Sunday, July 21, 2019

Kazakhstan Reportedly Considering a Delay in Planned Shift to Latin Script

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 18 – A Moscow report that Kazakhstan plans to delay its planned shift to the Latin alphabet from 2025 to 2030 or later has sparked hopes in Russia that this reflects not the technical difficulties in making the change but rather a more pro-Russian approach by new Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

            Elnar Baynazarov, an Izvestiya correspondent in that Central Asian country, says that officials and diplomats there have told him that a delay in the introduction of the Latin script is under active consideration (

                Most of the reasons the journalist’s interlocutors give are technical and financial. It is simply hard and expensive to shift from one alphabet to another; and Kazakhstan, despite the government’s oft-repeated commitment to the change has faced the same kind of obstacles that others which have done so have.

            All those obstacles make delays almost inevitable, but up to now, the authorities in Kazakhstan have not made any official announcements about them. Indeed, the only official Kazakh statement Baynazarov can cite is from a deputy foreign minister whose words do not suggest that any delay has been decided upon.

 Roman Vasilenko pointed out that Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov has said every country has the right to choose its own alphabet; and he reiterated that Kazakhstan remains committed to ensuring that 95 percent of all Kazakhstan residents know Kazakh by 2025, a development he insisted would not harm Russian speakers.

Despite this, some Russian commentators and politicians are already acting as if the alphabet delay is now fixed in stone, that it gives Moscow a new chance to defend Russian in Kazakhstan, and even that it presages a more pro-Russian line by new President Tokayev (

In support of that, Svobodnaya pressa writer Sergey Aksyonov cites the words of Yermek Taychibekov, a former political prisoner in Kazakhstan and longtime Nazarbayev opponent. Taychibekov says that the whole idea of changing alphabets was Nazarbayev’s and that the effort to drop Cyrillic and introduce the Latin script has run into serious difficulties.

According to the Kazakh activist, Nazarbayev’s successor “is not such a Russophobe as his predecessor.  Therefore, one must honestly admit that he is quietly putting the brakes on the initiatives of the first president” in this regard. “For that,” Taychibekov continued, “I am sincerely glad.”

Andrey Dmitriyev, the head of the St. Petersburg section of the unregistered Other Russia agrees. He says Moscow must exploit this opportunity to win back Kazakhstan into the Russian fold.  “Nazarbayev more than once declared that Russians are colonizers which forced Kazakhs to eat dust and that there will not be a political union of Kazakhstan with Russia.”

His successor seems more open to an expanded relationship, and the decision on alphabets is a clear signal of that. Others with whom Aksyonov spoke are less confident about whether Tokayev in fact is moving in a new direction or whether Moscow is in a position to do anything to promote that. 

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