“Western in Form, Eastern in Content:” Negotiating time and space in Post-Soviet Kazakhstan

In this paper, my aim is to discuss the cosmopolitan and nationalist political positions in Post-Soviet Kazakhstan. I treat these discourses as idioms utilized by elite in positioning along various political and cultural issue areas. Nationalism and its counterpart internationalism are intellectual projects defined and interpreted in reference to each other by social and political actors.

Consequently, my interpretation is informed by the framework suggested by Rogers Brubaker in his Nationalism Reframed. Brubaker discusses the triadic relationship between what he calls nationalizing nationalisms, homeland nationalisms and the minority nationalisms. I also benefited Katherine Verdery’s discussions on the dynamics of nationalist and internationalist political positions in Post-Communist Romania.

In both of these perspectives, nationalism and internationalisms are not so much opposing doctrines but elite idioms employed to achieve certain objectives in political and cultural sites. Nationalism and internationalism are political practices, practices of positioning and struggle. As Brubaker aptly puts nationalism can and should be understood “without invoking nations as substantial entities, but as practical categories, institutionalized forms and contingent events.” What are the uses of nation in the field of practice by political entrepreneurs? Nationalism is a part of a modern set of categorical identities invoked by elites and other participants in political and social struggles. Nationalism, like any other source of social cleavage is a category that political and social actors use, to organize discourse and political action.
In his three fold classification, Brubaker defines “nationalizing nationalisms” as “claims made in the name of a “core nation” or nationality, defined in ethnocultural terms, and sharply distinguished from the citizenry as a whole. The core nation is understood as the legitimate ‘owner” of the state, which is conceived as the state of and for the core nation. Despite having “its own” state, however, the core nation is conceived as being in a weak cultural, economic, or demographic position within the state. This weak position seen as a legacy of discrimination against the nation before it attained independence is held to justify the “remedial” or ” compensatory’.’ project of using state power to promote the specific interests of the core nation.” The power elite of these newly independent states perceives them as nation states, as the states of and for particular ethnocultural groups, yet as “incomplete” or “unrealized” nation states, due to past discriminatory policies. To remedy this defect, and to compensate for perceived past discrimination, nationalizing elites urge and undertake action to promote the language, culture, demographic preponderance, economic flourishing, or political hegemony of the core ethnocultural nation. This is a fairly authoritative statement of the position of ethnonationalist policy-makers in most if not all of the states in the post-Soviet space. As elsewhere, in Kazakhstan, the power elite have been promoting rehabilitation of Kazakh language, culture, history, traditions and demography.
National revival project in Kazakhstan is not simply a return to some premodern reign of passion, sentiment and primordial identity, in contrast, it is a dynamic process involving many sites of creative discussions, negotiations and struggles between the nationalist intellectuals and their opponents. Social construction of identity, and its power to mobilize people is highly contingent and serves the interests of some participants more than others. Nationalism is a constructive as well as exclusive project. It has a practical implications of who or what constitute the legitimate target of resource redistribution, who are entitled to be involved in various material and immaterial resources that state has a distributive function. In so long as it concerns inclusionary and exclusionary practices, participants in the practices of nationalism and internationalism struggle for the present and future.
Most of the studies on contemporary Kazakhstan take ethnicity as a coherent fault line along which ethnic Kazakhs and minorities have taken oppositional positions on a number of issue areas. Studies of nationalism has taken three identifiable positions on the issue of whether nations or nationalism precedes one another. Anderson emphasizes that imported nature of nationalism in many Eastern communities. the movement of ideas Nationalism as a practice, albeit concerns the present and future, spells a language of past tense, it traces its roots deep into the past, conceives an eternal and omnipresent nation throughout the history. Kazakh nationalists therefore delegate their own discourse to the historical heroes that they associate with associates nationalism with the nation and even what is supposed to be the antecedents of the nation. Nationalists delegate their own discourse to the historical figures
However, ethnonationalist discourse has not been able to mobilize everybody at the same degree, quite the contrary, nationalizing nationalism also opened a wide discursive space for the opposition within the core ethnic group to articulate a counter- nationalist position. In this paper, I am mostly concerned with this opposition group in Kazakhstan. In contrast to expectations, post-Soviet Kazakhstan has not been taken hostage by a strong ethnonationalist polarization. However, another subtle positioning has been taking place between what is called cosmopolitans and ethnonationalists, or Russophiles and Kazakhophiles among the political and cultural elite of Kazakhstan. This division sharply crosscuts ethnic boundaries. The question of modernization, more than nationalism appears to be defining the boundaries between these two groups. The ultimate question is what kind of modernization path should Kazakhstan follow. Cosmopolitans tend to project current nationalist elite and their policies as a return to traditionalism. Accordingly, Russians have been the agent of modernization in Kazakhstan. The exodus of the Russian speakers and “Kazakhization” of the political sphere is a process characterized by a return to the pre-Soviet traditionalism and thus it has dangerous implications for the future of the country. According to the proponents of this perspective, it is the resurrection of traditionalism to be blamed for most of the problems Kazakhstan faces today.
