Staunton, September 6 – In his recent address to the nation, new Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev suggested that the time was coming when Kazakh would become the language of inter-ethnic communication in the country and that once that happened Kazakh would naturally displace Russian in that role.
That has led some to argue that Kazakhstan should accelerate moves in that direction by banning the use of Russian, suggestions that a group of experts surveyed by Asel Omirbek for Kazakhstan’s Central Asian Monitor say would by itself do little to reduce the amount of Russian spoken in the country (camonitor.kz/33623-perestanet-li-kazahstan-govorit-po-russki.html).
Instead, Russian speakers and Kazakhs who know Russian as a second language will continue to use it because Kazakh is underdeveloped and that any ban on Russian would thus be counterproductive. It would infuriate ethnic Russians in Kazakhstan and lead more of them to emigrate.
It would anger Moscow, Kazakhstan’s large and important northern neighbor; and, what must not be forgotten, it would isolate Kazakhstan internationally because such bans have in all cases been viewed as a violation of fundamental human rights and those who impose them have been seen as international pariahs.
Those surveyed – political scientist Zamir Karazhanov, Ayman Zhusunova of the Kazakhstan Institute for World Economics, Isatay Utepov of the Abyroy Social Organization, Maksim Andryushin of Kazakhstan’s Social Democratic Party, and business consultant Erlan Seytimov – were unanimous on how counterproductive a ban on Russian would be.
Their positions and their words don’t mean that the idea that Kazakhstan should follow Ukraine in seeking to impose legal restrictions on Russian. But it suggests that any such proposal would be opposed not just by Russians and Russia but by many prominent Kazakhs. As a result, Russian is likely to retain its position in Kazakhstan for some time to come.