Monday, January 28, 2019

Astana’s Promotion of Kazakh Civic Nation Radicalizing Ethnic Kazakhs, Umbetaliyeva Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 26 – The Kazakhstan government’s promotion of a civic national identity in the country, an effort that recalls the USSR’s effort to create “a Soviet people,” is offensive to many ethnic Kazakhs and is radicalizing them in potentially dangerous ways, Tolganay Umbetaliyeva says.

            The head of the Central Asian Foundation for the Development of Democracy says that the Kazakh regime views any manifestation of purely ethnic concerns in a negative way, even though that is what many ethnic Kazakhs very much want (

            When the Republic of Kazakhstan appeared on the map, Umbetaliyeva continues, “the Kazakhs were certain that they would begin to create their own state, at the foundation of which would lie the Kazakh language, Kazakh culture, Kazakh traditions and values.” Many who felt that way “do not accept the model of the civic nation.”

            They feel themselves “deceived” and that is why there is so much hostility to the term “’Kazakhstanets,” a term they feel represents “’an attack’ on Kazakh identity” and one that implies that the Kazakhs have given up on or had taken away from themselves their own distinctive country.

            Consequently, she continues, radicalization in Kazakhstan today “can be considered in a certain way as a protest of part of society which feels itself reduced and ignored in the model offered by the authorities. These people do not see themselves, their role, and their status in a state known as the Republic of Kazakhstan.”

            “They have a very strong need for recognition of their state-forming status or position in society via various programs – for example, via recognition of the obligatory status of the Kazakh language, via recognition of the status of victims in history and so on.” Social, economic, and political problems are thus finding expression via an ethnic component.

            One especially dangerous development, the analyst continues, is the effort of the current rulers of Kazakhstan to present themselves as the creators of the state, thus downplaying the history of Kazakhs and Kazakhstan before 1991. That is offensive to many Kazakhs who want to see themselves as an ancient people and who want an accounting of what happened earlier.

            Umbetaliyeva’s comments are important not only for what they say about the situation in Kazakhstan but also for the insights they provide to other cases, Russia’s in the first instance, where the authorities, in the name of “national unity” and seeking to down play ethnicity in the name of civic national identity.

            Many in the West like the idea of civic identity because that is what they have, but efforts to promote it quickly and from above rather than over time and organically can have the effect of radicalizing both the titular nationality and the national minorities as well, developments that will undermine any chance at national stability, let alone national unity, in the near future. 

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