Sunday, October 20, 2019

Rapid and Uncontrolled Migration in Kazakhstan from Villages to Cities Bigger Problem than Inter-Ethnic Relations, Mustafayev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 17 – Interethnic issues in Kazakhstan attract far more attention, but the chief problems of that country lie elsewhere, Nurtaye Mustafayev says, “in a social system which is polarizing the population in terms of income, impoverishing people in villages, and sparking “a mass exodus of rural people to major cities in search of a better life.” 

            The three largest cities in Kazakhstan are currently growing at the rate of almost 100,000 residents each every year, almost all of whom are people who have come into the cities from the villages, the historian and political scientist says (

            It is no easy task to provide hundreds of thousands of new urbanites “work and educational, medical and other services,” Mustafayev says. And s it is no surprise that President Kasym-Jomart Tokayev convened a meeting last week to address this problem, one which has serious political consequences but no easy answers. 

Rapid urbanization has already triggered violence, the historian continues. In the December 1986 clashes, “one of the causes,” although seldom discussed, was the absence of any chance that those Kazakhs who had come into Almaty from the villages would be able to obtain housing anytime soon.

And violence between city residents and recent arrivals in the Kazakhstan capital in May-June 2006 led many of the former to demand that the city be “closed to refugees’ from the villages,” even though the right to move freely is a basic constitutional and human right, Mustafayev says.

            In the 1990s, the Kazakhstan authorities did little to bring internal migration under control, but over the last 15 years they have tried to do so, not by restricting the rights of villagers to move if they want to but by improving conditions in the villages so that fewer of them will decide to leave the places of their birth for major urban areas. 

            Ambitious programs have been announced, but despite them, the urbanization of Kazakhstan continues. It now stands at 57.3 percent, less than in Russia and the West but more than in the neighboring countries of Central Asia. But even the Kazakhstan government assumes the share of urban residents will reach 70 percent by mid-century.

            A major reason for that, Mustafayev says, is that it is “impossible by definition” to raise the standard of living in the villages to that of cities.  There are simply more opportunities for those living in cites, and so the danger of social explosions from Kazakhs moving into them will likely continue to grow as well. 

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