The cosmopolitan or internationalist group comprises a wide-spectrum of intellectuals in the political, cultural and economic spheres. They are not only vocal about their position, but they also have strategic resources to filter out ethnonationalist position to the outside world. Most of the cosmopolitans occupy what may be called “the new sector” in Kazakhstan, a space between economy and politics, having loose ties and complex relationships with both of them. They staff mushrooming NGO’s, research centers, private universities, opposition parties, local branches of international governmental and non-governmental organizations etc. In a sense they act like as the local extensions of various international interests groups in Kazakhstan. They share an occupational interest to monitor and report practices of the political power, ethnonational relations, and a whole bundle of related issues sometimes for domestic but mostly for international consumption.
In their self-expression, cosmopolitanism has deep intellectual roots in Kazakhstan. This version of cosmopolitanism is blended with what is historically known as Eurasianism. According to Eurasianist position in Kazakhstan, Eurasia does not only designate a geographical area but also a cultural, civilization, moral and spiritual phenomenon. It underlies the coexistence and unification of the Slavic and Turkic communities. Since Kazakhstan occupies a central place on the Eurasian continent; since it lies at the intersection of Slavic and Turkic civilizations, it has been a cradle of this idea for centuries. Historically, Kazakh steppes constitute the meeting point of moral-philosophical streams of European and Asian civilizations. It is the realization of the idea of unity of these two temporal and spatial realms. In the Russian context, Anatoly Kashanov argues that Eurasianism stands close to the various colors of nationalist ideologies in contemporary Russian Federation. In Russia, he states, Eurasianism has always been a continuum of nationalist ideas questioning Russia’s place in the Western society of states and envisioning a reaffirmation of Russia’s Asian roots. According to various interpretations of this view, Russia has a historical role to play in Asia and thus contemporary western oriented policies of Russia governments betray that historical role. What appears to be ultra-nationalism or chauvinism in the Russian context is represented as cosmopolitanism in the case of Kazakhstan. The elite that advocate this position in its various forms also see themselves as a part of a liberal-democratic, progressive or civic-nationalist alignment against the government.
Cosmopolitan elite of Kazakhstan perceives Russia as the agent of modernization. Accordingly, modernization went hand in hand with Russification in the modern history of Kazakhstan. In words of Nurbulat Masanov, one of the principal leaders of the broad alliance of opposition forces in Kazakhstan, “Kazakhstan ne imeyet budutshego bez Rossii,” Kazakhstan won’t be able to do without Russia. Masanov describes contemporary ethnonationalist policies of Kazakh government as “Privatization of the historical past in the interests of a single ethnic group…Following the independence state ideological machine is reduced to an unsophisticated Kazakh mass politics with irrational postulates appealing not to the conscious but to emotion and explosive mass psychology. Timid attempts of Russians and a handful of Kazakh democratic-intelligentsia protesting this insanity (bezumia), turned out to be fruitless. Public opinion was channeled in the direction of irrational charges against everything Soviet and implicitly Russian.
