Kazakhstan considers ‘Doctrine of National Unity’

Proposal has created rift between nationalists and ethnic minorities

By Maral Tazhibayeva


“This doctrine of national unity of Kazakhstan is a strange thing. About 90 percent of those who talk about it probably didn’t even read it. It’s like in Soviet times - nobody read Solzhenitsyn, but everybody condemned him. It is very complicated, nobody really knows what it is about”, said Gulnar Nadirova, professor of Kazakhstan University in the name of Al-Farabi.

In a move to further break away from its Soviet history, Kazakhstan is trying to build nationalism in ways that are not currying favor with everybody.

One of the changes in the proposed “Doctrine of National Unity” is to make Kazakh the national language. Another is to change the name of its residents to Kazakhstanis from Kazakhs.

They may seem like small changes on the surface, but they are creating big waves as Kazakh nationalists and oppositionists go head-to-head against the government.

The political ramifications aside, most ordinary citizens are more concerned about life in general. In the Almatinskaya oblast, 61-year-old Marina Sergeevna said she doesn’t care about the political debate: “We don’t need much, just to have a comfortable and peaceful life”.

She said it’s fine to use the Kazakh language instead of Russian: “I don’t know Kazakh that much, but my granddaughter understands it and can speak it too, so she will be fine. Those who had a place to go, left long ago, and those who stayed in the country will figure out their way”.

Serik, 32, who works at a market as a cleaner, says he doesn’t care about the document: “I care more about earning money so there is enough for food and clothes. I think Kazakhs need more work to live normally”.

The doctrine of national unity was proposed by President Nursultan Nazarbayev during the Assembly of Kazakh people XV session in Astana October 26 this year.

The debate about it was “temporarily stopped” in early December, according to a press release distributed by the Akymat (executive authority). Serik Seidumanov, deputy of the Akym said in the release that a moratorium was imposed for journalists.

A number of Assembly Council members were contacted, but none commented. The question of being called Kazakh or Kazakhstani also hearkens to the days of the Soviet Regime. Kazakhstani would be used to refer to all citizens of Kazakhstan, the country, as opposed to just the ethnic Kazakhs.

Central Asia Online asked national minorities what they think about the doctrine, and nearly all of them said they don’t like that only Kazakhs are deemed “the only nationality embodying the state” in the doctrine. The ethnic minorities believed that it puts the Kazakhs on unequal ground. Aydos Sarym, chairman of the Altynbek Sarsenbayul foundation, told Central Asia Online that those who protest the doctrine usually propose their own variants.

“The biggest lack is that the document … does not reflect those deep, titanic changes which occur in our society”, Sarym said. “This document as it stands simply shows the situation and the policy in the society, without giving any alternatives and novelty”.

He said the alternative proposed by the opposition does not put “an equal sign” between the words “national” and “state”. “It is impossible … to reduce the process of support of ethnic cultures and languages to the national policy; it is not correct”, Sarym said. “Our doctrine … gives ideas and offers both on national safety, information safety, and the legislation on languages. On the whole, it is more conceptual, deep, and is not such situational, as the operating project”. At first, those who criticized the government-proposed doctrine were going to have a hunger-strike and public protests during Independence Day celebrations (December 16-18 this year).

On December 16 about 30 people tried to hold a protest at the square of the republic, but they were detained by the police and left three hours later. A day later about 3,000 national-patriotic supporters, together with popular Kazakh writer and leader of the “state language” movement Mukhtar Shakhanov, gathered at the square demanding that their opinion be considered.

Shakhanov says he is going to present his version of the doctrine soon: “Why did our ancestors defend this land? So that now we are deprived of it? The idea of building the Kazakh nation on a state and not ethnical basis is not right”.

According to the State Statistics Agency, 15.9 million people live in Kazakhstan. About 65 percent of residents are Kazakhs, 30 percent are Slavs. There are also Uzbeks, Uyghurs and Tatars. According to the Kazakh Constitution, Russian is the language of cooperation between the nationalities within the state.

The national minorities of Kazakhstan also had their say after the doctrine project was presented. The Coordination Union of the Russian Associations applied to Nazarbayev proposing to create ethnic parties, liquidate the current parliament and run a new election with an “ethnic” basis.

Head of the Russian community in Kazakhstan Yuri Bunakov told Central Asia Online, “this will not cause an ethnic dissociation in the country”.

Answering a question about the doctrine, nearly all national minorities said, “We don’t like that only Kazakhs are named as ‘statecreating nation’ in there”.

“We built independent Kazakhstan all together. To build a country which is united and strong – this is a task for all the people of Kazakhstan”, said Chairman of the Chechen-Ingush Centre “Vaynakh” Akhmed Muradov.

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Reader Comments

  • In my opinion, the national unity idea is correct and timely because the nation needs a unifying idea to preserve and strengthen our state in the face of external pressures. No matter what nationality you are -- this is our common motherland.

    January 6, 2010 @ 11:01:00AM Ерболат