Kazakhstan: Ethnic Tensions and Underestimated Identity

Kazakhstan is a country that often boasts with inter-ethnic and religious tolerance – in tsar epoch it accepted many labor migrants from Ukraine and Russia. In J. Stalin's times it was a destination for deported nations and political prisoners. In late Soviet period thousands of industrial and agricultural professionals came here to partake in economic modernization of the republic. It was back in 1980s when Kazakhstan earned the title of a “laboratory of inter-ethnic friendship” and now every year the new capital, Astana, hosts the Forum of inter-confessional consent under the patronage of president Nazarbayev. At the same time, not everyone believes that this is a characteristic of modern Kazakhstan, as minor ethnic tensions are occuring in the everyday life and the Kazakhs are prevailing in the state structures.

Slavoyara, a journalist and an ethnic Russian living in the Central Kazakhstan, is so cautious about overwhelming predominance of Kazakhs in the state bodies, that she even contemplates emigration:

“That's how political balance work here… When all nationalties of the country will be proportionally represented in the government, tax bodies, local administrations etc., then we would be able to speak discuss it. Frankly, I don't care much about this issue. We live well, make money and eat sufficiently. But my kids will live in another – genuinely international – country. And they will speak English, not Kazakh” [ru].

Interestingly, another blogger from the Northern Kazakhstan (where the Russian population's share has been historically very high), aslili witnesses a different situation, and calls Kazakhstan “a wise enough country” to avoid clashes:

“So, we are sitting in the courtroom – I am a Russian born in Armenia, our lawyer is a Russian born in Karabah, the judge is a kazakh born in Russia, another lawyer is a local Kazakh, and the court expert is a Tatar born in Bashkiria (a region in Russian Federation). Then I go out and go to the market – buying grapes from an Uzbek, salads from a Korean, pomegranates from an Azeri. In the shopping mall a young Chechen girl asks me to look how a new dress fits her… Everyone is so friendly and respectful to each other” [ru].

Megakhuimyak, a Kazakh blogger from Almaty, is not too happy with the current prevalent mentality of the Kazakhs – Kazakh culture and national movements are marginalized and focused not on the socio-political problems, but on the language issue. Megakhuimyak reacts to the interview of Dos Kushim, a national patriot, member of the Civic Chamber under the president. A former journalist and ex-deputy governor says that fair elections are not so important for a Kazakh as the chance to speak with a state official in Kazakh language. Kushim also oddly opined that Kazakh psychology is that “boss is always right”.

“In other words, the message is as follows: “you can do what you want with us, but we really want you to shout at us only in Kazakh” [ru]”.

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