According to cosmopolitans, contemporary political fault lines in Kazakhstan has been reproducing a historical process set in motion before the establishment of Soviet Union; a dominant traditional social structure and vertical-hierarchic distribution of power, resources and prestige and a modernist movement trying to challenge this traditional power relations. That project, Jadidism constitutes the historical foundations of contemporary cosmopolitan elite. Contemporary power elite, on the other hand, represent the pre-Soviet traditional elite. Contemporary government and its associates in the cultural and economic fields, according to cosmopolitans, are mostly representatives of what historian Abilhojin calls “marginal elite.” Marginal elite in their definition, is the newly urbanized rural Kazakhs who have capitalized on political, economic and social capital thanks to their knowledge of Kazakh language. In the words of Nurlan Amrekulov and Nurbulat Masanov, an overwhelming majority of the Kazakhs is still demographically rural, not more than 5 % were born in urban settlements. Only the third generation Kazakh youth can truly claim an urban origin.
Rural-urban division is constitutive of unequal modernization implemented in Kazakhstan; “nomadic Kazakhs, whose main preoccupation had been looting and exploiting peaceful neighboring agricultural societies, attained contemporary industrial civilization under the command and domination of Russian-Slavic and other European ethnoses. Specifically, possession of contemporary civilization and world culture came together with linguistic Russification. And that was not malicious deliberate act of the big brother, but natural consequence of its numerical strength and civilizational superiority, a product of objective process of centralization and unification on the hands of totalitarian state of USSR with his one language.” Soviet modernization project, however, could not completely penetrate Kazakh society. “Kazakh traditional culture and customs were confined to the peripheral private sphere of the remote rural areas.” Kazakhs were forced into a process of agrarian and industrial development by forceful collectivization under a centralized state, modernization has not been an integral development but an alien imposition that took roots within a small urban elite. Consequently according to this thesis, the split between Russian language speakers and Kazakh speakers increasingly became a matter of differentiation in civilizational and urbanizational development and degree of integration with the European culture.
Abilhojin supports this thesis by substituting data from the changing dynamics of urbanization; “ Under Soviet Union, rural to urban migration was a function of education and vertical social advancement, it was a gradual controlled process.” Rural Kazakhs, who have been sheltered from Soviet modernization in close-knit aul communities, preserved a patriarchal and authoritarian culture. Yet, The dissolution of the Soviet Union is associated with a massive influx of rural Kazakhs into cities. These newly urbanized Kazakhs carried their sociopolitical culture into the cities. Masanov argues that contemporary Kazakh government is a product of an alliance of the marginal ethnonationalist Kazakhs with the Soviet era nomenclatura. According to him, there have been an increasing disassociation between a feudal, “ rural landlord state” and its ethnocratic supporters on the one side and other nations whose progressive members, deprived of state support, are turning into progressive sphere of business and science. Consequently, Kazakhs are face to face a perilous threat; being a hostage and victim of national idea…One recent manifestation of this threat was the “ December 1986 protests” by the marginal segments of Almaty residents…
The emerging fault line, in sum, lies not so much between ethnic groups but between urbanized, modern Russian-speakers and Kazakh-speaking marginal. As marginals have been appropriating a disproportionate share of the state resources at the expense of other groups, they bear the burden of a future interethnic instability in the country.
Aside from ethnic discrimination, Cosmopolitans also assert that the pre-Soviet authoritarian political culture breeds “traditional regional and clan politics.” Accordingly, ethnonationalist government does not only apply a selective resource distribution policy favoring Kazakh speakers, but also does it within the parameters of clan divisions inherited from traditional nomadic Kazakh social organization. According to Nurlan Amrekulov, governmental appointments (cadre policy) are carried out on the basis of a tribal division of labor that was informally institutionalized under the Soviet Union. This policy is called 2+1, the alliance of two regions with a Moscow appointed ethnic Russian at the top of the administrative apparatus. Political scientist Rustem Kadirjanov traces the origins of this trend to the “Brezhnev Thaw”, when the power of the center started to wane, republican leadership in Kazakhstan gradually substituted Soviet institutions with traditional power structures. The then First Secretary of the KCP, Dinmuhhamed Kunayev initiated the re-traditionalization of Kazakh political and social spheres. This process was not accidental; it was a by-product of the Soviet socioeconomic development policies that gradually mobilized the most-traditional segments of the Kazakh society from South Kazakhstan. According to cosmopolitans, nation-builders are also nation-destroyers; from village to the republican level an expanding circle of lineage relations constitute the basis of political practices.
