Staunton, November 7 – Both Kazakhs and Russians are reacting with annoyance to an article posted online three weeks ago that Moscow might send in “polite people” into eastern Kazakhstan to create an Ust-Kamenogorsk Peoples Republic on the lines of what the Russian government has done in southeastern Ukraine.
Kazakhs viewed this article as an effort to stir up trouble where none exists, and ethnic Russians there say they are more concerned about environmental issues than they are about ethno-national ones. Indeed, some quoted in the earlier post have disowned their words and dismissed the whole thing as “a provocation.”
Both because this appears to be an example of an exploratory effort by Moscow to see what might be possible and because it appears to have failed even to the point of backfiring on its authors, it with worth considering just what happened as blogger Kirill Pavlov does on Fergananews.com today.
On October 20, the Meduza portal featured an article by it special correspondent Ilya Azar entitled “The Ust-Kamenogorsk Peoples Republic: Are Russians in Kazakhstan Waiting for ‘Polite People?’”
The article, which featured comments by and about ethnic Russians in Eastern Kazakhstan strongly suggesting that they ARE waiting for just such an eventuality, Pavlov says, “generated a stormy and out of the ordinary reaction” in Kazakhstan – officials blocked the site — and has been “actively discussed in [that country’s] social networks and media.”
Azar suggested that “the situation [of ethnic Russians in Eastern Kazakhstan] is ‘on all points’ comparable to that of ethnic Russians in Eastern Ukraine before the events in Luhansk and Donetsk.” And he claimed that “local ethnic Russians are actively discussing the situation in the Donbas and support Putin and his policy on Ukraine.”
Officials and local residents – both ethnic Kazakh and ethnic Russian — were outraged by statements which they said did not correspondent to reality. “We live in accord and unity, and if we do have problems, they are our own domestic family ones, and we ourselves solve them. There has never been and never will be in our land conflicts on an ethnic basis,” one said.
Pavlov, who is a correspondent for Total.kz and a member of the Alliance of Bloggers of Kazakhstan, has just returned from a visit to the Eastern Kazakhstan Oblast and confirms those statements.
All the people with whom he spoke, including cab drivers, officials, waiters, sales clerks, administrators, and others described as “ordinary people one could meet on the street” said that the two ethnic groups had grown up together, “eaten from the same plate,” and even invited members of the other to their respective religious holiday celebrations.
And officials said there was no basis for Azar’s claim that the Kazakhstan authorities were seeking to force out ethnic Russians from government service. On the one hand, they said, Russians are actively recruited for state jobs but prefer higher paying positions in the private sector. And on the other, there is no language test that might be being used to keep Russians out.
Local residents of both national groups are more concerned about cleaning up the environment than they are about ethnic issues. Indeed, the only irritant Russians spoke of with an ethnic dimension is the proclivity of Kazakhs to rename streets. For Russians who have lived there several generations, that leads to confusion and is something to which they object.