Staunton, January 28 – Many in Kazakhstan want to ensure that everyone living there speaks Kazakh but the best way to ensure that is not to impose punishments for those who don’t – that is counter-productive “populism,” one commentator says; but rather to work so that Kazakh will achieve the status English has in the US now or Russian did in the USSR.
In a commentary entitled “You may not be a Kazakh but you must know Kazakh,” the Central Asian Monitor journalist says that there are no good shortcuts to universal knowledge of a language in any country but that making it attractive is better than trying to force the issue by punishment (camonitor.kz/34069-kazahom-mozhesh-ty-ne-byt-no-znat-kazahskiy-ty-obyazan.html).
Bykhozha says that ongoing discussions in Kazakhstan about imposing penalties on those who do not speak Kazakh are dangerous and almost certainly counter-productive. He points to the criticism Estonia and Ukraine have been subjected to for policies like that and even to the difficulties other post-Soviet states have had in using less stringent policies.
In most countries, the Kazakh commentator says, the authorities are concerned primarily that public officials and those who operate businesses for the public know the national language. Others who don’t fall into those categories are encouraged to learn it but aren’t punished if they don’t master the national language.
Bykhozha points out that “even in the USSR, despite the policy of Russification it conducted, there was no obligation to know Russian although some now assert the contrary. There were millions of citizens who knew it if at all very weakly, especially in the republics of Central Asia and the Caucasus.”
“In the Kazakh SSR, the process of Russification occurred more actively (or let us say, here it was not particularly resisted), and therefore the percentage of those who didn’t know Russia was lower.” According to the 1989 census, 37 percent of Kazakhs did not claim to speak Russian fluently and yet lived without serious problems.
That pattern, one in which those who need the language learn it and those who can do without it don’t, is common in many countries in the West; and few of them seek to impose a language on anyone. That and not some act of legal force is how Kazakhstan can and should achieve near universal knowledge of the national language, Bykhozha says.