Pathways: A Study of Six Post-Communist Countries

By Lars Johannsen; Karin Hilmer Pedersen | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
Co-optation and control:
Managing heterogeneity in Kazakhstan

Sally N. Cummings*

Kazakhstan’s politics is rooted in a heterogeneous regime. Its heterogeneity is the product of both history and choice. Various opposites, fragmentations or cleavages have both created and resulted from elite policies. The state is pulled in various directions, and causes and consequences in the regime’s politics are thus often complex and contradictory. Bargaining by forces within and outside the state has demanded balance and negotiation in ideology, practice and policy.

In traditional Kazakh society central power was feeble and fragmented. Although they were a hereditary estate, members of the ruling elite had to earn their title through charisma or military skill, and rarely did a leader enjoy a monopoly of power. Moreover, rulers did not preside over a denned area: traditional Kazakh territory was occupied by three groupings, known as hordes, and a single horde did not necessarily concord with the territory over which the khan ruled. The inability of the khans to command specific tribes or slaves also made them weak and ineffective rulers. They often had to entertain lavishly to maintain the support of these tribes. When a formal state did develop it would not be a recognisably separate institution or ‘set of institutions’ with a bureaucracy, tax collection or standing army. Consequently, the traditional Kazakh steppe was devoid of a politico-administrative centre.

Imperial and Soviet rule profoundly transformed the nature of the Kazakh domain. Tsarist rule rested on the seizure of Kazakh land. Imperial policy introduced to the steppe a fundamentally different conceptualisation of power, one defined by territory, regulated by procedural elections and supported by a bureaucracy. Tsarist rule was, nevertheless, overwhelmingly pragmatic. Sovietisation was, by contrast, highly ideological, and again transformed the relationship between the political elite and society: a Europeanisation of the population and accompanying acculturation; a wholehearted transformation in the production basis of their society; a clear divide between urbanised, industry-employed Russians and rural Kazakhs; the achievement of mass literacy; a change in the

* This chapter draws on Kazakhstan: Power and the Elite (LB. Tauris, 2005) and The Dynamics
of Centre-Periphery Relations
(London: Royal Institute of International Affairs, 2000).

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