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Image courtesy of the author. Sitting on a white leather sofa in the small, open-plan editorial office of Cosmopolitan Kazakhstan, I flick through a recent issue of the magazine.
Zooey Deschanel, dressed in a pale pink dress with black trim that shows a little cleavage, gazes winsomely from the deep pink cover with her trademark, piercing blue eyes. These are not the type of images we in the West most readily associate with Central Asia, a region that has a history of strong Muslim traditions and, more recently, some less-than-benign dictatorships.
As the only Central Asian state that shares a direct border with Russia, it has a close but sometimes turbulent relationship with its northern neighbor. Kakakhstan is home to a significant Russian diaspora, and although Kazakh is now the official state language and is widely spoken in the countryside, Russian is more commonly spoken in urban areas. The products that appear on the pages of Cosmopolitan Kazakhstan—brand-name cosmetics Chanel, Givenchy, YSL , smart phones and designer fashions—speak to a level of disposable income that would have been unthinkable here a little over twenty years ago, when the only stores were state-owned and usually empty at that.
On the office wall in front of me hang rows of other Cosmo Kazakhstan covers framed in plastic: Ashley Greene, Zoe Saldana, and Milla Jojovic are among the ladies who smile or pout from the glossy pages. Kazakhstan is a young country. It has only existed as an independent state for twenty-one years, since the collapse of the Soviet Union in late It is also a youthful country: the median age of its population is But this that state was once peopled by nomads is growing up fast. Its territory is almost four times the size of Texas and its oil and mineral wealth have helped create a class of millionaires and billionaires at least three of the latter, according to the Forbes list.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev has been in power since independence, and in was elected to another five-year term with an overwhelming victory of more than 95 percent of the vote in an election which outside observers have said failed to meet international democratic standards. Independence after the dissolution of the Soviet Union also brought other changes to this part of Central Asia.