Staunton, April 4 – Artystanbek Mukhamediuly, Kazakhtan’s culture and sports minister, says that 83.1 percent of the population of his country now speaks Kazakh, a figure that means more than half of all non-Kazakhs do and one that reduces the isolation of the 20 percent who are ethnic Russian and Moscow’s ability to play that group against the Kazakhstan state.
According to the minister, 91 percent of government documents are now issued in Kazakh, and 72 percent of the mass media are in the national language. And Kazakhstan residents are moving from bilingualism with Russian to tri-lingualism with other languages (tengrinews.kz/kazakhstan_news/skolko-grajdan-rk-vladeyut-kazahskim-yazyikom-340682/).
Kazakhstan, a republic in which ethnic Russians formed a plurality of the population until the mid-1980s and the Russian language was predominant until recently, has worked hard to promote knowledge of Kazakh. It has opened 89 regional centers to provide instruction to adults and pushed Kazakh in the schools.
For Astana, this is not just about nation building but about national security. Moscow on occasion has sought to mobilize ethnic Russians against the Kazakhs and some activists have even threatened to partition the country along ethnic lines. But if Russians are learning Kazakh as often as the minister’s figures suggest, it will be far harder for Moscow to do so in the future.
Russians who speak the language of the country of which they are resident are far more likely to feel integrated and far less likely to heed the siren song of Moscow to oppose the titular nationality. That is why so many of the countries around Russia’s periphery have promoted their national languages.
They recognize that until Russians learn the local languages, they may be mobilized against the state by a Kremlin that has made language central to its definition of “the Russian world.” It is in this context that the efforts of Latvia to promote Latvian should be understood (cf.ru.espreso.tv/article/2018/04/02/vytalyy_portnykov_razdelenye_grazhdan_po_yazyku_shans_dlya_kremlya