In this critical assessment of scholarly literature on élite transformations in post-soviet Central Asia, the author examines the Kazakhstani élite in the light on three key perspectives: (1) the country’s alleged reversion to traditional clan social structures; (2) the conquest of power by a nascent ‘acquisition class’; (3) the common assertion that the Soviet élite was successful in maintaining power during the economic transformations of the past two decades. As a conclusion, J. Murphy observes that Kazakhstan’s élite has remained remarkable consistent throughout the studies period. The rise of an acquisition class that has been observed in the central USSR/Russia’s élite did not occur in Kazakhstan. At the same time, his analysis of the élite opposition supporters largely suggests the existence of a nascent tendency towards the development of the type of “liberal capitalist acquisition class” hypothesised by some authors.
The bulk of the élite turnover in the study period is ascribed to the consolidation of power by the titular ethnic group, the Russians’ marginalisation having begun well before the dissolution of the Soviet Union. (The heavy industrial sector’s decline preceded and entailed that of the Russian élite in Kazakhstan’s political apparatus.) Another striking feature of the analysis, common to both Russia and Kazakhstan, is the growth of the presidential administration and the rapid usurping of former Party rule by a strong, centralised, and increasingly security-driven presidential administration. This new power structure is constructed from the alliances built by President Nazarbaev during his ascension within the Communist Party. Being historically contingent, these power networks will face serious legitimacy challenges after Nazarbaev’s succession. This is even more so that if the Nazabaev élite has managed to construct and to market a national identity that satisfies most Kazakhs, this identity is now weakened and the élite’s control over the country rendered more fragile. In all, this innovative study successfully demonstrates that change in the post-Soviet context in Kazakhstan as in Russia comes about ― and will continue to do so ― by addressing the Soviet legacy much more than through connecting with, or disconnecting from, some mythical ancient heritage.