Staunton, January 13 – Kazakhstan, which slightly more than a generation ago had an ethnic Russian plurality, now plans for 95 percent of its population to speak Kazakh by 2025 and for 50 percent of them to use the new Latin script, according to a new Kazakhstan government program (interfax.az/view/788898).
Under the terms of this ambitious program, Kazakh will replace Russian as “the language of inter-ethnic communication” on the territory of the republic, a push that will force many ethnic Russians there to learn the language or decide to leave and also compel many ethnic Kazakhs who now speak Russian rather than Kazakh to make the shift.
This year, the program specifies, 90.5 percent of the population is to speak Kazakh; in 2021, 91 percent; in 2022, 92 percent; in 2023, 93 percent; in 2024, 94 percent; and in 2025, 95 percent. Use of Latin script is slated to rise from 10 percent in 2022, to 30 percent in 2024, and to 50 percent in 2025.
The projected increase in the percentage of Kazakh speakers is plausible given that higher mortality rates among ethnic Russians and the likelihood that many of them will leave the country. The projected increase in the use of the Latin script, which is still under development, is less plausible. A shift of that size and speed would be unprecedented in former Soviet republics.
Two things are striking about this Kazakhstan government program. On the one hand, it is the clearest indication yet that the current government plans to pursue the Kazakhization of the country even if that drives Russians out. And on the other, it represents a clear commitment to joining the Turkic world by changing the alphabet from a Russian-based one to Latin script.