An information campaign, involving wide range of Russian broadcast, print and online outlets and focusing on a mixture of anti-Kazakhstani messaging with anti-Western conspiracy, has been ongoing for almost two months now. There appears to be no end to it. The campaign, initially launched by Yevgeny Primakov, head of Rossotrudnichestvo, a Russian government agency, as a measure to induce the official Nur-Sultan to take steps against the so-called Kazakh nationalists with Russophobic views, is now increasingly being used as an important tool in influencing the Kazakh leadership’s staffing policies.
On 3 October, Gazeta.Ru, which, Bloomberg columnist Leonid Bershidsky had called a ‘pro-Putin media’ acting in the interests of the Russian authorities in April 2016, published an article, titled “Do not forget who you are here”. Kazakhstan has declared war on the Russian language. Why is it considered a threat to the country?”. It states: “After Nursultan Nazarbayev’s stepping down as president [in 2019], many started talking about the possibility of accelerating the process of de-Russification of the country by its new authorities… The network of administrative and political ties and commitments allows the cohesive political group of nationalists to influence the system of State organs. Undermining the Russian language’s role in Kazakhstan is becoming a key task for them, as a common information and language space [while it is there] contributes to maintaining friendly relations with Russia. A 2020 study in Kazakhstan commissioned by the US Department of Defense shows that 74.1 percent of the country’s population is in favor of an alliance with Moscow and only 27 percent with Washington.
Attempts to “Kazakhize” the republic, [now] being undertaken by pro-American nationalists in power, are aimed at disrupting the linguistic connection between the peoples of the two countries and giving the United States more chances to influence the internal political processes in the country. That is just why scandals are being actively provoked in Kazakh-Russian relations – either from above, as is the case of the State Commission for Rehabilitation [which calls for recognizing the famine of the 1930s as ‘genocide against Kazakhs’], or from below in the form of ‘language patrols’ and Russophobic propaganda in the media”.
This article deserves separate consideration, if for no other reason, simply because it as of yet turns out to be the only one of all verbal attacks by Russia’s politicians and journalists on Kazakhstan regarding Kazakh nationalism, which has met with a rebuff by Nur-Sultan. It could not be otherwise, since those people, who are described by its author as pro-American Kazakh nationalists in power, can be considered key members of President Tokayev’s team. There’s three of them: an aide to the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the current minister of education and science and a vice minister of information and social development of the Republic of Kazakhstan. They took up their present posts after the accession of President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.
The Gazeta.ru article author’s train of thought appears to be unambiguous. He is actually trying to place the responsibility for increasing attempts to ‘Kazakhize’ the republic and ‘accelerating the de-Russification process’ in the country on the new leadership of Kazakhstan. Nur-Sultan obviously couldn’t allow such an escapade to go unanswered. Yury Zhulin, a member of the the Majilis [a lower house of the Kazakh Parliament], made a strong public statement regarding the Gazeta.ru article. On 5 October, Liter.kz quoted him as saying the following: “After having been acquainted with such absurd things, which are being systematicly and persistently spread, many [ethnic] Kazakhs, even my friends, might presumably begin to treat me with at least caution, and then with contempt and aggressivity if it goes on like this. Merely because I will be associated with people of my own kind, who are talking those dangerous absurdities. And who knows what will happen next if this is not stopped?..
Therefore we got to react… And this should be done, first of all, by those belonging to ethnic Russian community, who have chosen to forge their fate with Kazakhstan. Good thing nowadays many people are using the means of social networking [to express their opinions and stories]. It’s a matter of elementary instinct for self-preservation [in case] if you want to live a normal life here. Otherwise we Russians will, at a minimum, make ourselves into the kind of people who aren’t handshake-worthy in the Kazakh society.
First, there is a need to respect the Kazakh language and learn it. Believe me, all the necessary conditions for that are now in place. Desire and intention are the most important things needed for this purpose… Second, Kazakh Russians should always publicly stand up to any aggressive and offensive attempts by Russian politicians and journalists to speculate on the Russian language matter in Kazakhstan. There should be a clear understanding that these people are your personal enemies, they are endangering your life through provoking social discord in Kazakhstan, they want to destroy what you have created, built for years by causing damage to your well-being and your position in society. So, protect your future, the future of your children, if, of course, you associate it with Kazakhstan! Do not remain silent, otherwise it may be too late!”.
In the lower chamber of Parliament, Yury Zhulin represents Nur-Otan, Kazakhstan’s ruling party led by former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, whose membership includes President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, chairmen of the Senate and Mazhilis, the overwhelming majority of government ministers and almost all regional governors. The statement, from which the above extracts has been taken, is addressed to ‘those belonging to ethnic Russian community’ in Kazakhstan. It should also and perhaps primarily be understood as a message to Russia’s political and media establishment.
By mid-August, after Yevgeny Primakov had reproached the Kazakh authorities for ‘not denouncing the actions of Kazakh nationalists’ through his Telegram account, Kazakh officials appeared to have taken note of such criticism and distanced themselves from the agitators such as the so-called ‘language patrols’. In an interview with the Open Dialogue show, First Deputy Chief of the country’s Presidential Office Dauren Abayev said that law enforcement agencies would assess the latters’ actions from the legal standpoint. He added that the vast majority of Kazakh citizens would condemn such manifestation of “cave [primeval] nationalism”. Some journalists and social activists disagreed with this assessment, noting that the government had done too little to promote the use of the Kazakh language since gaining independence in 1991.
Exclusive.kz, in an article titled “Kazakhs are learning Russian, and the authorities have once again stigmatized the uneducated ones as dependents” comes to the following conclusion:“Primeval nationalism” does not emerge from a vacuum. An example to this has been set by Russian politicians, accusing the Kazakhs, who have been and are discriminated against in their own country on the basis of language, of nationalism, while the latter ones are doing their best to master the Russian grammar rules”.
And then in an annual address to the nation on September 1st, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev confirmed the consistency of the State language policy. “The Russian language has the status of an official language, its use, according to our legislation, cannot be hindered”, he said.
These assurances seemingly didn’t give the Russian side enough satisfaction. The media campaign focusing on the Central Asian country continues to make progress. It is yet unclear for how long it would last. What is certain is that over the past two months the Russian media has waged an information war against the so-called anti-Russian nationalistic tendencies in Kazakhstan, which perhaps has been and still is the most non-confrontational (with respect to Moscow) ex-Soviet country, and its government’s policies on nation-building.
Anyway, one thing become clearly apparent. As it now turns out, one can be able to generate wide consensus in the strife-torn Russian society as a whole by giving rise to negative sentiments, emotions and reactions on the part of Russia’s population towards what seems to be happening in Kazakhstan. The topic has proved to be capable of prompting similar reactions even among from those having nothing else in common with each other. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that a great number of people representing the whole political spectrum of Russian society, from extreme left to extreme right, have joined that information campaign launched and fanned by media and political circles close to official Moscow. The Kremlin’s cabinet of political technologists must have taken note of such a factor.
The focus of those media attacks already shifted from the so-called ‘language patrols’ to the ‘pro-American nationalists in power’. This has apparently prompted the Kazakhstan side to cardinally change its rhetoric with regard to ‘aggressive and offensive attempts by Russian politicians and journalists to speculate on the Russian language matter in Kazakhstan’.
*Akhas Tazhutov, a political analyst