put you to sleep, even if we were talking about the Olympics for sex.

The juxtaposition of the absurd

Kazakhstan has almost inevitably had to sooner or later stand as a candidate for holding the exhibition. With vast natural resources of the Central Asian country has managed with the greatest success out of the ruins of the Soviet Union. Under the regime of autocrat Nursultan Nazarbayev (a former leader of the local Communist party freely came to power after the collapse of the USSR), economy has developed, which does not cancel taken a tight grip on the press and rampant corruption. The international influence of the country is still very small.

Since the 1990s years, she is eager to fix it and is host to rest at every opportunity. In recent years there have been numerous events from football tournaments to meetings of international leaders, not to mention the peace talks on Syria.

Partly the dynamics of country in the organization of such events connected with ego Nazarbayev. 76-year-old President increasingly think about how what you leave behind. One of the main attractions of Astana, the Museum of the first President, erected during the life of the mausoleum. In addition, some of the activities in Kazakhstan of events is simply absurd: as the expert in the dialogue of religions, held there by the international religious Congress was a “pure waste of time, because it was organized in the manner of Soviet events on religion and peace, which were for repressive regimes a way to create visibility”.


Whatever it was, it goes beyond this. The rest of the world knows little about Central Asia and even has no idea where Kazakhstan is and who lives there. Therefore, the Kazakh pride is very important to find a national story that you can tell the world (or any for the sale brand, if you talk about business).

All the Kazakhs have one thing in common — hospitality. If the other Central Asian States have not managed to find a powerful symbol of post-Soviet identity, the Kazakhs understand that I want to emphasize in the first place. They really, really like to tell you about their hospitality. “Expo is very important for us, because the Kazakhs are an inherently friendly people. We want to take everyone said I Tilic Junusova, the boss of one of the Astana offices.

© RIA Novosti, Sergey Subbotin | go to fotobanka the Central square of Astana, building of the Presidential Palace (left) and the Parliament of the Republic of Kazakhstan

“Previously Kazakhstan was a trading point on the Silk road, and so we always welcome”. The importance of hospitality was the subject of a wall in the Kazakh pavilion.

This culture of hospitality is very real, but not unique. It is not about the Kazakh invention, and of common tradition, which is rooted in Turkic-Arabic nomadism in Central Asia and the middle East. Kazakhstan spent billions of dollars on these activities, although almost half of its population still lives on the 70 euros per month. Anyway, for the benefit of the young nation. “I really admire about the Kazakhs that now, when all turn away from the others, on the contrary they try to stand up to face them,” said Director of public relations of the American pavilion Anthony de Angelo (Anthony de Angelo).

One of the only rivals

The way of Kazakhstan to hold Expo was a cakewalk. The country had applied in 2012, when the only candidate was the Belgian Liege. Once Expo 2015 was held in Europe (Milan), in the Kazakh Treasury was driven earned on oil money, and Belgium is mired in the European debt crisis, to achieve victory was easy. In addition, BIE was happy to announce the first Expo on the territory of the former Soviet States.

As in the situation with the Olympic games, the organization of the Expo is becoming a less attractive prospect in times of economic difficulties due to the almost guaranteed loss of money. However, it still enchants those who want to get ahead in the international arena. Kazakhstan lost to China (with a difference of only four votes) to host the winter Olympics 2022: Beijing was the only opponent, because all the rest of the city withdrew the application because of dissatisfaction with the residents and financial difficulties.

It was then admitted the first mistake. The natural place of the exhibition would have to be Alma-ATA, the largest city and former capital of the country. It is not only bigger, but is in a more easily accessible location, not only for Kazakhs, but also for their neighbors from Central Asia.

However since 1997, the Kazakh government is in a newly built Astana, a thousand kilometers to the North from Alma-ATA, surrounded by steppes on the border of the southern regions of Siberia. The town resembles a cross between an amusement Park and a large construction site: shopping centers coexist with large palaces (which, of course, built to host international events) and standing near the houses. Nazarbayev highlights the petrodollars famous architects like Kisho Japanese Curacavi and Briton Norman foster to create a new city. As a result, the city is full of giant shiny in the sun buildings, which, it seems, here-here will turn into a “transformer”.

Half-empty city

A large part of Astana’s beautiful, but at the same time, half empty and hotels road to the point of absurdity: the price of picking up an endless stream of foreign delegations and officials from the regions, who in any case live at public expense. “It is an emotional city” — figuratively described by the head of the U.S. pavilion Joshua Walker (Joshua Walker) to Forbes magazine. The opening ceremony, of course, caused the tube (unprecedented by local standards case) due to the long procession of SUVs, but the overall tranquility of the city, nothing broke. Walking around town, I’m usually alone came to the monument with a sign or fancy a Bush in the shape of a dinosaur.

