Away from the “Russian world”

The President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, published in the state newspaper “Egemen Kazakhstan” (“independent Kazakhstan”) programmatic article, which ordered the transfer of the Kazakh alphabet from Cyrillic to the Latin alphabet by 2025. “Patriotic” circles in Russia, this news was received with indignation — although the Russian language, spoken by less than 30% of the population of Kazakhstan, the reform will not affect.


Kazakhstan remains one of the few Central Asian countries of the former Soviet Union, where the writing uses the Cyrillic alphabet, besides him the Cyrillic alphabet used only in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. In the 20th century, the Kazakhs had already passed through two language reforms: in 1929, they moved from the Arabic script to the Latin alphabet (a year after atatürk moved the Turkish to the Latin alphabet), in 1940 — the Cyrillic alphabet. Now about a quarter of Kazakhstan’s population does not know Kazakh and speaks and writes Russian language, which has the country enshrined in the Constitution the official status. However, many users of social networks in Russia took the order Nazarbayev to transfer the Kazakh language to the Latin alphabet in arms, describing it as a betrayal of our closest allies, and another “stab in the back”. Many oppose this reform, and in Kazakhstan, considering it untimely and expensive.


Statements about the need to implement the Latin alphabet from the mouth Nazarbayev had happened before, for example, a year ago, but this time we are talking about developing a real road map for the transition to the Latin alphabet. This card should be ready in 2017. For language reform over the next 8 years we will have to do very much. First, create (or rather recreate) the Latin alphabet with special characters for the transfer of the Kazakh language. Since 1929, the Kazakh language like any other, is constantly evolving and has undergone many changes. You will need to teach Latin millions who do not know her people, that is actually put behind their desks the whole country and to prepare for this teachers. Need to print books and to republish a huge amount of literature (the opponents of the reform, among other things, fear that the process of selecting the “right” books for reprints may be biased).


Radio Liberty asked about the upcoming transition to the Latin alphabet Kazakhstan, political scientist Aidos of Sarima. He is sure that the transition to the Latin alphabet is inevitable and beneficial for Kazakhstan, as inevitably gradual decrease nationwide in the number of people do not speak and do not read Kazakh. “It’s kind of a big symbolic move that will mark that Kazakhstan is emerging from the influence of the “Russian world”. It is, in fact, decolonization”.


Radio Liberty: Statements on transition to the Latin alphabet by 2025 are being voiced by the Kazakh leadership. A year ago the authorities of Kazakhstan announced the start of the program of transition of the Kazakh alphabet to the Latin alphabet. Today we are talking about a “chart” of the transition that the government should develop already in 2017. To what extent today’s news can be regarded as a real step forward on the path of rejecting the Cyrillic alphabet in Kazakhstan?


Aidos Sarym: This is our second more or less serious approach over the past five years. The first attempt failed because of the contradictions within the elite, and partly within the presidential administration, because the forces in it which can be called “Pro”. Their pressure has not allowed the last time to implement this program fully. A debate was effectively curtailed. This time, I think the project of transition to the Latin alphabet will become a reality. This is a very important step, in my opinion, will allow Kazakhstan to make its geopolitical, civilizational choice more clear and prominent.


– What is your optimism? With the weakening of these, as you call them, “Pro group” or something else?


— The stage of modernization, in which we are now entering, is the most complex. We have already eaten its oil era, and now a real upgrade, some real steps towards modernization is impossible without the participation of the companies. And our society is still more Kazakh, Kazakh, he has certain expectations and requirements that the government somehow will be implemented. Today the agenda is still what defines most of the Kazakh and Kazakh youth. It has its own ambitions, life goals, ideals, which are unlikely to include such a theoretical conception of “Russian world”.


– Whether carried out in Kazakhstan, some sociological research on this issue? How many of the country supporters of the language reform, and how its opponents?


— If you take the transition to the Latin alphabet, it applies mostly to those who know owns and operating in order to use the state language, Kazakh. No one else is, in fact, does not apply. Neither Russia nor Beijing nor Brussels, no. It is our choice, and in most Kazakh in the Kazakh society has long existed a relative consensus on the Latin alphabet. There are caveats, there are taste, aesthetic distinction, but in General, I think society relates to this positively. As such large studies have not been, but I think that such research will be and we can all appreciate that already in some interest more clearly. Overall, I think if you take my feelings and some other studies that were previously, it is clear. There are generational issues that the older generation is more conservative. Still, the choice of language is a choice of destiny, and it is clear that the older generation would treat it with greater anxiety, and young people, I think that is already enough and traveled the world, and the world’s media watching, and so on, she’s more than ready, her attitude will be more positive.

– In Kazakhstan there are citizens who do not know the Kazakh language, for which does it is irrelevant, they say and write in Russian.


— Yes, of course. There is a population that has not made his choice. Many are still sitting somewhere in the 90-ies and I think that the issue of the state language, to pass over them. But in General, I think, and in percentage terms, and in qualitative terms, the situation today is different from what it was 20 years ago or earlier.


In this case, do you have any fears, if we consider this reform as another step in the direction of the “Russian world”, this language reform could trigger some strong reactions from Russia? Ukraine is also the language issue was, shall we say, used by Moscow to catalyze separatism.


