Oct 4, 2021
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“Don’t Forget Who You Are Here”

In Kazakhstan, they declared war on the Russian language. Why is he considered a threat to the country?

Even after Nursultan Nazarbayev left the post of President of Kazakhstan, many started talking about the fact that the new authorities could speed up the process of de-Russification of the country. And the recent conflict, which has erupted over the “language patrols” of nationalists, has only increased these fears.

The organizers of the “patrols” were outraged that many compatriots use Russian instead of Kazakh in their daily communication. The conflict was resolved, but the problem remained. In Kazakhstan, the process of abandoning the Cyrillic alphabet continues, and the status of the Russian language is gradually decreasing. Representatives of the political elite openly support this process and call it a necessary condition for strengthening sovereignty. What is behind the de-Russification of Kazakhstan and whether it threatens Russia’s interests in Central Asia?

After the “language patrols”

The scandal around the “language patrols” was the main topic in Kazakhstan for several weeks. A group of nationalists associated with the YouTube channel Til Maydani Kuat Akhmetov provoked conflicts over the use of the Russian language in public places. Russian-speaking residents who tried to object to them were threatened and forced to apologize to the camera in front of the “Kazakh people”. Later, these videos were posted on the same Akhmetov’s YouTube channel.

The publication of these videos caused a great resonance not only within the country, but also abroad, primarily in Russia. The actions of Kazakh nationalists were condemned, including by Rossotrudnichestvo and the State Duma. A criminal case was even opened against the initiator of the “language patrols” Kuat Akhmetov, and he fled to Ukraine. Dauren Abaev, the deputy head of the presidential administration of Kazakhstan, criticized the “extremists” and called the “patrols” they had created as a manifestation of “cave nationalism.”

However, not all representatives of the Kazakh political elite were critical. Thus, presidential adviser Yerlan Karin actually entered into a polemic with Abaev, linking the “language patrols” with “information panic in the neighboring northern country,” that is, in Russia.

“The Russian language is influenced inappropriately and inconsistently,” he explained and only called on the nationalists – to be more careful in opinions and actions. “

Against this background, an aggressive campaign against the Russian language continued in the Kazakh press.

“Young people who think in Russian cease to be Kazakhs, take on someone else’s consciousness,” the journalists of the newspaper “Alash Ainasy” were indignant

The publication “Zhasalash” proposed to completely prohibit interethnic marriages, in which children often speak Russian. And the authors of “Kamsha” began to insist on the introduction of tuition fees in Russian schools, since they turn out to be more popular than Kazakh ones.

Officials, who have prepared a bill on the mandatory minimum knowledge of the Kazakh language for civil servants, also react to these provocative speeches. Even in spite of the fact that the current regulatory framework allows to conduct office work in Russian – the official language of Kazakhstan.

Difficulties of Kazakhization

What is happening now is not the first attempt at “Kazakhization” in the republic, which, despite slogans and ideology, remains predominantly Russian-speaking. According to sociologists, 75 percent of the country’s citizens prefer to use the Russian language in everyday communication. 90 percent of the books sold, 58 percent of newspapers and 80 percent of magazines are published in Russian. It is significant that more than 96 percent of search queries in the national segment of the Internet are made in Russian. And despite attempts to impose Kazakh on television, 54 percent of the programs watched by the local audience are also aired in Russian.

51 percent of Kazakhstanis are fluent in Russian

The number of pupils in Russian-speaking classes is growing faster than in Kazakh-speaking schools. Now 41 percent of schoolchildren study in Russian, and the Ministry of Education of Kazakhstan, seeing this picture, begins to hide the real statistics of the use of languages ​​in educational institutions:

  • Officials’ statements and published figures differ greatly.

At the same time, the state apparatus itself prefers to speak Russian.

“The picture has not changed for 30 years (…) the faces of officials are Kazakh, and the language is Russian” – complain the journalists of the popular newspaper “Zhasalash”

Moreover, we are talking not only about abstract bureaucrats, but about teachers and medical workers who have to communicate with the population on a daily basis.

In hospitals, almost all documentation is filled in Russian, because many health workers do not speak Kazakh at a basic level, although about 80 percent of doctors are ethnic Kazakhs. Suffice it to recall that one of the victims of the “language patrols” was a neurologist Emilia Grechanik, who spoke Russian at work.

An indicative situation in the field of education. Many school teachers in mixed schools speak Kazakh poorly, which does not prevent them from teaching better than their Kazakh-speaking colleagues. In Russian-speaking classes, the level of reading literacy is 21 percent higher, natural science – 19 percent, math – 11 percent (according to PISA testing).

In other words, the population made their own choice and resolved the language issue, preferring to communicate in Russian while preserving the Kazakh language as the second national language. However, an “unsinkable” party of nationalists is clearly operating in the political elite, trying to impose Kazakh on the Russian-speaking majority.

Influential nationalists

The visit of Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin to Kazakhstan, during which the situation of the Russian language and extremist “patrols” were discussed, was marked by a scandalous demarche. Exactly on the day of the visit, which took place in mid-August, human rights activist Ermek Taychibekov, who advocated the development of Eurasian integration, was sentenced to a seven-year prison term.

