The Dilemma in the Nation-Building Process: The Kazakh or Kazakhstani Nation?

By Kesici, Özgecan | Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe : JEMIE, January 1, 2011 | Go to article overview

The Dilemma in the Nation-Building Process: The Kazakh or Kazakhstani Nation?


Kesici, Özgecan, Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe : JEMIE


This article analyses the nation-building strategy that Kazakhstan's government has implemented since independence. It examines why the nation builders have taken the decision to create two nations, the ethnic Kazakh nation and the civic Kazakhstani nation in a multiethnic society. In its analysis the article adopts a constructivist approach.

Key words: Kazakhstan, nation building, nationalism theories, Central Asia.

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The fall of the Soviet Union led to the creation of new nation states in post-Soviet Central Asia. Where the Communist ideology had legitimized the Communist regime, new ideologies were put forward to legitimize the ex-Communist leaders who stayed in power after independence. The institutional establishment of nation states naturally led to the creation of national ideologies. However, given the ethno-demographic situation in the wake of independence-where ethnic Kazakhs constituted about 40.1% in the population (Dave, 2004: 442)-and the ethnic heterogeneity of the population, Kazakhstan's ruling elite felt unable to apply a purely ethnicity-based conception of nationhood to the members of the newly independent Kazakhstan.

This article analyses the process by which Kazakhstan's government came to declare itself as the leader, not only of one titular nation, namely the Kazakh nation, but simultaneously attempted to create a Kazakhstani nation, which encapsulated all ethnic groups within its territory. In its first section, the article studies the foundations of the Kazakh nation and, in particular, the points of reference that are of particular importance to ethnic Kazakhs, such as genealogy, in differentiating themselves from other groups. The second section will then briefly examine the Soviet Nationality Policy, which encouraged categorization of ethnic groupings in all the Autonomous Republics, and its impact on post-Soviet nation building.

The post-Soviet nation building process in Kazakhstan will be examined by focusing on the boundary making process between groups, in accordance with Andreas Wimmer's Multilevel Process Theory, which states that nation building occurs through inclusion or exclusion of national certain groups. The boundaries can either be made by the ethnic groups themselves or by the government. The focus of this article is on the boundaries the Kazakh state has created to include or exclude groups from the nation.

In the wake of independence, the government of Kazakhstan endeavoured to legitimize the sovereignty of the nation state by taking measures to increase the ethnic Kazakh population above a 50% threshold, rewriting Kazakh history and emphasizing the continuity of Kazakh rule in indigenous lands. In this sense, Kazakhstan's nationbuilding process brought about a 'Kazakhification' of the state, which included Kazakh ethnicity and excluded other ethnic groups. These other minorities were expected either to leave, or at least to become numerically insignificant following the influx of ethnic Kazakhs from other countries that was expected to result from the repatriation policy of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Abishevich Nazarbayev (known as the 'Oralman programme'). However, with time it became clear that these other groups would continue to make up a significant percentage of Kazakhstan's population, and the government needed to define their role within the country. This led to an expansion of the national boundaries to include non-Kazakh ethnic groups as part of the newly created Kazakhstani nation.

The nation state and the Multilevel Process Theory

From the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries onwards, the nation state became the most widespread form of government among modern societies and the most commonly accepted political unit in the international system. Ideally the nation state should represent a core nation, as it was the need to represent a particular nation that led to the establishment of nation states in Western Europe two centuries ago. …

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