— I would not compare with Ukraine. After all, the Ukraine conflict is fundamentally a political choice — the movement towards NATO and towards the EU. In Kazakhstan the situation is different. Kazakhstan in any case, under any scenario will take into account Russia in their political projects. We have 7.5 thousand kilometers of common border, 22 percent of the Russian population. The implementation of the Latin alphabet for most of Kazakhs, Kazakh language. Those people who are integrated, know the state language, for them it is not a question. As for those Russian or Russian-speaking citizens who today do not know the state language, is to pass over them. What do they care if they don’t read Kazakh or Kazakh newspaper sites in which graphics option they are written?


This is primarily a matter of Kazakh, inter-Kazakh, associated with the implementation of the state language policy, but the interests of the Russian-speaking population to affect it in any case will not. Watching Russian channels, so let look. As I read the Russian or any other newspaper, so let it read. In Kazakhstan this sector, it narrows, but it is, and to meet the social, economic, cultural and other needs of people living in it more than enough information.


In 2012 a group of public figures offered to withdraw from the Kazakh Cyrillic alphabet with 42 letters, 14 characters, which is believed to the authors, did not correspond to Turkic phonetic tradition. For example, the letters e, s, b. Why not stay on this compromise?


— There are many specific disputes inside the Kazakh society, including a group of people who believe that such methods can be used to start a movement. But again, it would be half-hearted, compromise solution to a specific group of people. overall, if you make a choice, it is necessary to be done in the direction of the Latin alphabet. We are part of a large Turkic world, Turkic, many countries have de facto switched to the Latin alphabet: Azerbaijan, Turkey, Uzbekistan and others. I think the question will arise in Kyrgyzstan. We will develop regional cooperation, we have Turkic projects. The second is the integration of what the President said. But for me personally, as someone who is more interested in political aspects, what is important is that choice. It’s a symbolic choice, it’s kind of a very big symbolic move that will signify the fact that Kazakhstan is emerging from the influence of the “Russian world”. It is, in fact, decolonization. Here you can find a lot of aspects to be already specialized. But the political part, I think, the most important and valuable.

– You said at the beginning that Kazakhstan “has taken up its oil wealth”. Indeed, the era of high oil prices is over. Does it seem suspicious that President Nursultan Nazarbayev has taken this initiative now, when it became clear that the price of oil if and return to some previous level, not soon? Maybe this is an attempt by the President to make a handout society in conditions when nothing else to offer him anymore?


You partly answered your own question. Understand that any autocratic power, or electoral autocracy, there is also the expression, very populistichna in his word. The government is trying all the time to intercept the slogans that are popular, in demand, but do not directly threaten its existence. It is necessary to download the semantic field, and power in these game plays, it is a question of regime survival, of the regime, its future. The authorities also see what events are happening in Russia, it is clear that within society there are very large architectural changes. On the field, in the political arena comes a younger generation that is focused and thinks differently. And the government is trying this field is also to master. This is probably no big secret. The power will play at this field, the government is already playing on this field, she believes that it is able to intercept virtually any slogans that are put forward. Moreover, the slogans tested has been some adaptation in relation to public opinion. So here everything is clear.

– Nevertheless you have hope that one populism is not over, that this reform will actually pretended to life in the next years?


— You know, when the government says one thing and does another… Remember, Lincoln has a saying: “you Can fool some of the people all the time, you can fool all the people some time but one cannot fool all the people”. Now a generation a little more, and twice to deceive him for five years, will probably be very difficult even for this government. It is one thing. The second point: it is clear that the young people of today the expectations should be aligned with some projects, some tangible things. We live now live here and would like to see changes happen in real life. To disappoint the younger generation, the new political elite, the government simply can’t because it is suicidal. Nazarbayev in his time, in 2001, in their response to the movement “democratic choice of Kazakhstan” and other alienated a whole generation that can be called “the generation of perestroika”. It was a very important sense-the generation that did the economic reforms laid the foundations of capitalism in Kazakhstan. If the government now rejects from yourself “independence generation”, the generation that will result in the historical assessment to Nazarbayev, the end of his reign, to make quality and semantic evaluation, Nazarbayev will lose in history. And he’s still a politician who wants to remain in history, who wants to be the founding father of the state. I think that the authorities will make it the current political article, some political platform, a state program, which will indicate the timetable for the transition, some mechanisms, methods, and so on.

– I would like to return to some detailed aspects of this transition. One of the arguments of the opponents of the transition of Kazakh language to the Latin alphabet is the cost of reform, which in the face of such a big country as Kazakhstan, in the conditions of low oil prices and the reduction of budget revenues can be quite costly.


— You know, none of the major reforms that changed the essence of the national discourse, which changed the self of the nation, was not carried out in good times. Nowhere in Europe or in Asia or in Africa. Even if you take the Turkic countries that switched to the Latin alphabet, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, then they switched to it in far worse times. There are a lot of nuances. One of them is that the whole nation at the same time just sit at their desks, Yes. This is a very symbolic choice. So here is the question of cost, I think, slightly overrated. When it comes to very big things, big election, there’s always the notion of a victim is a question of price. I think if we say that we build a new society, if we say that we are modernizing society, and the goal of modernization is a completely different society, which is looking differently at the world, it is the price expected and normal.


