Saturday, March 23, 2019

Unlike in Kazakhstan (and Russia), China hasn’t Renamed Beijing after Mao, Siberian Regionalist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 22 – The renaming of Kazakhstan’s capital after Nursultan Nazarbayev, a pattern that echoes what the Soviets did in the first decades of Soviet power in Rusisa, Yaroslav Zolotaryev, not only is more Asiatic than the Asians, given that neither China nor Mongolia has ever done the same.

            But it is also the occasion to ask what kind of Kazakhstan a democratic Siberia really needs, the Siberian regionalist says, given that “Siberia and Kazakhstan are a single macro-region which were artificially divided by Stalin (in the 1920s and 1930s) into a Slavic territory (Siberia) and a Turkic one (Kazakhstan)” (

            But the two remain closely linked because there are a large number of indigenous Turkic peoples in Siberia and about 20 percent of the population of Kazakhstan are Slavic. (Curiously, the renaming craze in Kazakhstan has prompted some Russians to call for restoring the Russian name Verny to Almaty (

            After Kazakhstan became independent, “an enormous number of Slavic migrants” came from that country to Siberia despite Nazarbayev’s promises of equal treatment; and later many ethnic Kazakhs came seeking work. Consequently, Zolotaryev says, the ties between the two regions have if anything strengthened over the last generation.

            Given this development, he continues, “a democratic and national Siberia could become the guarantor of the rights of Slavs in Kazakhstan – and at the same time Kazakhstan could officially take under its protection the Turks of Siberia.” That could be achieved by various legal mechanisms, including dual citizenship, national cultural autonomies and economic cooperation.

            Over time, “Siberia and Kazakhstan instead of a rectification of borders which neither needs, could form a Northern Asian Community which in a natural way could include as well Dzhungaria, Mongolia and Manchuria,” something that could be achieved even without the independence of all these places.

            The geographic propinquity, common historical fate and common economic interests, Zolotaryev continues, will allow these lands to establish “direct” and “effective” cooperation with China, the Koreas, the US, Japan and thus “forever overcome Muscovite imperialism in Asia.”

            The Siberian regionalist’s vision is important not because it is likely to be immediately achieved but rather because it shows that the changes in Kazakhstan (and elsewhere as well) are now causing peoples in adjoining areas to rethink their futures, a shift in attitudes and understanding that is likely to affect outcomes in unexpected ways.

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