07ASTANA905, AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE FOR KAZAKHSTAN’S ETHNIC

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07ASTANA905 2007-04-09 10:51 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Astana

VZCZCXRO8507
RR RUEHDBU RUEHLN RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHTA #0905/01 0991051
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 091051Z APR 07
FM AMEMBASSY ASTANA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 9029
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE 0116
RUEHVEN/USMISSION USOSCE 1711
RUEHAST/USOFFICE ALMATY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ASTANA 000905 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SENSITIVE 
SIPDIS 
 
STATE FOR SCA/CEN (M.O'MARA) 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PGOV PREL KZ
SUBJECT: AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE FOR KAZAKHSTAN'S ETHNIC 
RUSSIANS 
 
 
ASTANA 00000905  001.2 OF 002 
 
 
1. (SBU) Summary:  Although they have not suffered the level 
of upheaval experienced by Russian minorities in other former 
Soviet republics, Kazakhstan's ethnic Russians face concerns 
created by their dwindling political influence and the 
potential long-term ascendancy of the Kazakh language.  Some 
aspects of life have changed little - Russian remains the 
language of common usage, Russian TV and radio programming 
flood the airwaves, and Kazakhstan maintains close political, 
economic, and social links with Russia.  Ethnic Kazakhs, 
however, now enjoy a stranglehold on most positions of 
political power. Language is a growing issue, with many 
ethnic Russians worried by the government's new program to 
make Kazakh the country's dominant language. Recently, a 
Kazakhstani NGO that helps ethnic Russians to migrate to 
Russia reported a significant increase in requests for 
assistance, in large part because of the Kazakh language 
push.  As the country becomes more "Kazakh," Kazakhstan risks 
marginalizing its ethnic minorities.   End summary. 
 
One-Third of the Population, A Much Smaller Fraction of Power 
 
2. (SBU) Kazakhstan's population is currently 15 million, 
with approximately five million ethnic Russians.  From 
1992-1998, more than one million ethnic Russians migrated to 
Russia from Kazakhstan, but in recent years the outflow has 
slowed to a trickle. The remaining ethnic Russians have not 
experienced abrupt social change. Russian remains 
Kazakhstan's dominant language and Russia a major cultural 
influence. The television station with the highest 
viewership, Yevrasiya, is an affiliate of Russia's First 
Channel ORT.  Other popular television stations also provide 
a heavy diet of programming from Russia. Kazakhstan's most 
widely read newspapers are all published in Russian.  The 
Russian newspapers Moskovskiy Komsomolets and Argumenty i 
Fakty are both published in Kazakhstan with Kazakhstani 
inserts, while predominantly covering political, cultural, 
and social events in Russia. Russian language schooling is an 
option for most students, except in rural areas. 
 
3.  (SBU) The influence of Kazakhstan's Russian minority does 
not extend deeply into the political sphere, however.  Of 
Kazakhstan's seventeen government ministers, only two, the 
Ministers  of Emergency Situations and Health, are ethnic 
Russians. (The Minister of Finance is an ethnic Ukrainian.) 
Thirty-seven of forty-one vice-ministers are ethnic Kazakhs. 
The situation is little different at the regional level, 
where only one of the sixteen Oblast Akims is an ethnic 
Russian. 
 
 
From Russian to Kazakh: The Push for Transition 
 
4. (SBU) Russian remains the dominant language in Kazakhstan. 
 Approximately 30% of ethnic Kazakhs speak little or no 
Kazakh, and the native language of most urban Kazakh elites 
is still Russian. Most of Kazakhstan's other larger 
minorities, including Koreans, Germans, and Poles, are 
Russian speakers. In the cities of Kazakhstan, the language 
of the street is Russian, even among young ethnic Kazakhs. In 
a 2005 USG-funded poll of 1500 Kazakhstanis nationwide, 70% 
of those polled elected to do the survey in Russian. 
 
5. (SBU) President Nazarbayev, however, is leading a 
government-wide effort to increase the use of Kazakh.  The 
most recent state budget allocated 35 billion tenge 
(approximately $28 million) for Kazakh language program 
activities, which includes the creation of a commission for 
the promotion of the government language policy, chaired by 
Prime Minister Masimov. (Comment: Ironically, Masimov, an 
ethnic Uighur, does not speak Kazakh fluently himself.) 
Education and Science Minister Tuyembayev, a PHd in Kazakh 
philology and the author of several books on the Kazakh 
language, recently announced plans to open sixteen Kazakh 
language centers throughout the country.  One of the centers' 
responsibilities would be to test the Kazakh language fluency 
of government officials. Tuyembayev also stated that students 
applying for prestigious Bolashak scholarships, a state-run 
study-abroad program that provided 1756 scholarships last 
year, will be given preference if they speak Kazakh.(Comment: 
Very few non-ethnic Kazakhs speak Kazakh, and Kazakh language 
programs in Russian language schools are poor or 
non-existent.) 
 
6. (SBU)  Government ministries are already beginning the 
Kazakh language push, at least formally, by translating 
working documents drafted in Russian into Kazakh.  The 
Ministry of Foreign Affairs now prepares most diplomatic 
 
ASTANA 00000905  002.2 OF 002 
 
 
notes in Kazakh.  Both the Ministry of Agriculture and the 
Ministry of Defense have declared that all official documents 
will be in Kazakh by the end of 2008.  Under current plans, 
all office administrations in regional oblast departments 
will shift to drafting documents in Kazakh by 2010. 
 
7. (SBU) According to the Kazakhstani NGO Slavic
LAD 
(Harmony), the government's increased emphasis on the Kazakh 
language has led many ethnic Russians to reconsider their 
future in Kazakhstan.  Petr Kuzmenko, Deputy Chief of Slavic 
LAD, told the press that in January 5,000 people in the 
Akmolinskya and Northern Kazakhstan Oblasts sought advice 
from the organization on procedures to migrate to Russia.  He 
believes that even more are likely interested, because many 
who came for consultations also represented their neighbors' 
interests (Comment: While Slavic LAD may have a self-interest 
in inflating the numbers considering emigration, we have 
found the group reasonable in past interactions and they are 
not considered to be radicals.) 
 
8. (SBU) Slavic LAD also conducted a telephone poll to 
achieve a better understanding of the concerns of potential 
emigres.  97% of those polled responded that the potentially 
diminished status of the Russian language is a main reason 
that they are considering emigrating.  Many of those polled, 
noted Kuzmenko, replied that they are not anxious to leave 
Kazakhstan but feel that the Kazakhstani authorities leave 
them no choice.  One ethnic Russian LES told Poloff that many 
of her friends are reconsidering their future in Kazakhstan 
because of the language issue.  Ethnic Russians already face 
discrimination when seeking government work, and the 
situation will worsen with the new language policy, she said. 
 
 
9. (SBU) Comment: Because of Kazakhstan's heavy Russian 
influence, a person transported from Russia to certain parts 
of Kazakhstan might blink twice before noticing a difference. 
 Change, however, is inevitable.  Ethnic Russians are already 
almost completely absent from positions of political power. 
The government's new language program will strengthen the 
place of the Kazakh language, although President Nazarbayev 
recently stated that Kazakhstan must preserve the Russian 
language.  Despite President Nazarbayev's reassurances, early 
evidence indicates that ethnic Russians will reassess their 
long-term future in Kazakhstan if they must be bilingual to 
compete.  End comment. 
ORDWAY

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