If, say, some part of the older generation will not be able to learn the Latin alphabet, they can write a small language and other groups in the media, which will be convenient. But keep in mind, in the twentieth century the Kazakh people, Kazakh nation three times changed their alphabet first was Arabica, then Latin, then Cyrillic, and all three changes were made for political reasons and did not take into account neither the economic context nor social, nor any other. The question of cost in any case will be, but I think there is more speculation than any real basis. We have the state maintains the state information policy, language policy, and the part allocated to it of money just transformered to another. Books we have published, Newspapers have printed, there are quite a number of sites that already work in Latin, even the state news Agency “Kazinform” the Kazakh language works today in three languages and two types of graphics Kazakh, including Latin.

– You said about the books. With the transition to the Latin alphabet will inevitably arise and this problem will have to translate for her a huge amount of literature, journalism, published during the years of the use of the Cyrillic alphabet. How can be solved this question?


— I think there are two methods. You can go the way of Turkey, Azerbaijan and other countries. Firstly, it “Corporation translation”, which will be adapted world literature. Meanwhile, it will be necessary to create a very large state order for reissue of high-quality literature that was in Cyrillic. This does not mean that its entire volume should be published, but all major classics, all securities created during the Soviet period, it is necessary to republish, and very good copies, good enough to get into school libraries, regional libraries, regional, municipal, University and so on.


– And who will decide what to reprint and what not?


Is the subject of the discussion. Ideally, you can create a very large public Commission, you can move, you can now create lists of 500 books that need to publish 500 books that need to be read in Latin. This is a great field for intellectuals, humanitarians and the humanitarian sphere. This is a huge first of all a cultural challenge and a huge opportunity to make a “cultural upgrade.” I think that this should equally participate and civil society, and the government itself.

– We are in the beginning talked about the Russian-speaking population which does not know Kazakh, which, as you said, it does not matter to Latin or Cyrillic. A year ago, when Nazarbayev was talking about this program, there were fears that after the translation of the Kazakh language to the Latin alphabet the next step is to attempt to force all Russian speakers to learn Kazakh language, the language of the country of which they were citizens.


— Well, great choice in the end will have to do. As shown by many sociological studies, including Russian, financed by the Russian structures, Russians in Kazakhstan are divided into three large groups, each with 30-something percent. Is 30 percent, way or another wish to leave Kazakhstan. There are 30 percent that have already made your choice, send their children to Kazakh kindergartens, teach themselves Kazakh, and so on. Is 30 percent, yet this choice is not made. This choice of which we speak, anyway will have to do. The demographic situation is changing very quickly. Today, if you take the average age of Russians in Kazakhstan, it is 47-48 years. If you take the Kazakh population, the average age of 27-28 years. Accordingly, the birth rate today in first grade is already up to 90% of Kazakh children. And situation will vary, the average Russian population is shrinking by 1% a year. By 2025, the situation will be quite different.

– So you think that any enforcement action by the authorities here just don’t need?


Is not included in the political philosophy of the current regime. By itself, the style of the regime, aesthetics regime not implies any such exceptionally sharp movements in one direction or another. And it is, by the way, very great discontent among the Kazakh population that the government is not taken into account — otherwise it will be called exclusively Pro-Russian, Pro-Russian. This is an attempt to choose from the two chairs. But it is a very difficult attempt, these chairs are leaving in all directions. Therefore, it is necessary to choose the chair that is bigger and more comfortable, but the second chair in his hand to hold. I think that while the current regime has enough intelligence and goodwill to these chairs once were close. But we must note that the Kazakh society has grown strongly since independence. We have gone from a national minority to a qualified majority. 71 percent of the population are ethnic Kazakhs. Another 8-9 percent Turkic peoples, the growing Uzbek Diaspora, which in 15 years will become the second largest in Kazakhstan, the Uighur Diaspora and other. This is the Turkic peoples, the birth rate is very high, and life aspirations are completely different. Therefore, the situation will change, but to speak properly, correctly explain that the transition to the Latin alphabet only applies to the Kazakhs or people who know the Kazakh language. The other is not affected.


Russian language used in business correspondence, in Russian published a huge amount of media, information field — please see any Russian channel, now it is not restricted. Russia itself is profitable. It is better to have more reliable, more stable state, which is with you for 7.5 thousand kilometers of common borders, and not the source of terrorism, extremism, drug trafficking and other things. Here’s a selection. If the Russian side wants to have a more or less predictable, a normal country, it is clear that it is necessary to support modernization in Kazakhstan. If there is no understanding, lack of it is not necessary to look back, to do many things, maybe with a renewed vigour. Here is such a choice, is very complicated, but, nevertheless, it is a choice that will have to do. I compare it with chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is a very unpleasant procedure, but if we want to get rid of the cancer, then it is simply necessary. Yes, it causes nausea, Yes, it’s painful, Yes, there is baldness, but if we eventually want to get a healthy body, then some choice must be done.