The first man in space was a country boy, a peasant born on a collective farm near the city of Smolensk. The first woman, too, was born a peasant, and raised by a widowed mother who worked at a cotton mill. The first man to walk on the moon was the son of an accountant – not quite peasant stock, but hardly a billionaire.
Nazarbayev, along with Mikhail Gorbachev, was among the few political leaders still hoping to keep the union together that autumn. Nazarbayev had been considered for the post of vice-president; he would have been the first Kazakh to be a heartbeat away from leading the USSR. He lost out to a Russian, Gennady Yanaev, who joined a conspiracy against Gorbachev in August 1991, ensuring that Gorbachev would be not just the first Soviet president but the last Soviet leader.