Staunton, February 18 – In response to suggestions that the departure of many people from Kazakhstan represents a dangerous “brain drain,” Darkhan Kaletayev, that country’s social development minister, says he does not see out migration as a threat but rather as part of an entirely normal and worldwide trend.
According to the Astana official, Kazakhstan suffers from a large exodus of people; but this is not the unique tragedy or the threat to its future that many politicians and commentators suggest (eadaily.com/ru/news/2019/02/18/kazahskiy-ministr-v-emigracii-nekazahov-iz-kazahstana-net-tragedii and ).
Kaletayev says that “more than 70 percent of those departing are representatives of other ethnic groups,” most of whom are Russians. And their departure is “in principle a natural process. People seek their own language milieu, their own roots,” something he describes as “normal” and that “we must not view as tragic.”
One of the reasons that the minister appears less concerned about this trend than others is that most of the non-Kazakhs leaving the country now are not active members of the workforce but elderly people who are no longer employed. Their departure thus does not hurt the economy and may even reduce the burden of welfare costs they represent.
That is a sharp contrast with the 1990s when many Russians who left were prominent professionals, and both this shift from key players to retirees as the main part of the outflow and the different reaction of the officials to their departures suggests that Moscow’s ability to use such Russians to retain influence in Kazakhstan and elsewhere will only further decline.
At the same time, there is an emigration from Kazakhstan that many officials are genuinely concerned about: many young Kazakhs are seeking educations abroad and then remaining there believing that they will have greater opportunities for themselves and their families if they do so.
Their departure does constitute a real burden on that Central Asian country. At the same time, however, their numbers are smaller than the departing Russians; and there is more interest in Astana in taking steps to attract them back than there is in seeking to find ways to keep the ethnic Russians there.
This may seem a small thing, but in fact, it represents the end of the system that the Soviets put in place. In many non-Russian republics, ethnic Russian cadres played a key role in the development of education and the economy and were valued if not only welcomed because of that.
Now, their role is rapidly declining both because of the aging of this community and because of the departure of ever more of its embers. Twenty-five years ago, Kazakhs and others would have been profoundly worried about that; now, the newly confident non-Russians are not. As a result, the Russian world will continue to contract.