Staunton, February 12 – The clash between Kazakhs and Dungans in villages near the Kyrgyzstan border has sparked a broad discussion among experts in both countries about the causes of these violent episodes. A large number of explanations have been offered, but perhaps the most intriguing comes from Igor Savin, an ethnographer at Southern Kazakhstan University.
Like most participants in this discussion, Savin points to the weakness of local officials, the denial of the central government, the uncertainties of transition, the failure of diasporas to integrate, and the self-confidence of many in Kazakhstan that they have avoided danger because there have been few conflicts with ethnic Russians (profile.ru/abroad/kakie-predposylki-dlya-etnicheskix-konfliktov-sushhestvuyut-segodnya-v-kazaxstane-228655/).
A major reason for the absence of conflicts between Kazakhs and ethnic Russians has been that the Russians have generally chosen to run rather than fight, to leave Kazakhstan and return to the Russian Federation, the ethnographer says. The Kazakhs can see this and therefore see no reason to push their luck by challenging the ethnic Russians.
But Savin’s most intriguing observation may be his reflections about how inter-ethnic conflicts are different in Kazakhstan as compared to in Russia. On the one hand, Moscow has focused far more on the problem than have the Kazakhstan authorities and have taken “preventive measures.”
However, he says, “there is yet another important factor: the significantly lower level of ethnic solidarity among ethnic Russians in Russia compared to that of the Kazakhs in Kazakhstan. And this is rally important” in explaining why today Kazakhstan has more problems in this regard than does the Russian Federation.
“Kazakh society, especially its more traditionalist strata,” the ethnographer says, “are characterized by a high level of ethnic consciousness.” They have reacted sharply to cases of discrimination and mistreatment of Kazakhs in China whereas Russians in Russia have often ignored the way in which Russians are treated abroad.
Moreover, in the first post-Soviet Kazakhstan constitution, adopted in 1993, it was asserted that the country was “a state of the Kazakh nation that had achieved self-determination.” That phrase disappeared in later editions, but “the policy of ethnocratization has been conducted consistently and actively.”
The same thing is not the case in the Russian Federation, although some Russian commentators and officials would like to change that, at least at the level of declarative language in the constitution. But what Savin’s words suggest is that if they do, Russia will face more ethnic clashes, not fewer.