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Why the Kazakhs ‘deserved’ Nazarbayev

My previous article was devoted to the self-proclaimed ‘Leader of the Nation’, who, in my opinion, is a major factor, which is encouraging advocates of democracy and nationalists to unite. Today, I turn to the subject which is very painful for the nationalists but cannot be avoided if we want to understand what is happening. We: the Kazakhs as a nation.

Should the inevitable cruel and derogatory assessment of the Russian-speaking and, what’s worse, mixed-race Kazakh people (as a matter of fact, six-eighths Kazakh blood and one-eighth of both Uighur and Tatar blood run in my veins) cause a wave of indignation, I will refer to the authority of the great Abay Kunanbayev.

Alas, we have to admit that from the time when he lived, the Kazakhs as a nation have not changed much. They have changed their horses to cars and planes, and they began to calculate their wealth not in sheep and horses, but in hard currency and real estate, Yet everything else remains as before – from crawling before the rich and the strong common desire to acquire as much as possible whilst expending the least possible effort, the desire to ‘show off’ at every given opportunity and a disregard for the law accompanied by a desire to ‘get around’ it.  The sad list goes on and on.

On competitiveness and nepotism

In one of my previous articles I wrote that the Kazakh-speaking Kazakhs generally adapted worse to the market and proved to be less competitive than Russian-speaking Kazakhs and Russian-speaking citizens in general. This caused a wave of indignation among the Kazakh nationalists and Kazakh-speaking press. I am ready not only to reiterate  the above, but also to prove it. 

I should begin with stating the Kazakhs as a nation are forming just now, because they established their own state within the current borders after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Former states of nomads may only be considered the precursors of the Republic of Kazakhstan in a historical sense, since they resided on a much smaller territory and they never constituted the whole Kazakh population of that time. To those who disagree with me, I recommend you pay attention to the fact that many Kazakhs continue to emphasise their tribal and zhuzh (clannish) affiliation, and not their nationality.

The second matter to which I would like to draw attention is the backwardness of the Kazakhs as a whole nation. Not because we are worse than others. It’s just that historically, the situation developed in such a way, that capitalism, which was breaking the old archaic tribal structure of society and rebuilding the economy to a market system, came to Central Asia and Kazakhstan much later than to the European part of the Russian Empire at that time. This inevitably had an impact on the further development of events and the fate of these peripheral regions.

The Soviet authority, which won over our region much later for the very same reasons, set an aim to traject the people that were in the pre-capitalist stage of development, to socialism, bypassing the stage of capitalism. Alas, this aim  was not achieved. The Soviet government significantly raised the standard of living, created an almost modern industrial and agricultural sector, system of education, health and social protection, which was quite good for that time, and ensured close to one hundred percent employment, but they failed to perform another key task: to destroy the tribal system. In the same way, the Soviet authorities could not make most of the population ‘citizens’ in the full sense of the word.

Moreover, the high level of social protection, at least, from the 1950’s in fact, preserved the archaic tribal structure of the Kazakh people, which provided a higher capacity for survival and resistance through tribal solidarity and mutual support during the nomadic phase of life. This is even true in the case of the socio-economic stratification of the Kazakhs, which became evident before the turn of the 20th century.

As a result, in Kazakhstan, as well as in other Central Asian and Transcaucasian republics, nepotism and recruitment on a related principle has always thrived. For those who do not remember: the posts in the party, government, trade union and Komsomol apparatus of district organisations in the southern regions of our country weren’t numerous enough to ensure jobs for all relatives and clients of the first secretary of the District Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. As a result, the second and third secretaries of the District Committee, not to mention the chairman of the District Executive Committee, were ‘disadvantaged’. And as soon as they got the chance to become the first secretary in their district, they would immediately begin to ‘service’ the apparatus machine in order to suit their needs, filling the vacancies with their people.

The roots of our problems

After the collapse of the socialist political system and the fall of the USSR, the Kazakhs in the majority, as a nation, in terms of mentality were still at a pre-capitalist stage. That’s why since 1991, when the ideological line and the political will disappeared along with the Communist Party, and with the collapse of the USSR, external supervision and control from Moscow was also absent, we have significantly intensified the division into clans.

And this was natural, logical and effective. In the most difficult and harsh conditions of the first years of independence, Kazakhs resorted to the tried and tested methods of survival: tribal solidarity and mutual support. That, by the way, has helped many to survive until better times, while Russian-speaking people would die of hunger and despair.

This, in my opinion, explains a lot, including the fact that in organisationally- similar political structures of post-Soviet states, the actual political systems are, in fact, as different as night and day. From parliamentary republics of the Baltic sea region to the super-presidential republics in Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan, and openly medieval khanates in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

This confirms the thesis that every nation has a ruler that it deserves. In this sense, the Kazakhs, constituting two thirds of the total population of Kazakhstan, ‘deserved’ Nazarbayev.

The fact is that since the gaining of sovereignty and independence, the ethnic composition of our country has significantly changed. Three million people, mostly Russian-speaking citizens and townspeople have left the country, which has dramatically reduced the democratic electorate. Hence, the most active, independent and conscious people have left; those who could make good leaders.

