The Kazakh model of interethnic accord: experience for OSCE
Deputy Director of the Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies
The current year, 2009, is a defining year for Kazakhstan’s foreign and domestic policy. This year, Kazakhstan joined the OSCE Troika of the previous, present and next chairs of the organization and started preparations for chairing the OSCE in 2010. For Kazakhstan’s efficient fulfillment of the duties and powers of the OSCE chair, it is necessary to create basic conditions and measures in order to achieve strategic goals. One of these goals is the establishment of constructive dialogue during Kazakhstan’s chairmanship between member states that represent the differing cultures of Western countries and former Soviet ones. From this point of view, Kazakhstan has something to offer from its positive experience of interethnic and inter-denominational accord. During the years of independence, Kazakhstan has achieved remarkably positive results in regulating the sphere of interethnic and inter-denominational relations, which are based on a stable situation that helps preserve the atmosphere of tolerance and accord between ethnic groups . One of the key factors pointing to the efficiency of the policy conducted is the government’s strong line from the first days of independence to harmonize mutual relations between ethnic groups.
In the Kazakh president’s 2008 state-of-the-nation address entitled “The Growth of Kazakhstan’s Living Standards – the Main Aim of Government Policy”, Nursultan Nazarbayev said: “During 16 years of independence we have created our own model of ensuring public stability and interethnic stability and forming Kazakh identity and Kazakh patriotism. This is our Kazakh ‘know-how’ which we are proud of and which we should carefully preserve.” These principles that define political, cultural and spiritual-religious priorities and values of the development of Kazakh society are specified in Article 1 of the Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan.
For any multicultural country, like Kazakhstan, one of the main conditions for preserving identity and independence is the supra-ethnic integration of its citizens into one society. In this sense, in our country that houses 130 ethnic groups, the establishment of an all-Kazakhstan civic and political society is one of the main conditions for the existence of its statehood and stable development.
In this situation, the matter is about the political consolidation of Kazakhs on the civic involvement of all Kazakhstan’s ethnic groups in socio-political processes. In this regard, a multicultural society’s political consolidation should be built on a consensus of the interests of its ethnic groups, which should take account of ethnic issues in the general aspects of government policy.
Since the 1950s, national construction had been based on civic identification (the principle of co-citizenship) . National construction in Kazakhstan is now ensured by ethnic pluralism . It should be noted that there have been some positive results in implementing these principles of national construction. Firstly, polls show that many Kazakhs identify themselves on the basis of civic affiliation . Secondly, favorable conditions have been created for all ethnic groups of Kazakhstan to enable them to fulfill their ethnic and cultural needs. In general, the country has now created efficient legal and ideological basics and organizational infrastructure for implementing government policy in interethnic relations, which has received positive feedback from the population .
As a result, during the years of our country’s independence, Kazakhstan has fulfilled its own unique model that ensures harmonious interethnic relations in our multicultural society through preserving the distinctions of ethnic groups and their unity.
Kazakhstan’s model of interethnic relations is carried out at the following basic levels:
- Conceptual level (conceptual justification for ensuring interethnic accords).
- Constitutional and politico-legal level of ensuring interethnic accord (constitutional and politico-legal foundation for interethnic accord).
- Institutional level of ensuring interethnic accord (by the Assembly of Kazakhstan’s People, regional assemblies and ethnic-cultural centers).
- Scientific-methodological level of ensuring interethnic accord (monitoring the state and trends of the development of interethnic relations).
- Conceptual level. It ensures substantial approaches to strengthening stability in the interethnic sphere in our country, which means:
- The model of interethnic accord is implemented with account of, and on the basis of, the interdependence and interconditionality of socioeconomic, cultural, moral, everyday and other factors, in line with their potential .
- The model of interethnic accord is organizationally and functionally based on the principle of free provision for the cultural expression of Kazakhstan’s all ethnic groups.
- The final goal of this model is the protection and free fulfillment of the interests of Kazakhstan’s all ethnic groups.
Special programs back up the conceptual level. For example, a program to improve the Kazakh model of interethnic and interdenominational accord in 2006-2008, which required 1.5 billion tenge of budget funds, supported the identity and dialogue of Kazakhstan’s cultures and many measures conducted in the previous two years were part of this program.
Constitutional and politico-legal levels are based on legislative acts regulating the sphere of interethnic relations in the country and other official documents that define the main aspects of policy towards ethnic groups. The legal basis for ensuring interethnic accord is the Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan. It provides for defining the main principles for building interethnic relations in the constitution and other laws. For example, Article 39 of the constitution says any actions that can destroy interethnic accords are regarded as anticonstitutional.
At the politico-legal level, political initiatives to fulfill the main principles of interethnic accords are being drafted. For example, in line with Article 7 of the constitution (the state ensures conditions for studying and developing languages of Kazakhstan’s ethnic groups) and Article 19 (each citizen has the right to use their native language and culture and choose the language of communication, education and art), the right of each Kazakh to preserving their culture and choosing the language of education is fixed, for example, in legislation on citizenship, languages, public associations, culture, education and preserving historical and cultural facilities.
Constitutional level provides for the representation of the interests of Kazakhstan’s ethnic groups in parliament. For example, constitutional amendments adopted in 2007 for the first time in Kazakhstan’s history ensured the election of members of parliament from the Assembly of Kazakhstan’s People whose main functions is to ensure and protect minority rights. As a result, the assembly has become a real mechanism of combining and expressing the interests of Kazakhstan’s ethnic groups.