To attract foreign visitors, almost no effort was applied. In Russia it is carried out (albeit rather disjointed) advertising campaign, however, there has not been done almost nothing. Air Astana promised free tickets to the exhibition everyone who uses the services of the company, however, betrayed their vehicles at the airports of Almaty and Astana was broken.

In one of the Astana Park I once met a couple staring at a map of Chinese tourists (“do you Think we are, you see, there is a large glass pyramid”). As it turned out, one of them lives just a few miles from me in Beijing. This retired member of the Communist party leadership was a big fan of Expo. “I really liked Shanghai, he recalls with a smile on her face. — There were so many countries! I was so glad that this year is a new Expo near the China.” They were the only tourists. Hospitality is all well and good, but guests would also love.

The discontent of the population

In addition, many of the Kazakhs, a considerable dissatisfaction with the Expo. Yes, people often felt proud. “We are preparing for this four years! Even children know what is Expo”, — said the businessman Nicholas Herman. However, Kazakh social networks have increasingly heard complaints referred to cases where people were forced to buy tickets. Talk about spending the pension Fund on the financing of the Expo, not to mention the absurdity of the allocation of billions on a project that aims to highlight national pride, while “half of the country still defecates in latrines”.

Do not forget about corruption. The Kazakh government has acknowledged the theft of millions of dollars in the construction zone. The head of the organization of the Expo, responsible for the construction and the Director involved in the exhibition of the company was arrested for embezzlement of funds (partly this was a consequence of conflict in oligarchic elite of the country). Amazing this does not include: Kazakhstan — very corrupt country, and the Expo, like any major event, it becomes the ideal Playground for scammers. Expo 2015 in Milan, too, was accompanied by corruption scandals, which increased surrounding the event cynicism.

“The government is forcing the homeless to go through the turnstiles to inflate the figures,” — said on condition of anonymity, a resident of Astana. Kazakhstan occupies 157th place in the ranking of press freedom, and dissent in a country often delayed. “Of course, I’m not going, it’s for people like you, — said Talgat work, putting me on the calloused finger. Not for people like me”.

An endless succession

Whatever it was, probably, the main obstacle to the influx of visitors was the fact that the Expo was simply boring. The theme of the exhibition “energy of the future” resulted in an endless series of commercial videos on solar and wind energy. The richer an oil state, the more his hall tells the desire of its management to alternative energy. “Please come to the pavilion Shell, told me a Kazakh employee. — This is a great company.” A video ended with shots of a smiling audience of girls in skimpy clothes, and Israel surpassed all the others, showing a dancer (in a no less explicit way) to reward the viewer for watching the movie.

© RIA Novosti, Bolat Shahinov | go to fotomontajes in national costume at the International specialized exhibition “EXPO-2017” in Astana

In General, few people have truly decided to give. Presented in the halls of technology were just a reflection of familiar ideas. I again and again pressed the button which illuminated digramma with the image of the gentle environment of the houses. In some of the pavilions budgets clearly cut. So, Venezuela was only an empty room with a few pictures on the walls. (“In any case, those who came here can go to hell, says another delegate. — How did they even dare to get on a plane if their country is in flames?”).

Slogans, too, are beginning to be confused with each other: “Earth energy”, “Energy in the air” “Energy in motion”… “what is the source of infinite energy?— asks the voice on the recording in the U.S. pavilion. — In people. In you, in me, in us all.” Involuntarily looked around, to make sure no one is trying to process into fuel…

In the midst of all this there were a few important exceptions like the German pavilion with a magnificent laser show. The Creator of the British pavilion Asif Khan (Asif Khan) showed me everything in person. “The whole landscape, until the leaves on the trees were created by computers, he said, pointing to the walls around a Central Yurt from a suspended graphite tubes. The weather was also programmed, but the more people touch the awning, the more they affect it.” In my eyes Kazakh boy was fooling around with the tubes that were lit in the dark from the movement of his hand.

Look, “continued Khan. — If Kazakh child will see it and come home with a dream to become a scientist or engineer, you will extract something, it would mean that I did the trick”.

Sometimes what is happening in a sense and in addition Commerce. So, an American “student volunteers” took pictures with local visitors under Hollywood and chatted with them in Russian. “To many Kazakhs, is probably the first opportunity to see live Americans, said de Angelo. — Why we want it left a mark. When we talk about the idea of cowboys, in the eyes standing in front of the TV people flares up real interest.”

Some countries had the good sense to send its musicians. The visitors were laughing, clapping and singing along to Lithuanian folk dancers in elongated hats, which swirled in front of his pavilion. At some point it seemed that all was not in vain. But then I looked more closely: only four of the 20 people were not other delegates…