Ethnonationalist intellectuals present a completely different interpretation of the story. Accordingly, cosmopolitans’ political position should be taken into consideration in order to make sense of how they interpret historical as well as contemporary events. Ethnonationalist government and cultural, political elite associated with it too has a historical claim on modernist Alash Orda Movement. In contrast to cosmopolitan elite, however, they put an emphasis on the nationalist component of the Alash project. According to the current chairman of Alash Party, Sabit Akatay, current national restoration project is a continuation of the disrupted historical legacy of the Alash Orda Movement.
According to Beybit Mamrayev, a historian and advisor to the government, Kazakhstani government’s interests lie at unification and national consolidation. Segmentary policies will specifically serve the interests of the opposition. In his perspective, historians have to pay a special attention how to reconstitute the history of Kazakhstan. Accordingly, traditional Kazakh culture has always been the main guarantee of the interethnic stability in the country. According to many ethnonationalist historians, historical Kazakh society has always been open to the outside cultures, quite tolerant and accepting towards others. Traditional hospitality of the nomadic society explains, for example, preservation of interethnic stability despite the massive influx of different nations into the republic since the Second World War.
The editors of the Evolutzia Politicheskii Systemi Kazakhastana, Evolution of the Political System of Kazakhstan, Nisanbayev and Tuleygulov et al. argue that “ Vostok-Zapad, (East-West) became a universally recognized dichotomy in the social sciences, the East is characterized by the high degree of etatism, by the domination of association over the individual, by the absence the concept of the autonomous, independent personality, with rights and rights and freedoms, by unrestrained power of state. Nomadic civilization, however, lies at the intersection of the “east” and the “west”? Nomadic society combined the features of both collectivist and individualistic, etatist and liberal traditions. Political culture of nomads exhibits a strange synthesis of corporativizm and individualism. As a result nomadic society had unique nomadic democracy, love of freedom, comparative freedom and equality of women, and the absence of worship to authority.” Consequently, Kazakh nomadic legacy does not entail a closure; it is more of a cyclical movement of withdrawal and return, of individualism and communitarianism, it is like a rhythmic seasonal movement of nomads between postures. In contrast to cosmopolitans they try to rescue their historical inheritance from despotic eastern traditionalism. Eastern traditionalism and despotic political culture found its ultimate expression in the Soviet totalitarianism. The project of Soviet modernity, in that sense, not the traditional culture should be blamed.

Ethnonationalists argue that cosmopolitan opposition in Kazakhstan should be situated in a historical context. Accordingly, roots of cosmopolitanism can be traced to a historical- strategic alliance between the ex-colonial power and its local extensions. In the words of historian Azimbay Gali “ Russophile Kazak intellectuals are serving the interests of ex-colonial power by denying Kazakhs the possibility of being a nation.” “Identifying nationalism with tribalism and traditionalism is a political charge originating from Soviet mentality, consequently nothing is new or liberal-democratic in their oppositional activities.” There is frustrated political interest behind their charges; “Colonial power and its local collaborators like to talk about Kazakh tribalism because it is a denial of Kazakh statehood, that Kazakhs have not completed ethnic consolidation, that Kazakh nationhood and statehood is unfounded and hopeless, and that Kazakhs should follow Belarussian example and fall into Russian arms.”
The emergence and consolidation of this particular modernization project and its advocates is a legacy of Russian intervention the historical development of the Kazakh society; “Most of the first Russophiles among Kazakhs were the representatives of the steppe aristocracy; sultans, the khans, batyrs and beys. These people obtained systematic rewards for their loyalty. Despite the periodic wars of liberations, anti-colonial appearances became ever more unsuccessful largely because of the excessive growth of collaborative elements. Overtime, two distinct orientations developed between Kazakhs; Kazakophiles and Russophiles. The latter became the agents of Russian influence in Kazakhstan. Among Kazakh modernizers, there were only few representatives who envisioned a modernization path bypassing Russian lands. Consequently, Russian colonialism has gradually nursed a colonial elite in Kazakhstan. It became genetically local, manufactured a sub-ethnic ideology, passed into the language of metropolis, and dressed in the clothing of nontraditional local elite. As this class was self-developed and powerful in Kazakhstan, the task of radical decolonization and building of national statehood has been inconsistent. The national-democratic pressure of 1989-1993 proved to be neutralized, and in 1995-2001 they led the state into a permanent crises…demands for dual-citizenship, reintegration with Russia, provisions of autonomy to the Russian dominated regions were advanced in the midst of the crises.”