At the institutional level, the main body to ensure interethnic accord is the Assembly of Kazakhstan’s People. It unites 22 national and regional ethnic-cultural centers, which unite 470 regional, town and district organizations. Regional branches are playing a role in efficiently implementing the assembly’s goals. The size of Kazakhstan and the fact that there are areas where ethnic groups live compactly urged the establishment of regional branches that are involved in solving interethnic problems. That is why regional branches are important for solving these problems.
Measures to ensure interethnic accord are coordinated at the institutional level by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who heads the Assembly of Kazakhstan’s People .
Scientific-methodological level fulfils the following measures: monitoring the state and trends of the development of interethnic relations; defining threats and challenges; analyzing factors and drafting recommendations. Like in developing culture, tolerance, interethnic and inter-denominational accord, preventing conflicts on religious and ethnic grounds the creation of a common information system for policy towards ethnic groups is important. The existing problems of national construction are mostly explained by poor scientific-methodological provision. The establishment of the Scientific Expert Council at the assembly gives rise to hope that the situation in this sphere will improve in future.
In general, the Kazakh model of interethnic accord is defined by a number of principles, i.e. the interdependent main ideas, positions and aspects that are the basis for government policy. This includes transparency, legality, legislative and legal regulation for actions, forces, funds and methods, depoliticizing national construction, humanism, justice and moral principles, mutual assistance, courtesy and tolerance, preventive measures, and respect for science.
These principles are intertwined with one another and each of them acts as a condition for the fulfillment of others.
Studies and practice show that harmony in interethnic relations can be achieved through mutual understanding between ethnic groups. In this sense, a dialogue of cultures is one of the main factors of developing tolerance in society. During the years of independence, Kazakhstan has created conditions for preserving and developing the languages and traditions of ethnic groups.
There are over 80 schools that teach minority languages in the country, 108 schools in which 22 minorities can study in their mother tongues and a further 76 schools in which minority groups can learn their languages in extracurricular classes. Other 29 schools teach 11 languages. There are also 170 Sunday schools that teach minority languages in Kazakhstan – the government annually allocates 12 million tenge for Sunday schools. The government also pays for publishing up to 30 books in minority languages with a total circulation of 80,000 copies. There are 19 national and regional newspapers and radio/TV programs in minority languages, as well as six public theatres that perform in minority languages. All this influences public opinion that citizens fully fulfill their rights when it comes to minority languages and cultures .
The Assembly of Kazakhstan’s People holds annual events devoted to languages and traditions of minorities. This also invites the criticism of it, but this criticism is groundless. It has already been noted that the principle of exercising cultural expressions of each minority of Kazakhstan is a basic principle whatever simple the success of our model may seem. Opinion pools also confirm this: insufficient attention to minority cultures and languages in Kazakhstan may negatively affect the state of interethnic relations in the country. Other negative factors are socioeconomic problems.
Generally, the Kazakh model of interethnic accord has proven its efficiency and Kazakhstan’s chairmanship of the OSCE was mostly thanks to significant achievements in the sphere of preserving public and political stability and ensuring interethnic and interdenominational accords. Kazakhstan is expected to contribute to developing mutually beneficial international cooperation, ensuring security and stability and establishing an inter-civilization dialogue, acting like a bridge between the West and the former Soviet countries on the Eurasian space.
Before this happens, our experience should be adapted for other OSCE member states and measures to integrate the Kazakh model of interethnic accord into the existing system of socio-political relations in OSCE member states, taking into account all aspects of the previous chairs’ experience.
Keeping this in mind, the first stage of the implementation of Kazakhstan’s functions of chair (involvement in the OSCE Troika) during which necessary preparation and advisory measures should be taken within the OSCE to find common interests and define a common agenda for the Troika.
1. Public opinions prove this, and one ordered by the Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies to the Epitsentr polling agency showed that between 15 October and 20 November 2008, most respondents (68.4%) spoke in favour of stability in interethnic relations. A further 10.5% noted improvements in this sphere and 6.9% noted significant improvements in interethnic relations in their locations.
2. This was first specified in the constitution in 1995.
3. Ensuring ethnic pluralism means creating conditions for the implementation of interests of Kazakhstan’s minorities. This stems from the constitution which ensures equal rights to all citizens.
4. An opinion poll, ordered by the Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies to Epitsentr and conducted between 15 September and 20 October 2008, shows a third of respondents (33.8%) named themselves first citizens of Kazakhstan.
5. An opinion poll, ordered by the Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies to Epitsentr and conducted between 15 September and 20 October 2008, government policy on interethnic relations is positively assessed by a majority of those polled (78.1% was “positive” and “most likely positive” answers).
6. Opinion polls show a link between interethnic relations and socioeconomic conditions: respondents believe the roots of interethnic conflicts lie not in ethnic hatred but socioeconomic problems (poor living conditions and joblessness). In turn, interethnic tension and conflicts were described as factors that negatively affect interdenominational relations, making them dependent on interethnic stability.
7. Generally, Kazakh society’s trust in institutional structures in ensuring interethnic relations is very high. The president’s role as a guarantor of interethnic stability is great. Opinion polls show he has the highest approval rating among the country’s politicians. In these terms the second to him was the Assembly of Kazakhstan’s People, which is explained by boosting its status by constitutional amendments in 2007. However, the main factor is the population’s trust in the president who also heads the assembly.
8. Asked whether in which sphere their rights were observed when most it came to their ethnicity, a majority of respondents pointed to preserving minority cultures (64.6%) and studying native languages (62.3%).