“Kazakhs, who turn to their roots and seek to preserve their national identity, are accused of revanchism. Russians born in Kazakhstan, defending their right to speak and teach their children Russian, are accused of chauvinism. The Kazakh society has long formed the unspoken rules of living together, and nobody wants to raise the ethnic issue, despite the fact that silence in this issue is a sign of consent between opponents”, said Olga Buglakova, an independent journalist (Almaty, Kazakhstan), in an article written for cabar.asia.
“Parade of sovereignties” of the Soviet Union republics in 1990 ended in Kazakhstan on the 25th of October by signing of the Declaration of State Sovereignty and independence. For our multinational republic, the ethnic relations issue began to occupy one of the first places in the national security system. Ethnicity for the citizens of an independent country was gaining special significance because other forms of social coalitions, such as an ideological component – the Soviet people, the working class, the Komsomol – were no longer relevant after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Poly-ethnicity of the civil society in Kazakhstan has developed historically and in a fairly short period of time. The first Russian settlers arrived on the territory of Kazakhstan at the turn of 18th-19th centuries. The intensity of migratory processes increased during the construction of the fortress in the north of Kazakhstan, after the adoption by Kazakh khans of citizenship of the Russian Empire. Peak migration was at the end of the 19th century in connection with the Stolypin agrarian reform, the First World War and the uprising in 1916, as well as the civil war. At the same time, we note that the main flow of population into Kazakhstan was far from voluntary. In 1930, Kazakhstan has been transformed into a kind of reservation for the evicted peoples of other union republics. For example, 15,000 Polish and German households were deported from the territory of Ukraine to Kazakhstan in the spring of 1936 as they were considered unreliable; in 1936-1938, there were first deportations of the Germans (along with Poles) from the border areas of the Soviet Union; in 1937, all Koreans who had lived in the Soviet Far East were “pushed” to Kazakhstan, they were followed by the Iranians of Azerbaijani SSR, the Kurds, and during the Great Patriotic War – by the Ingush, Chechens and others. According to various reports, in Kazakhstan, on 1 January 1954, there were up to 2 million people is special settlements.  Forced deportation as a tool of a totalitarian regime became an ordeal both for immigrants and the indigenous population. People were carried in cattle and freight cars, and in Kazakhstan, they were placed in stables, barns or warehouses. The deportees were restricted in their rights, deprived of property. They also suffered from epidemic diseases. Kazakhs died of starvation in their own land but shared bread and shelter with the deported people. Some Kazakhs were deported deep into the country – from the fertile land into deserts and semi-deserts, and in later, many of them remained in these lands.
What is Kazakhstan with a total population of 17,458,000 persons as of 1 March 2015? According to official statistics, ethnic Kazakhs constitute 65.52% (11.2 million), Russians – 21.47% (3.7 million.), Uzbeks – 3.04% (521 thous.), Ukrainians – 1.76 % (301.346 thousand.), the Uighurs – 1.44% (246.777 thousand.), the Tatars – 1.18% (203.108 thousand.), Germans – 1.06% (181.928 thousand.), Koreans – 0,61% (105.400 thous.), Turks – 0.61% (104.792 thousand), Azerbaijanis – 0.57% (98.646 thousand.), Dungans – about 36% (62.029 thousand), Belarusians – 0.35% (62.295 thousand), the Kurds – 0.25% (42.312 thousand.), Tajiks – 0.25% (42.143 thousand), Poles – 0.19% (32.661 thousand), the Chechens – 0.19% (32.252 thousand), the Kyrgyz – 0.17% (29.803 thousand), Bashkirs – 0.10% (16.983 thousand), Ingush – 0.09% (15.607 thousand), Moldovans – 0.08% (14.083 thousand), the Greeks – 0.05% (8.819 thous.), Chuvash – 0.04% (6 741 thous.), the Jews – 0.02% (3.485 thous.), Mordovians – 0.04% (6.855 thous.), others nationalities – 0.57% (97.386 thousand). On the whole, according to official sources, the inter-ethnic situation in the country is treated as stable and positive. Of course, it makes no sense to overly dramatize it, however, one cannot deny the existence of certain ethnic tensions, for which there are a number of objective factors such as the low standard of living in the countryside, unemployment, rising crime, poor legal awareness, manifestation of the tendency of ethnic self-isolation.
State policy of inter-ethnic harmony
Of course, there is all the basic legal and conceptual framework for the policy of interethnic consent. The Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan guarantees the protection of the interests of all citizens, regardless of ethnic, racial, religious or other affiliation. Priorities of interethnic and inter-religious harmony are reflected in a number of strategic documents of the country, such as the Development Strategy of Kazakhstan until 2030 and 2050, the Concept of formation of state identity of Kazakhstan, in state programs of development and functioning of languages.
