Kazakhstan is not only the ninth largest country in the world, but members of 120 nationalities also live on its territory. The diversity of languages, religions, traditions and cultures is correspondingly large – even if in the past the “Soviet” was unmistakable and today “Kazakh” is increasingly in the foreground. In addition, the living conditions and population composition differentiate in individual parts of the country, of course also between city and country and the generations, so the following information can only give a rough idea of THE society and culture of Kazakhstan. Based on the official usage in Kazakhstan, we are talking about Kazakhstans when all citizens of Kazakhstan, regardless of nationality, are meant, by Kazakhs when the focus is on the Kazakhs that give the state its name.
Ethnic diversity is historically relatively new. According to extrareference, the steppe was originally only inhabited by the nomadic Kazakhs. From the second half of the 19th century. First wandered the country seeking a Russian peasants in the Soviet era were Russians among others nationalities of the Soviet empire as industrial workers in the Kazakh SSR. Through the deportation of entire peoples, including the Volga Germans, Koreans and Chechens under Stalin, the national composition was changed again. The different ethnic groups were and are distributed regionally and socially differently: Russians and Ukrainians live predominantly in the north of the country and in the (industrial) cities, Kazakhs and members of other Central Asian nationalities more in the south and in the countryside, some smaller ethnic groups are locally concentrated. Turk-speaking Muslim Ujghurs and Chinese-speaking Muslim Dungans have their historical settlement focus in Xinjiang, part of the PRC, but larger groups have been living on the territory of Kazakhstan for a long time. The Chinese policy towards Muslims in Xinjiang is currently causing unrest among Ujghurs and Kazakhs in Kazakhstan and set in motion a wave of emigration of Kazakhs living in China to Kazakhstan.
After independence there was a strong emigration of many non- Kazakh nationalities (Russians, Germans, Poles, etc.), at the same time Kazakhs from the former Soviet republics, Mongolia and China returned to their ” historical homeland ” (where they often did not, however, welcome each other feel). Both together led to a strong shift in the population composition: In 1989 the Kazakhs made up 40% of the population, the Russians 38%. In 2018 it was 66.5% Kazakhs and 20.6% Russians. The Russians live mainly in the cities and especially in the north of the country, which borders on Siberia. Through the events in the Ukraine, the official Kazakhstan is currently reacting very nervously to isolated demands for autonomy or affiliation with Russia. Apparently triggered by the current economic crisis and intensified by the language policy, a new wave of Russians emigrated from 2015 onwards – with difficult consequences for the country’s economy. Statements by President Tokayev in June 2020 indicate a new state positioning towards the Russians. The existence of the Germans, who in 1989 formed the third largest group of nationalities in Kazakhstan with just under 9.6 million people, are today in many cases only place names and memories, as they have since moved to Germany except for a group of around 180,000 people.
Coexistence has not been problem-free since independence, but apart from occasional small, localized clashes, it was peaceful. However, according to some observers, the number and violence of such conflicts appear to be increasing. However, an everyday conflict between the Dungans and Kazakhs led to such violent acts in February 2020 that ten people died, houses burned down and their residents fled. In the summer of 2020, there were again reports of inter-ethnic violence, this time between Kazakhs and Uzbeks.
Nationalities enjoyed protection not only in the constitution but also in reality; Unity between the nationalities was an express political goal. In recent years, however, there has been a clear trend towards Kazakhization. Kazakhstan is increasingly no more than “common home”, but as the House of Kazakhs considered. Since President Nazarbayev generated himself as a guarantor of peaceful coexistence between the nationalities, the thought of a change at the top of the state was feared by many non-Kazakh citizens. Currently, some are talking about growing Kazakh nationalism, while other experts do not see interethnic divisions as the main problem, but rather regional and social differences within the Kazakh population.
Languages and Language Policy
Russian was the lingua franca in the Kazakh SSR; many Kazakhs, especially urban ones, could no longer speak Kazakh. After independence, Kazakh was made the state language in the constitution, but Russian was given a prominent special role as the language of interethnic communication. The young state was committed to promoting the Kazakh language right from the start, but for the first 15 years it was more pro forma and with little success, as a large part of the country’s elite did not speak Kazakh either. In recent years, however, you can hear more and more Kazakh in cities like Almaty; knowledge of the state language is a prerequisite for a position in the civil service. The demands of the advocates of the Kazakh language are getting louder. Since the beginning of 2016, Russian cable providers are no longer permitted in the Kazakhstan network, which will displace the Russian language even more; Kazakh should also be heard more often in the cinema. However, the provisions had so little effect that at the end of 2018 Kazakh subtitles were proposed as a compromise. In the spring of 2017, an order from the President to develop a Latin spelling for Kazakh, which had previously been written in Cyrillic letters, sparked new discussions about a displacement of the Russian language, as well as about the benefits of the costly conversion as such. The suggestion developed by scientists for spelling in Latin letters was discussed even more vehemently. The debates came to an unexpected end on February 19, 2018 with a presidential decree on the introduction of a changed = simplified spelling. In summer 2020, the date of the change should have been postponed. At the same time, Nazarbayev’s knowledge of the English language was strongly propagated.