Jun 25, 2021
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North Kazakhstan – what’s going on?

Kazakhstani media are sounding the alarm about the demographic catastrophe in northern Kazakhstan. In 2020, the population decreased in the North Kazakhstan region by 0.84%, in the Kostanay region – by 0.39%, in the Akmola region – by 0.17%, in the Pavlodar region – by 0.15%.

Northern Kazakhstan is the main granary of the republic, a leading economic region. During the Soviet years, developed agriculture and industry were concentrated here. Railways and river routes pass here. The bowels are rich in black and brown coal, iron and copper ore, bauxite, and gold. The fuel and energy, mining, machine building industries are developed, there are oil refineries, for the production of ferroalloys, aluminum, tractors. Three quarters of the cultivated area is allocated for grain crops, the food industry is developed.

Why is the population not growing here, but falling? Because the role of the economic locomotive, which was the North of Kazakhstan, is now in the past. The current position of this vast region is unenviable; the level of the regional gross product, the development of small and medium-sized businesses, the standard of living of the population are among the lowest in the republic. The reason is the orientation of the republican authorities towards “macroeconomic stability” and the growth of GDP figures to the detriment of socio-economic development.

For 30 years in Kazakhstan, only rich oil and gas regions have been getting richer, while poor regions are getting poorer. Megacities (Nur-Sultan, Almaty, Shymkent) have been added to the wealthy in recent years. Kazakhstan came to the 30th anniversary without the USSR with a 9-fold difference in the level of socio-economic development of its 16 regions. And this gap is widening.

In the republic, despite the steady growth of the population, since 2012 there has been a continuously growing negative balance of population migration. There is a positive migration balance only in three large cities – Nur-Sultan, Almaty and Shymkent. In all other regions, there are more emigrants than arrivals.

Why, within the framework of the Enbek program, does the state organize the move from the labor-abundant South only to the North, and not to other areas where the population is also outflowing?

North Kazakhstan at one time received several migration waves from Russia. The active settlement of these territories began to occur in the 70s of the XIX century. In Soviet times, there were new migration waves from Russia caused by the industrialization of Kazakhstan, evacuation during the Great Patriotic War, and the development of virgin lands. By the end of the Soviet era, the north of Kazakhstan had, firstly, a Russified ethnic landscape, and secondly, industrial complexes built into all-Union production ties.

And South Kazakhstan in terms of gross regional product (GRP) per capita can be attributed (according to the UN classification) to one of the poorest countries in the world, along with Bhutan and Honduras. 35% of the labor resources of the republic are concentrated in the south, while the main production assets are only 14%. And South Kazakhstan under the current policy has no development prospects.

“Recently, you can often hear how people from the northern regions of the country who have visited the countryside of the Turkestan region, for example, in the Saryagash region, express their genuine surprise at the sight of a densely populated village … Their surprise is understandable – in the north, the population has been declining for many years, and This is noticeable, first of all, on the example of villages, which, one after another, are officially recognized as abolished and excluded from the registration data, ”writes the Kazakhstani business portal Economist

And the question constantly arises: why in Kazakhstan there are cities with a population of less than 10 thousand people (Bulaevo, Sergeevka, Mamlyutka) and villages with a population exceeding 20-40 thousand people (Shelek, Aksukent, Shubarsu, Karabulak)? Because this is the official policy: in order to obtain city status, it is necessary that the population of the village exceeds 10 thousand people, and two-thirds of this number are workers and their families employed in non-agricultural enterprises.

South Kazakhstan villages are sometimes quite large provincial towns with low-rise buildings, but their local governance and development plans are the same as in villages with two to three thousand inhabitants, which dooms them to stagnation. The settlement with a population of several tens of thousands of people, but with a rural status, faces an acute shortage of farmland and land for housing.

The artificial slowdown in the development of South Kazakhstan is mainly due to the fact that “the state sees in the phenomenon of super-large villages primarily political risks and challenges, and not economic patterns and prospects,” says sociologist Serik Dzhaksylykov.

The authorities, he says, do not grant the status of a city, for example, to the village of Karabulak in the Sairam district of the Turkestan region, where almost 50,000 people live, due to the fact that the population of the village is almost entirely Uzbek. “The status of the city, in the opinion of the authorities, may turn out to be the basis for putting forward demands for some special conditions in local government.”

Another example is the Shelek village of the Almaty region with a population of over 30 thousand people. Here the majority are Uyghurs. In 1997, Shelek was deprived of the status of a regional center and are not going to grant him the status of a city. The status of a settlement is determined by the official policy of interethnic relations.

At the same time, the authorities are encouraging Kazakhs to move north.

Meanwhile, southerners who have moved to the north are facing an “extremely cold welcome,” the Kazakh portal notes. Atameken business… The reason is the lack of housing. Apartments offered to displaced persons often do not meet sanitary standards or are in disrepair. Displaced children have nowhere to study. “In the North Kazakhstan region, over the past 20 years, about 300 schools have been closed, the number of primary and secondary school students has decreased by 8,000. School buildings are up for auction and are being sold,” says parliamentarian Aigul Kapbarova in a deputy request addressed to the head of the Cabinet of Ministers Askar Mamin ( I wonder: what was the answer to her request?).

What the authorities seek substitutional migration policyheld for thirty years? They are trying to use administrative measures to return Kazakhstan to the 19th century. At the end of the century before last, over 3 million ethnic Kazakhs, about half a million Russians, as well as Uzbeks, Uighurs, Germans and representatives of other peoples lived on the territory of modern Kazakhstan. By the beginning of the 60s of the twentieth century, about 4 million Russians lived in the Kazakh SSR, less than 3 million Kazakhs, about 800 thousand Ukrainians (the same Russians) and almost 700 thousand Germans. The number of Kazakhs in the 50s of the twentieth century was less than at the end of the nineteenth century. In the 1970s, Kazakhs made up only 17% of the country’s urban population. In the northern Kostanay and North Kazakhstan regions, their share was even less – 6% and 8%, respectively.

And after the collapse of the USSR, in the first 20 years, the number of Russians living in Kazakhstan decreased by 40%; registered as Ukrainians (the same Russians) – by 60%, Germans – by 80%.

Today in Kazakhstan, a sharp ethno-demographic difference between regions is obvious. The population of the southern and western regions consists almost entirely of Kazakhs, in the northern regions the number of Kazakhs and Russians is almost the same. Ethnic Russians of Northern and Central Kazakhstan account for 36% in Akmola oblast, in Karaganda oblast – 40%, in Kostanai oblast – 43%, Pavlodar oblast – 39%, in North Kazakhstan oblast – 50%, in East Kazakhstan oblast – 40%. “And even one of the reasons for the transfer of the capital from Almaty to Astana was the intention to smooth out ethnic disproportions, since in a number of northern regions the number of Russians exceeded the number of Kazakhs,” says Kazakh political analyst Talgat Mamyrayimov.

However, the failure of the substitutional migration policy is obvious. Northern Kazakhstan is not attractive to southerners. In absolute numbers, the flows of migrants from South to North look microscopic – for 1999-2015. only about 1,400 of the 278,000 ethnic Kazakhs who left Almaty oblast moved to North Kazakhstan oblast. Only 2,600 out of 244,000 migrants from South Kazakhstan oblast moved to Kostanay oblast.

And when sociologists say that the government should reorient its policies towards improving regional labor markets and reducing inequality between regions, they are right. Only for this another government is needed.

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