Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Wed Jul 25 12:48:33 UTC 2007

Eurasia Insight:
Joanna Lillis: 7/24/07

It has been 10 years since Kazakhstan adopted a law that enshrined
Kazakh as the state language, and required all citizens to learn it. A
decade later, major challenges continue to hamper efforts to encourage
non-Kazakh speakers to learn the language.

Nowhere are the challenges more acute than in areas where ethnic
Kazakhs are heavily outnumbered by other groups. The Karaganda Region
in central Kazakhstan – where in some towns only one in 10 people are
ethnic Kazakhs – offers a vivid illustration of the difficulties of
promoting Kazakh-language learning. Officials are taking a low-key
approach toward implementation, striving to reassure non-Kazakh
speakers and avoid confrontation.

"It should all be done using the method of convincing people,"
Bakhytkali Musabekov, head of the regional directorate for the
development of languages, told EurasiaNet. "It can't be done by

The use of Kazakh in day-to-day government business, both in oral and
written communications, was supposed to be phased in. The Karaganda
Region has missed its target date for eliminating the use of Russian,
and currently only 40 percent of the region's official paperwork is
produced in Kazakh.

While no new deadline has been set for full implementation, the
directorate is piloting different techniques for teaching Kazakh to
civil servants. Many are now attending intensive courses using
methodology based on teaching English and Turkish as foreign
languages. In addition, the directorate is about to unveil a
Kazakh-language center that will initially focus on training
officials. Later on, it is expected to open to the general public.

Many of the difficulties encountered in this multi-ethnic region where
Slavs outnumber Kazakhs are common throughout the country. In 1991,
when the country gained independence, ethnic Kazakhs constituted a
minority of the country's inhabitants, and, due to decades of
Russification, many had a limited grasp of the titular language.

The Soviet system radically altered the ethnic balance in some parts
of Kazakhstan, including Karaganda. The area became the new home for
members of ethnic groups – including Chechens, Meskhetian Turks and
Crimean Tatars -- deported en masse by former Soviet dictator Joseph
Stalin. Many former prisoners of the KarLag labor camp also opted to
remain in the Karaganda area upon release, rather that return to their
native region within the Soviet Union. In addition, when
industrialization gained steam during the 1950s and 60s, a large
number of Slavs moved to the Karaganda Region to work in the
developing mining and metallurgy sectors.

Since Kazakhstan gained independence in 1991, the number of ethnic
Kazakhs in Karaganda has risen from 17 percent to 43 percent, due in
large part to the outward migration of non-Kazakhs, and a change of
the regional borders. Around half of the ethnic Kazakhs in the area do
not have full command of Kazakh, Musabekov estimates, since many
adopted Russian as their first language during the Soviet era. Some
ethnic Kazakhs have no knowledge of Kazakh whatsoever. Among
non-Kazakhs, only 1 percent is believed to be fluent in Kazakh and
another 2 percent or so can speak and understand a little of the
titular tongue, Musabekov suggests.

Although by law free Kazakh classes should be available for all, at
present instruction is being offered only to civil servants. "It's a
big problem," Ksenia Makhotina, a local activist for the unregistered
Alga! Party told EurasiaNet. "This generation [of Russian speakers] is
not competitive."

Although all schoolchildren and university students, including those
on Russian-language programs, receive Kazakh language instruction,
many complete their education without being able to use the language
effectively. Barriers to learning include poor teaching and
low-quality teaching materials, Makhotina said. Lack of motivation is
also a factor; as many students are keener to put their efforts into
learning English or other foreign languages.

Officials at Karaganda's Education Department acknowledge that there
are problems, but insist that they are being addressed. "If before
there really were some shortcomings, now very serious attention is
being paid to learning Kazakh," Svetlana Chzhao, the official in
charge of the city's general and secondary education, told EurasiaNet.

Demand for Kazakh-language education is increasing due to migration to
the city from rural areas, where Kazakh is spoken more widely. "We
have large migration from villages, and there is demand to open more
and more Kazakh-instruction classes," Chzhao said. "In the future we
will be building more and more Kazakh-instruction schools."

Spending on language instruction is on the rise. The regional budget
for developing languages has more than quadrupled this year compared
to 2005 totals, reaching nearly US $700,000. The language
directorate's budget has increased nearly tenfold since 2005, reaching
some $300,000.

In the city of Karaganda, where just under one-third of the population
is ethnic Kazakh, roughly 25 percent of pupils are receiving a general
secondary education in Kazakh. Just under half of the 80 secondary
schools offer Kazakh-language lessons. Nine schools are
Kazakh-language schools, 42 are Russian-language schools, and the
remainder offer teaching in both languages. Kazakh-language teaching
is gradually being introduced into all Russian-language schools, the
Education Department says, but there are no plans to close
Russian-language schools. "In the Soviet Union there was
discrimination against Kazakh," said Chzhao. "Now there is a revival
of Kazakh, but Russian is functioning alongside it. There is no

Makhotina disagrees, viewing language policy as aimed at increasing
representation of ethnic Kazakhs in official bodies at the expense of
Slavs. "Policy seems to be especially constructed around removing
Russian-speakers from state structures," she said. "I think for the
authorities it is advantageous if [Russian speakers] do not know

Editor's Note: Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specializes in
Central Asia.


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