One of the main instruments of national policy has been established in 1995, the Assembly of People of Kazakhstan (APK), which unites 818 ethno-cultural associations. Their leaders are part of the APK and small assemblies. 46 ethnic groups have their own cultural centers. However, in accordance with its Statute, the APK is only an advisory body under the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, and its decisions are advisory in nature.
Another instrument designed to ensure the inter-ethnic and inter-confessional accord and civil unity was adopted in 2010 – the doctrine of national unity of Kazakhstan. In the Doctrine, the foundation for harmony and stability in society was the initial choice in favor of the formation of a civil belonging rather than ethnic. This document has been proposed as a basis for program development, legislative and other normative legal acts aimed at creating favorable conditions for the further consolidation of the society. It stressed the need to maintain a balance between the interests of the ethnic groups living in the country that does not allow for a certain privileged position of one group or infringement of the rights of others.
From time to time, a number of extreme nationalist patriots put forward quite controversial proposals in an attempt to ensure clearly nationalist trends. For example, the publication of the “Concept of national policy of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Objectives up to 2015 “offered together with the doctrine of national unity and adopted by the Organizing Board of the “People’s Movement for Protection of independence”, consisting of representatives of the Kazakh intelligentsia, led by the popular writer M.Shakhanov, sparked serious debates among the population. According to experts, “the concept is a sort of manual for survival in Kazakhstan for non-Kazakhs. It did not mean any tolerance and equality. Because, contrary to common sense and to the laws of a democratic society, the concept reads: “the Kazakh nation is the guarantor of constitutional rights and freedoms of all citizens”. It turns out that not a constitution – the fundamental law of the country – is the guarantor of rights and freedoms, but a nation. This can be interpreted under any angle by anyone” .
Nevertheless, the success of the country on the path of conflict-free development of the situation in the sphere of interethnic relations is recognized not only by the citizens of the Republic, but also by the world community. Experts recognize the key creative role of Kazakhstan People’s Assembly and the Congress of world religions in the implementation of ethnic policy in the country. Currently, Kazakhstan has 10 regional Friendship Houses and 1 Republican House of Friendship in Almaty. The Palace of Peace and Accord performs the function of a Friendship House in Astana. Friendship House is a resource, cultural and methodological center for the ethnic and cultural associations, the center of the formation and propagation of ideas of unity, inter-ethnic harmony, promotion of Kazakhstani patriotism, the center providing financial and methodological assistance to support priority projects aimed at strengthening social cohesion and national unity, conducting cultural events . The country has more than 100 national schools, 170 Sunday schools where 23 native languages are studied. The three schools of national revival are 29 departments for the study of 12 native languages. The government allocates annually 12 million tenge of financial support for these schools. In addition, they receive assistance from the local budget. In Kazakhstan, there are published 4 republican and 15 regional national newspapers, operate 6 national theaters (Kazakh, Russian, German, Uighur, Korean and Uzbek). Dozens of new books in the languages of ethnic groups are published every year. Annual mass popular holidays of Nauryz, Maslenitsa and Christmas have become traditional in the country.
The elation because of the surrounding mutual respect and tolerance is only darkened by the understanding that behind every initiative to promote peace and harmony, there is the President, being a personal guarantor. However, the law must be the main guarantor.
Interethnic conflicts: the dilemma of silence
Ethnic conflicts in modern Kazakhstan have a long history and occur with some regularity. The first inter-ethnic conflicts of the 1970s and 1980s were associated with demographic boom among the Kazakhs, which had sharply increased the competition in the labor market and housing in the country between the predominantly rural ethnic Kazakhs and urbanized non-Kazakh population. If the first conflicts were of anti-German (1979) or the anti-Russian (1986) character, the last outbreak of violence (after 1992) were directed mainly against members of other Asian and/or the country’s Muslim minorities (Kurds, Chechens, Lezgins, Avars, Dargin, Turks Uighurs). The change in the ethnic orientation was due to the sharp decrease in the proportion and number of Russians and Germans in the country since 1990 because of their emigration and natural decrease. At the same time, the Asia-Muslim minorities are more tolerant to the national policy of the country, while continuing to maintain and even increase their presence in the regions of Kazakhstan, which leads to increased competition with ethnic Kazakhs for various resources of the country. Given the disproportionate representation of Kazakhs in the state bodies of Kazakhstan from the 1960s, discussing the inter-ethnic problems in the country was virtually taboo, and drawing conclusions on the basis of what happened or seeking solutions at the state level are not a well accepted practices in the country.
