collective and individual

Salem from Almaty, Kazakhstan,

    We are here at a time of national mourning, after the death of Denis Ten, a young man who enjoyed the status of a national hero. The natural propensity of these people to smile has been subdued by a jolting shock to the national psyche.

Denis Ten

     Denis Ten was the only person to have won a winter Olympic medal for Kazakhstan since independence in 1991. He was in his mid-twenties and revered by all. One day last week, he returned to his parked car in Almaty and disturbed two thieves in the act of removing the mirrors from his car. When he apprehended them, one of them pulled a knife and stabbed him, apparently piercing an artery. Even though the ambulance took only 11 minutes to arrive, Denis Ten died that day.

something of a national hero

       There has been an outpouring of genuine grief. In the street where this occurred, there is now a temporary memorial with scores of messages and flowers. Part of the response seems to be borne of incredulity: how could such a thing happen here? It is so out of character for local people to be violent.

an interesting way to think about a murder

    Perhaps the most impressive response has been the way most people take the event to be of societal significance. Aydyn said, “we all think we did wrong by not raising those boys better”. The President of Kazakhstan said it was an “irreplaceable loss for the country”. Ulbala reflected on the incident wistfully: “This is our problem. We have to do this better.” One anonymous message at the temporary memorial: “Please forgive us.” These are interesting ways to think about a murder.

       There is another arresting phenomenon apparent here on the roads of Kazakhstan. When a tourist information officer was entertaining some of our thoughts about travel and various destinations, she seriously suggested that we hitch hike. It was uttered as casually as any of the other conventional options like train, bus, hire car etc. It didn’t really register with me as noteworthy until we saw many local people – inside and outside the city – doing exactly this. In some situations, such as peak hour, there might be four or five parties hitching within a few metres of each other. 

    This is men and women, day and night, rural and urban, individuals and groups. It turns out the hitch hikers negotiate a fee to a proposed destination with the driver, sit in the rear seat just like a taxi, and pay when they arrive. Linda’s qualms about the system viz. the potential for malpractice, was met with puzzlement when we asked Aydyn, an experienced tour operator, about this. “There is never any problem,” he said, as though the possibility had never even occurred to him.

collective before individual

     To me, these two different phenomena point to a collective rather than an individualistic outlook (not too much to surmise?). The national self-remonstration after Denis Ten’s murder is characteristic of a people who place higher priority on the collective before the individual. Such a curious hitch hiking custom also says, we’re all in this together. 

Sau Bol from Almaty, Kazakhstan


Other photos from hereabouts

Charyn Gorge
up the long road to the Big Almaty Lake
Charyn Gorge – second largest in the world

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