Political science in Kazakhstan reflects a strict positivist approach inherited from Soviet Union. Political history, as every other history, can be classified according to a clear blue-print suggested by historical materialism, divisions into categories, periodization, a huristic modernization theory sets the guidelines. Contemporary political system according to Nisanbayev and Tuleygulov reflects a linear historical development from “conservative nomadic civilization, which conditioned subsequent developments in Kazakhstan. Conservative nomadic civilization, left imprints of each subsequent political formations in Kazakhstan. However, in contrast to what has been suggested by many cosmopolitans, traditional statehood in Kazakhstan, although extremely weak and fragmented can hardly be classified as eastern authoritarianism, the khan’s authority was by no means absolute, it was regulated by a strict customary law called tore. the khan was elected by a council of biis, and council of biis had important consultative, administrative functions that shared the power of khan. Soviet totalitarianism more than traditional society, approximates despotic, authoritarian regime type of eastern societies. The authors maintain that although formal political institutions are imported by colonial powers from Western models, they do not exactly replicate Western course of political development. These institutions are blended with the values and traditions of the soil. So, again post-socialist Kazakhstan represents a hybrid but this hybrid is relatively democratic and open traditional state institutions and despotic or totalitarian Soviet legacies. A particular modernization implemented by Soviet Union bears the burden to the extend that it completely disregarded existing traditional institutions and implanted from above a totalitarian system without paying attention to the social fabric of the country, it was not an organical development, it did not large segments of the society, but an artificial imposition and in effect suppressed societal development. As modernization was implanted by colonial power it penetration into the social fabric of the society was disproportional, Kazakhs were divided into two layers under Soviet Union, traditional majority and modernist minority. The formal structure of the political institutions were European but the content remained traditional.
The authors present five stages of the penetration of colonial rule and implementation of change in Kazakhstan. First stage – protectorate of Russia, which was being evinced only by the coordination of operations of the supreme authority of Kazakh khanate with Russia.Second stage – liquidation of supreme authority and the transfer of local to the administrations to the average/mean level. Third stage – expansion of colonial authority to the average/mean level of the control device. Local control remains only on the lowest layers of society – at the level of villages and kinds. Fourth stage – beginning of a change in the nomad means of life, the achieved by radical methods transformation of Kazakhs into the settled inhabitants. Local control is liquidated. Fifth stage – beginning of a deep change in the public consciousness, the perception of state ideology, the contraction of the sphere of influence of traditional consciousness.Traditional development stage of the society of Kazakhs concludes on it, and begins contemporary, mixed with many other influences, which generate the varied and complex for the analysis phenomenon of contemporary public consciousness in the Kazakh society.this can be explained – in the course of the twentieth century the Kazakhs replaced two models of public consciousness, two principally different systems of ideology, economy, policy, which succeeded each.
Modern Kazakh history, like the history of other non-Russian peoples, according to ethnonationalists, has been a history of domination and resistance. Starting from Tsarist colonization to the Soviet totalitarianism, there has always been a tension between metropolitan center and republics. Soviet period was a perfection of technological control, it was the ultimate employment of technological control on peoples’ lives, rationalization, mechanization of social relations, and proceduralization were used as means of control on republics.
Accordingly, contemporary Kazakh ethnonationalism does not intend to repeat the mistakes made in the past, that tradition should be suppressed and an imitative model should be implemented from above, that indeed usually fails as in the case of Iran and Soviet Union. The strong external intervention into the nomadic society did have a boomerang effect to the extent that society had to assume protectionist strategies against the rapid social changes imposed by the colonial power. Thus, a synthetic approach combining modernization, scientific-technological change with traditional social structures is proposed by ethnonationalist elite as a less traumatic and more effective path of modernization. Soviet modernization, the modernization that was forcibly implanted through a top down approach was doomed to fail. On the other hand, reforms that proved to be more successful, like in the case of Japan and Korea were blended with national culture and traditions. The success of modernization consists precisely in the resolution of this contradiction, in the harmonious connection of traditions and innovation


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