The reluctance to talk about it lies most likely in a subjective inability to change the situation. Ethnic conflicts in the south of the country appear more often on a territorial basis: inter-republican borders between Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan had been repeatedly redrawn by the “center” during the period from 1920 to 1970 depending on the percentage of the dominant ethnic group of the population, “on various political reasons in certain areas”, on “historical gravity” to various centers, and the change in borders of the republics were explained by an economic necessity. Some areas several times passed from one republic to another. “The Soviet Union is one country, and therefore, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR decides which territory should be to one or another republic” – isn’t it a serious argument? Disputes over the rights to the territory do not cease to this day.
Kazakhs, who turn to their roots and seek to preserve their national identity, are accused of revanchism. Russians born in Kazakhstan, defending their right to speak and teach their children Russian, are accused of chauvinism. The Kazakh society has long formed the unspoken rules of living together, and nobody wants to raise the ethnic issue, despite the fact that silence in this issue is a sign of consent between opponents.
What will the future bring?
Definitely, the intercontinental confrontation between Russia, America and Europe, with a view to change the unipolar world, does not contribute to the “world peace”. “The United States, losing the status of “sole global superpower” tend to create tensions by any means, especially close to Russia’s borders. In this regard, Kazakhstan, having huge length of the border with Russia, a strong resource base and favorable geopolitical position since 1991, is of special attention for Washington” . In this regard, “the writers of the world” like the fact that the Kazakh and Russians are the main ethnic groups living in Kazakhstan – respectively, 65.5% and 21.5% of the total population of the country. Horror stories about “Russian separatism” and “imperialist ambitions” of Russia in relation to the Northern Kazakhstan is quite a suitable threat to the independence of the sovereign Kazakhstan.
Meanwhile, the danger of a possible domestic interference and provocations also comes from the activities of terrorist and extremist elements. A special place among the factors that provoke social discontent, without which terrorism is deprived of support, is the ethno-religious factor. This is due to the fact that for a number of historical reasons, the Muslim communities in the region tend to equate their own ethnic and/or tribal clan identity with religious affiliation. Official Moscow Adds adds oil to the flame: the accession, the annexation of Crimea to Russia, the presence to a greater or lesser extent in the Donetsk and Lugansk, aggressive rhetoric about protecting the lives, rights and freedoms of compatriots abroad. Putin’s response to the question of a Moscow student raised media frenzy in August last year during his visit to the youth forum in Seliger on the issue of “the growth of nationalist sentiment in Kazakhstan, particularly in the south of the country”.  The answer was fancy even for the national leader – the political component of the speech was the thesis of a “lack of Kazakh statehood before, and the idea that the current President of the Republic of Kazakhstan is its stronghold and creator”. People could interpret it in various ways: as a clumsy curtsy of the Russian leader to its “closest strategic ally and partner” (Nazarbayev), or as an information subversion, with the help of which the putting forward of the Eurasian Union as a new player into the geopolitical arena was suspended for some period of time. But it is impossible not to notice the main thing – Putin did not say a word about nationalism and its growth.
And in early September 2014, a group of “North Kazakhstan – is the Russian land” appears in the social network “VKontakte”. This group published calls for the inclusion of some areas of Kazakhstan into Russia. “North Kazakhstan is an economic and geographic region, temporarily located within the Republic of Kazakhstan. Currently, it includes the North Kazakhstan, Kostanay, Pavlodar region, Akmola region and the capital of the country – Astana. And the East Kazakhstan region, West Kazakhstan region, the northern part of the Aktobe region and the northern part of the Karaganda region. All these lands should be returned to Russia because, firstly, it is the land of the Cossacks, which were given to the Kazakhs under the rule of Russophobian Soviet power; secondly, in these lands, there are still many Russians, and thirdly, Kazakhstan does not have rights to these lands”, says the newspaper” “Kursiv.Kz” about the views of this group.  Problems that may arise from the presence of a large Russian Diaspora in the north of Kazakhstan, according to a political analyst Dosym Satpayev, have strengthened “Anti-Eurasian Movement” started with the support of the opposition and the national-patriots. If earlier criticism focused mainly on the shortcomings of the working groups of the Customs Union, the damage from the strong interdependence of national economies and currencies, hindered exports of Kazakh products to the Russian market, now, in the light of the Ukrainian events, they are increasingly talking about the loss of independence.
