Friday, December 22, 2023

Moscow’s Appointment of Russian to Head Kazakhstan “Trigger” Not “Cause” of December 1986 Events, Participants Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 18 – All too often opinions that were shaped about events in Soviet times on the basis of anything but complete information remain in place despite the subsequent appearance of more details after 1991 that should lead to the formation of more adequate understanding of what in fact happened.

            One event, the protests in Kazakhstan in December 1986, falls in that category. Most observers then and now argue that it was an ethnic protest against Moscow’s appointment of the ethnic Russian Gennady Kolbin in place of the ethnic Kazakh Dinmukhamed Kunayev that lay behind the protests.

            But in fact, participants in those events say, this appointment may have been “a trigger” but it was not “the cause.” Instead, residents of Kazakhstan, including ethnic Russians there who then numbered almost as many as the ethnic Kazakhs, were furious because Moscow had not consulted anyone in the republic not because of his ethnicity as such (желтоксан).

            That does not mean that ethnic nationalism was not an important factor in causing people to go into the streets but rather that this was only one of the things involved and that many, including ethnic Russians, took part because they resented the hyper-centralization of the system and Moscow’s assumption that it had the right to run everything.

            One participant cited by Riza Khasanov in her detailed and important article said that he had come to that understanding after serving in a Soviet army unit that suppressed Ingush and Chechen protesters five years earlier and hearing from an Ingush one, “why do these outsiders [Muscovites] rule over our land?” – something she says he never forgot.

            It is widely recognized that in Estonia and Latvia, demands for the recovery of independence were supported by many ethnic Russians living there, but it is much less often recognized that elsewhere a similar pattern held. Khasanov’s article provides an important correction to that notion, a correction perhaps especially important now.  

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