Sunday, February 14, 2021

Kazakh Nationalism Needed but Still Truncated by Soviet Experience, Tatilya Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 13 – Because of the Soviet experience and especially because of the reaction of the authorities to the street battles of December 1986, Kazakh nationalism has remained more an epithet to be applied to its advocates by its enemies than an entirely natural phenomenon which should be developed, Kenzhe Tatilya says.

            As a result, the senior Kazakh journalist says, Kazakh nationalism has not developed in the ways that will promote patriotism and national unity, ways that one would expect in any newly independent country and that are taking place in many other post-Soviet states (

            All too often in the passionate discussions of nationalism, Kazakhs who take part in them confuse nationalism and Nazism, two entirely different and even antithetical things, Tatilya continues. “In some cases, this is done from ignorance but in others clearly with the goal of discrediting the striving of Kazakhs in the course of their search for their own identity.”

            It is not irrelevant to recall that “’nationalism’ is not an invention of the Kazakhs,” that political nationalism often plays a positive role, and that today, Vladimir Putin calls himself a nationalist “and no one reacts to this with hysterics.” Why then do any references to nationalism among the Kazakhs not unite but separate people?

            “The first Kazakh nationalists in a political sense,” the journalist suggests, were “the leaders of the Alash Orda even though they did not use the term and did not manage to mobilize the Kazakh population on a nationalist basis.  But that group did not last much beyond the time of the Russian Civil War.

            “The era of Bolshevik rule with its all-embracing totalitarian ideology did not leave any chances for Kazakh nationalism,” Tatilya says. But the Bolshevik impact did not end with the Soviet period. Instead, Kazakh nationalism for many is subjected to the same kind of “Procrustean bed” treatment that it was in Soviet times.

            This is one of the reasons why the Kazakhs remain divided as a nation; and overcoming it is thus an important task for the future because “Kazakh society needs nationalism as an instrument for the development of national self-identification” and must seek to change the view of nationalism as a threat to nationalism as something highly valued.

            “For such a young nation as the Kazakhs,” the journalist continues, “nationalism is an absolutely natural and normal phenomenon. It is part of the internal self-assessment of the nation, and it does not need either political or social organizations.” Kazakhs need to remember that nationalism by itself is not a threat, although nationalistic organizations can be.

            The absence of a clearly defined and fully acceptable Kazakh nationalism forces people in Kazakhstan to “indulge in an endless immersion in the historical past … in what some call ‘in the swamp of history.’” But precisely because of the complexities of the national past, this can have as many negative consequences as positive ones.

            “Judging from everything,” Tatilya says, “this process is far from completion.” But it must be pursued in order to develop a Kazakh nationalism that will serve as the unifying core of the population. Achieving it won’t be easy; not achieving it, however, will open the way to disaster.


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