The first trial in Kazakhstan for inciting ethnic hatred on the Internet was a well expected reaction to what has been happening. On January the 23d, Almaty city court convicted Tatyana Shevtsova-Valova in fomenting hostility to the Kazakhs, the main ethnic group of the country. By the way, Andrei Grishin, an employee of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, commenting on the trial, said that the Kazakhs, just like the Russians, publish provocative comments on the Internet. To see this, it suffices to read the comments that follow any news affecting the threads with the word “national”.
Multi-vector policy and delicate maneuvering between extremely aggravated geopolitical interests in the world today allow Kazakhstan to balance between the various forces inside the country, but what will happen tomorrow? Subjectively, the economic crisis, the devaluation in 2014, inflation, budget programs reduction and unemployment, with a high degree of probability, can become the result of social conflicts, hotbed of ethnic tensions, if not the cause of them. Let’s see.
Do with us, do what we do, do better than us
The world experience has shown that there are two kinds of conflicts in the world, which are very easy to start and very hard to stop – ethnic conflict and religious. The Charter, adopted by the Conference of Heads of States and Governments of the countries-members of the CSCE/OSCE in Paris in November 1990 (the Paris Charter) was of fundamental importance for the international approach to the problems of international relations. This Charter, in the most decisive form, proclaimed that the ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious identity of national minorities will be protected and that persons belonging to these minorities have the right to express, preserve and develop that identity without any discrimination and in full equality before the law. At the regular session of the Conference on the Human Dimension, held in Moscow in September-October 1991, a new special instrument of international mediation was created: a mission of experts sent by invitation or with the consent of the States, and observer missions, which can be sent to the country, where there is a conflict situation, even without taking into account the views of local authorities. The list of competences of these missions included the protection and expansion of the rights of persons belonging to national minorities.
Kazakhstan became an OSCE participating State in 1992, and in 2010, Kazakhstan served as the President-country of the OSCE. “Kazakhstan considers the human dimension as the key theme for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said the OSCE Chair-in-Office, Secretary of State – Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan Kanat Saudabayev at a special meeting of the Permanent Council of the OSCE. Official sources, summing up the results of this “historic mission”, unanimously regarded it as an absolute success, primarily associated with its internal policies to ensure civil peace, interethnic and inter-religious harmony. However, Kazakhstani opposition and many Western experts have less optimistic estimates, believing that Kazakhstan’s chairmanship of the OSCE has not shown any great achievement. In general, as Beate Eschment, a German expert on Central Asia, said, “it was expected from Kazakhstan that the authorities of the republic would make domestic reforms. But the government did not adopt any law that would facilitate the establishment of democracy or improve the human rights situation in the country”.  In a brief review of the National Action Plan for Human Rights in the Republic of Kazakhstan for 2009 – 2012 years “on the third basket”, an independent expert evaluation that was conducted by the writers of the review noted that the situation in the realization of the right to freedom of association, the right to freedom of conscience and religion, the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, the right to freedom of expression and the right to participate in the governance of their country through elections in Kazakhstan had worsened .
Why should we remember about that? Because experts know that “purely” ethnic conflict does not exist. Such conflicts, as, in fact, social conflicts will inevitably affect various spheres of public life. A powerful catalyst for their development is the politicization of national interests, crossing national and state spheres. It is reasonable to assume that unless fully balanced, thoughtful and progressive national policies are pursued at the state level, no effort of national-patriotic formations and individual enthusiasts will prevent inter-ethnic tensions in the society.
Until 2020, in the framework of a long-term priority of the Strategy “Kazakhstan – 2030” to ensure political stability and consolidation of society, there “will continue the work for the prevention of ethnic and religious differences, strengthening the unity of the people of Kazakhstan, based on equality of opportunity for all citizens of the republic. The main tool for the consolidation of the Kazakh society will be the National Unity Doctrine of Kazakhstan”. Equality is determined by equal rights for the freedom of association, freedom of conscience and religion, freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of speech and the right to participate in the government of one’s country.
 Online magazine «edu.e-history.kz» http://e-history.kz/ru/contents/view/1269
. “National Alternative”, “Expert Kazakhstan» # 4 of 1.02. 2010
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. “Kazakhstan: Ukrainian-Maidan rot” “Russians in Kazakhstan” information portal, June 12, 2015
. “Vzglyad” Delovaya Gazeta, September 1, 2014
. “Kursiv.Kz”, September 25, 2014 http://russian.rt.com/inotv/2014-09-25/KursivKz-Severnij-Kazahstan-naprashivaetsya-na
. “Novaya” – Kazakhstan» #40, 2010
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. “The Strategic Plan of Development of Kazakhstan till 2020
Olga Buglakova, independent journalist
The views of the author do not necessarily represent those of CABAR