Saturday, August 1, 2015

Many Ethnic Russians Want to Leave Kazakhstan but Not All Those Who Do Want to Go to Russia, Study Finds

Paul Goble

Staunton, August 1 – According to a survey conducted by Kazan scholars in 2012 but whose complete results have been released only now, a significant share of the ethnic Russian community in Kazakhstan wants to leave that country because of its nationality and language policies, but not all those who want to do so want to go to the Russian Federation.

That is just one of the intriguing conclusions from the study summarized by Aleksey Goncharov and Igor Savin for this week. And the two argue that the study, despite its date, is still relevant because Russian outmigration from Kazakhstan has held nearly constant at about 2,000 a month since then (

The study, the two note, was conducted in the fall of 2012 by researchers from the Kazan Institute of History working together with the Southern Kazakhstan State University. They surveyed ethnic Russians in three very different cities, the oblast centers of Shymkent and Petropavlovsk and the Kazakhstan capital Astana.

The ethnic Russian community of Kazakhstan, which once was a majority and now forms only a quarter of the population, consists of three distinct categories: “The first includes those who consider Kazakhstan a continuation of Russia” and who in large numbers have already gone back to the Russian Federation.

The second are those “who do not consider Kazakhstan an extension of Russia” and have vacillated about whether to leave. And the third, the two authors say, are “Russians who have either come to terms with Kazakhstan, considering it their motherland or not considering emigration a good alternative for them.”

The study captured this diversity because the three cities in which it was conducted have ethnic Russian populations which vary geographically, historically and from the point of view of demographics. In the North-Kazakhstan oblast, which borders Russia, there are 288,000 Russians, and they form the majority of the population.

In Astana, Russians make up 132,000 of the more than 800,000 residents. “Geographically Astana is closer to Omsk than to Almaaty or Shymkent.” And in the South Kazakhstan Oblast, where Shymkent is the capital, there are about as many ethnic Russians as in Astana but they live “cut off from Russia” by virtue of geography.

Asked whether they would like to change their place of residence, 57 percent of the Russians of Shymkent, 50 percent of those in Petropavlovsk and 43 percent of those in Astana said yes.  Then asked whether they really intended to, the shares were 28 percent, 18 percent, and 22 percent respectively.

Ethnic Russians living in the north, the study found, overwhelmingly wanted to move to Russia, but 25 percent of those living in the southern parts of Kazakhstan said they would like to go to somewhere “’outside of Russia,’” a figure that suggests even among the mobile, Russia may not be the destination of choice.

Fifty-two percent of those in the south said they wanted to leave because of Kazakhstan’s “nationality and language policies,” and 24 percent said that they felt a distinct “worsening of inter-ethnic relations. In Petropavlovsk and Astana, few reported that; and in the north, many pointed to economic problems, something those in the other two regions did not.

Among the other findings mentioned by the journalists are the following:

·         “The overwhelming majority of those polled were married to Russians,” but few saw a problem if their children were to marry a Kazakh or other non-Russian. Only six percent of the Russians in Petropavlovsk were “categorically” against such unions. In Shymkent and Astana, the figures were 16 percent and 24 percent respectively.

·         Few ethnic Russians in Kazakhstan speak the national language fluently: almost none in Petropavlovsk in the north, one percent in Astana, and two percent in Shymkent. Many said that left them in situations where they felt “discomfort.”

·         More than 80 percent in all three places said they would like their children to learn English or another European language. Much smaller percentages – 53 in Shymkent, 30 in Petropavlovsk, and 31 in Astana said Kazakh should be a priority in the schools.

·         Religion plays a very different role among ethnic Russians in the two oblast centers than it does in the national capital.  In Shymkent, 78 percent of the Russians say they consider themselves believers; and in Petropavlovsk, 72 percent do. But in Astana, only 49 percent make that declaration, perhaps because ethnic Russians there descend from Komsomol activists.

·         Just under half of Russians in the north say that nationality has no importance, while 70 percent of those in Astana make that declaration. (No data are given for Shymkent.) About half of Russians in all three places agreed that “a contemporary individual does not need to feel himself or herself part of some nation or another.”

·         Forty-nine percent of ethnic Russians in Astana consider Kazakhstan to be their motherland, while only 39 percent of those in the southern city of Shymkent and only 19 percent of those in the northern city of Petropavlovsk do.  Given how many choices those surveyed were offered, the authors say, these figures are “high.”

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