This loss was compensated by the arrival of some million Oralmans (repatriates), mostly from Mongolia, China and Uzbekistan, as well as by a natural increase in the group of rural Kazakhs, as this group was characterised by higher birth rates. Given the critical reduction of the quality of education, both secondary and tertiary, the collapse of the health system, the decline of culture, both general and professional, which was levelled to the ground, it is not surprising that the Kazakhs as a nation were at a pre-capitalist stage mentally.

This is where the root of many of our problems lies. We calmly watch as those in power, including the elbasy himself, rob the state and the nation, because they are poised to do so at every opportunity. We quietly watch as bribes are offered and taken, because we ourselves are willing to give and take. Here, we are only outraged when they take too much for their rank and they do not fulfill their promise. We agree that the more power you have… the higher you sit… the more you can afford. And so on.

To conclude this part of the article, we can say that Kazakhstan is desperately lacking citizens in the full sense of the word. But for now, they are not apparent in a sufficient number in order to force changes in the political system, the balance of power and the rules of the game in the field of domestic policy. Not least because Russian-speaking citizens, whose mentality and common historical fate make them more adapted to capitalism and the market economy, are leaving or dying.

And the majority of Kazakh-speaking people are mentally on the feudal level, and it will take some time for the market to ‘grind’ them, break their archaic social structure, atomise their population. When this happens, when life makes a significant number of people realise that everything depends solely on them, some of these people will actively defend their rights and advance their interests: first, in the economic and social spheres and then, politically.

All the other nations and states that are recognised to be civilised today, once took this path too, and so it is inevitable that we shall follow.  Of course, if we want to survive as a nation and a state, and not as a part of another nation and another state.

Two paths towards the formation of the Kazakhs as a nation

To me personally, it is obvious that today, there are two possibilities which would bring about the formation of the Kazakhs as a nation. First, let’s call it ‘feudal’, through the formation of the national state, as happened in the past, for example in Europe; When a nation is gathered up within its national borders, and those who are considered strangers by the majority, are forced out of the country, i.e. Jews, Protestants, and Muslims, as occurred in France and Spain.

This is the possibility that, in fact, the most active Kazakh nationalists, convey, sometimes openly and directly, and at other times, in a covert and reticent manner. History has shown that this route is possible, but its costs are very high. And not only because its implementation induces a sea of ​​tears to be shed, and may not be limited to this solely, as it may very well result in a sea of blood as well.

I firmly believe that the monolithic Kazakh-speaking Kazakh society will be, firstly, notably more isolated from the world and progress further than if it remains multicultural. Secondly, its people will involuntarily withdraw into themselves out of ignorance or due to lack of knowledge of other languages. Thirdly, immediately after the all-over ‘Kazakhisation’, the all-over Islamisation will follow, which, in accordance with the qualities of our people, cannot have a fundamentalist nature. So it cannot be reverted to the past, as is happening today in Egypt, where the new President wants to introduce a new constitution based on Sharia law.

This will make our country and our people as a whole, uncompetitive and, consequently, backward. With the preservation of world hydrocarbon prices at an acceptable level and more so due to the increase in their production and export, the ruling elite will be delighted to choose this option, as uneducated, passive, confused and religiously fettered people are the easiest to manage.

But this means that, apart from other things, not only will the current political system be preserved, but so will the quality of life for most Kazakhs. Personally I am not comfortable with this idea. Is it acceptable to Kazakh nationalists? I do not know. But one thing is for sure: those who dream of a nation state , where everyone speaks and writes only in Kazakh, should pray that Nazarbayev, and his successors, retain power.

Thanks to the current socio-economic and domestic policy we face an outflow of Russian-speaking citizens, including Kazakhs, from the country. Even today, the average age of Russians in Kazakhstan is 45 years, while for Kazakhs it is 25 years. If we assume that an average citizen of Kazakhstan lives 69 years, we can predict that in 25 years ethnic Russians will simply become extinct in our country.

The second path is the formation of the Kazakh population as a civil nation. That is, when nationality, and not ethnicity, matters. Personally, I support this path because it gives priority to human rights, regardless of nationality, native language, education, place of birth, and so on. The most striking example of this ideology is the U.S., but now more and more countries are taking this path, including France, and to a lesser extent, Russia.

For Nazarbayev this path is deadly because its key element is the mass of citizens, each of whom is aware of their inalienable civil rights and liberties, and what is more, they are ready to stand up and defend their rights. Also, these citizens have all the necessary tools – from free and fair elections to the possibility to own any kind of firearms. However, the latter is not present everywhere; not always permitted.

 Judging by the way the situation is developing, we are heading towards the worst-case scenario. However, with the appropriate political will, and joint efforts of the state and society this could be avoided. After all, we have all the competitive advantages:  a large territory in the centre of the Eurasian continent, which in some way unities East and West, a relatively small population, numerous minerals, a surplus of petrodollars, and some empty niches in the global and regional markets that we could take advantage of.

The truth is that I fear we have already lost our chance. But I will elaborate on it in my next article. In closing, I should state: apparently, the current surge of activity of the nationalists is caused by the very fact that they heed the catastrophe that Kazakhs face.  Still, they do not realise the magnitude of it or from where it is likely to emerge, or what consequences it may have.

Author: Muratbek KETEBAYEV