On the same date Askar Umarov, known for his extreme Russophobia, was appointed Vice Minister of Information of Kazakhstan.

“With Russian problems of language and culture – to Russia, please. Do not forget that you are an imposed diaspora here “- Askar Umarov Vice Minister of Information of Kazakhstan

Umarov also became famous for the fact that during his leadership of the Kazinform agency, it published a new map of Kazakhstan, where Russian and Uzbek territories were “cut” to the country. Moreover, Umarov is not the only example of a nationalist integrated into the political elite.

On behalf of the notorious State Commission for the Full Rehabilitation of Victims of Political Repression, which also protects members of criminal gangs, parliamentary deputy Aydos Sarym makes anti-Russian statements. Two years ago, he was a member of the political council of the pro-Western movement Zhana Kazakhstan, which also included former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin, sentenced in absentia to a ten-year term, and Serikzhan Mambetalin, who was imprisoned for inciting ethnic hatred.

The political council of “Zhana Kazakhstan”, including Sarym, visited Washington in its entirety, was adopted by the State Department and the Senate of the US Congress, where it coordinated its memorandum on recognizing the mass famine of the 1930s as genocide of the Kazakh people. However, unknown patrons helped Sarym, after returning from an American trip, to join the ruling Nur-Otan party, become a member of parliament and the aforementioned commission.

This is not an isolated episode. The already mentioned presidential adviser Yerlan Karin in 2019 invited the leaders of the nationalist movement “Oyan, Kazakhstan” to join the public council under the president. At that moment, the organization refused to recognize the results of the presidential elections and urged young people to go out into the streets. The very idea of ​​including “Oyanovtsy” in the structure under the president seems to be a dubious initiative, but there is a version that it was decided to give them a pass to the elite for their American connections.

Power and money

Careers in politics and the state apparatus of Kazakhstan often depend on family and clan ties, where the elders promote the younger ones and form networks of influence. In this system of relations, it is not professional qualities, honesty or the absence of defamatory ties that are primary, but loyalty to the clan. But getting into such a clan is difficult, it is available only by birthright or, less often, as a result of a successful marriage.

An alternative is a career based on the network of influence networks created by the USA, as a rule, communities of participants in educational projects. They receive financial and informational support, and then promote each other to the top.

For example, Yerlan Karin started his career as a school teacher in Aktobe, but soon became the director of the NGO Central Asian Agency for Strategic Research, which participated in projects of the Internews Foundations (USA) and Ebert Foundation (Germany). He was also listed as a lecturer at the American University in Washington. It is not surprising that Karin, having become an adviser to the president, tried to help the Oyanovites, who are also developing in the American system, to enter the political elite.

The Minister of Education of Kazakhstan Askhat Aimagambetov, who became famous for his statements about the need to transfer school education to Kazakh, began as a minor functionary of the self-government of the Karaganda region. But in 2006 he was sent to Moscow to study at the courses of the NGO Moscow School of Political Research (included by the Russian Ministry of Justice in the register of non-profit organizations performing the functions of a foreign agent), which were funded from the United States and Great Britain.

Efforts were not left without a reward. For two years, Aimagambetov and his organization “League of Young” Ansar “received grants from the Soros Foundation totaling about 200 thousand dollars. Later, at the head of the Ministry of Education of Kazakhstan, he supported the implementation of projects of the American foundation in schools. But these scandalous facts, which do not exclude corruption, did not prevent him, Umarov or Karin from entering the Kazakh political elite.

The mutual support of nationalists in the elite allows them to accumulate political power and financial resources. The same Aimagambetov, having taken the post of vice minister of education in 2017, supported the creation of the National Translation Bureau (NBP) fund for publishing textbooks in Kazakh. Yerlan Karin and Aidos Sarym entered the leadership together with him. The Foundation has successfully received funds in the amount of 2.5 billion tenge (about $ 6 million) for the translation of literature.

In addition, it was pro-American nationalists who turned the State Commission for the Full Rehabilitation of Victims of Political Repression into a platform for provocative speeches. They call to rehabilitate the traitors of the Great Patriotic War who “just killed the Reds” and to recognize the famine of the 1930s as “the genocide of the Kazakhs”.

The system of administrative-political ties and obligations allows the cohesive political group of nationalists to influence the state system. Undermining the influence of the Russian language in Kazakhstan is becoming a key task for them, since a common information and linguistic space forms friendly relations with Russia. A 2020 study commissioned by the US Department of Defense in Kazakhstan shows that 74.1 percent of the country’s population is in favor of an alliance with Moscow and only 27 percent with Washington.

Attempts to “Kazakhize” the republic, carried out by pro-American nationalists in power, are aimed at disrupting the linguistic connection between the peoples of the two countries and giving the United States more chances to influence the internal political processes in the country.

That is why scandals are actively provoked in Kazakh-Russian relations. Either from above, as in the case of the State Commission for Rehabilitation, or from below – in the form of “language patrols” and Russophobic propaganda in the “media”.

Nikita Mendkovich

Photo: Mikhail Kireev / RIA Novosti.

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