Kazakhstan: Civic And Ethnic Identities Only Two Among Many – OpEd


Like their Russian counterparts, Kazakh experts have long debated the relative strength of civic and ethnic attachments, Gulmira Ileuova says; but in many ways doing so has distracted attention from a far more important development: the rise and intensification of a wide variety of identities from familial and local to more global ones.

Commenting on a recent Almaty roundtable on “Traditional Mentality and Modernization: Pitfalls and Possibilities,” the Kazakh sociologist says her colleagues in the 1990s focused primarily on how strong Soviet identities had remained in Kazakhstan and only later on the balance between civic and ethnic ones (365info.kz/2017/07/kuda-idet-kazahstanskaya-natsiya-ili-kem-sebya-schitayut-kazahstantsy/).

In the first decade after independence, Kazakhs shifted from identifying with “one large identity” – as Soviets – to another one – as Kazakhstantsy. But over time, “significant changes occurred, migration increased, and local identities strengthened. As a result, the most important question became “’where are you from?’ not ‘who are you?’”

She argues that this diversity of self-identifications will only increase, something that may open the way to “consolidation on some entirely new basis. But this will happen only after another ten years.”

In 2004, Ileuova says she found that 57 percent of citizens of Kazakhstan identified in the first instance as such, 26 percent listed their local identity first, and only 4.9 percent listed ethnic identification. Religion was only rarely a primary identity.

Civic national identity rose to 71 percent in 2012 before falling back to 62 percent in 2016; local identity fell to 17 percent in the first of these years and then recovered to 23 percent in the latter. Ethnic and religious identities remained relative low, the sociologist reports. But she does note that Kazakhs more than other ethnic groups there are interested in how people identify.

Ileuova concludes with the following observation: “With time we may encounter definite challenges from the point of view of issues of integrating various groups of the population of the country. At the same time, one cannot fail to note that the developing multiplicity of identities still hasn’t changed interethnic relations.”

But clearly identities will continue to change rather than shift permanently from one thing to another, the sociologist suggests.

Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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