If a nation does not know its history, if the country loses its history, then its citizens have nowhere to go.
Mirzhakyp Dulatuly

Interethnic relations in the Republic of Kazakhstan in the light of multicultural theories

Analyzing contemporary cultural situation in the Republic of Kazakhstan, we discover a number of phenomena that are characteristics for post-national stage of multiculturalism.

«Multicultural», «multiculturalism», «multicultural societies» — these are the newly found designations of an ancient phenomenon. Societies that are now called multicultural were earlier named «multinational», «multiethnic», «multireligious», «multiracial», «segmental». They were considered as a display of «cultural pluralism», «cultural distinctions» and «miscegenation» (Latin America). The term «multiculturalism» has arisen in 1960-s in Canada during searches for ways to resolve the situation and to manage the country, bicultural at the time.

The concept «multiculturalism» is usually used in three contexts. One of them is political within the framework of which arguments «for» and «against» multiculturalism policy are given, and both supporters and opponents use the term. It is in this context in 1960 originated the concept. The other context is empirical, descriptive or analytical. It is commonly used in academic writings and in public debate, relating different demonstrations of cultural heterogeneity of society, and is most closely associated with the emergence of «multi-cultural societies». The third context concerns the social and political philosophy, social and political order and human rights in the cultural heterogeneity of a society [1, 50].

In terms of origin and social dynamics there can be defined four main types of multicultural societies.

The first is pre-modern empire. In fact, pre-modern empires sought to cultural integration of their subjects accidentally. These empires were formed as a result of conquest, the imperial government demanded from its subjects only submission and acceptance of its rule, tribute and/or taxes. Typically, these empires were highly religious, linguistic and regulatory diversity. This type of society existed in Eastern and Central Europe in the Polish-Lithuanian union, the Empires of Habsburg and Romanov, Ottoman Empire, which included most of the Arab world, in the Persian Empire, Mughal Empire in northern India and China Celestial Empire which had a larger and more unified core [1, p.53].

Last pre-modern empires were swept away during the First World War. The communist Soviet Union and communist Yugoslavia, emerged after the Second World War, initiated monocultural multinational states. [1.54]

The second type of multicultural societies includes the settlements of the New World. Both America and Australia have been conquered, rather than «opened». They suffered depopulation in the result of genocide, which occurred primarily because of the invasion of European germs and infectious diseases, but also as a result of intentional violence, and were once again populated because of large-scale immigration from Europe. With the exception of Guatemala and Bolivia, most of the current [1, p.56] inhabitants of the New World are of European origin. Only in Ecuador and Peru, located in the Andes, and in New Zealand, aborigines make up more than 10% of the population. Europeans travelled to America by their choice, developing the idea of «melting pot» where representatives of various ethnic groups melted into a single American identity (a citizen of the United States, Canada, Argentina, etc.).

The third type of multicultural societies embraces (former) colonial zone. It is a vast region stretching from West Africa across the Indian sub-continent and archipelago of Southeast Asia to what is now called Papua New Guinea. This territory was conquered and subjected to European authorities, but has not undergone such strong depopulation and occupation as it was in the New World. [1, p.58]

The fourth, the modern type of multicultural societies is post-national multiculturalism. The modern concept of multiculturalism is generated by a cultural dynamic that was neither pre-national, as in pre-modern empires, nor nation-creating, as in the New World and ex-colonial zone. It is post-national, as occurred after the successful creation of nations, and takes place within the borders of nation states. Its development is associated with the massive spread of higher education in the 1960s and new audiovisual and musical mass culture. [1, 60]

Post-national multiculturalism is sporadic and variable and is often the result of self-affirmation of ethnic groups, while other types of multicultural societies, especially pre-modern empire, in this respect were more static. Multiculturalism was in such societies, rather inherited, than re-emerging. Today, mass communication and the ability of mass migrations create conditions for new combinations of cultures or «cultural hybridization» [2].

Historically, being a part of the Russian Empire, Kazakhstan had been its outskirts until the beginning of the 20-th century and existed in the frame of pre-modern empire, and after the founding of the USSR the republic started its existence in the frames of new reality, that is named a monoculture multinational state.

After independence the type of society, which is being formed in our country can be attributed to the fourth type of multicultural society — post-national. However, this is not post-national multiculturalism in its purest form. Undoubtedly, analyzing contemporary cultural situation in the Republic of Kazakhstan, we discover a number of phenomena that are characteristics for post-national stage of multiculturalism, such as the emergence of new trends in pop music, or for example the phenomenon of mixing national cuisines.

However, the experience of interaction between different ethnic groups in the Republic of Kazakhstan has its own peculiarities. The first is connected with the stay of the republic within the boundaries of Soviet Union, which is called by Western analysts a monoculture multinational state. In Soviet times, finally emerged the multinational composition of our republic. Even though the main line of development was aimed at the formation of the Soviet monoculture, there was another line of development which acted on the «unofficial», everyday level and was focused on the interaction and mutual enrichment of cultures. A number of examples can be found in cultural life of modern Kazakhstan. For example, here is well-known the band «Urker», which performs a mixture of rock and Kazakh national music, and moreover it consists of representatives from three ethnic groups. High quality of the band’s music is confirmed by numerous prizes that artists receive for their participation in various music competitions, both abroad and domestically. Another interesting example concerns the blending of national cuisines, a phenomenon that can be met in the daily life of Kazakhstan, when a Kazakh family is pleased to prepare a Russian «borsch», and on holidays the Russian family has a plate with beshbarmak.

Scientists who study ethnic composition of the Republic of Kazakhstan recognize our country unique. Among the countries of the Eurasian continent, in terms of poly-ethnicity our country can be compared only with India and Russian Federation. However, we have some difference from these countries. For example, in Russia most people live very compactly in their subjects of federation, and the majority of its population (80%) are ethnic Russian.

In Kazakhstan, of course, there are also regions with more or less concentrated individual ethnic groups, Uzbek, Uighur, Korean. But still the level of poly-ethnicity remains high across the whole country. The most numerous, but not completely dominant, as in Russia, ethnic group is the Kazakhs (about 55% of the population). At the same time in the country are well represented other ethnic groups: Russians — 28%, Ukrainians and Uzbeks — up to 3%, Germans, Tatars, Uighurs — about 2%, etc. Thus, in Kazakhstan there are widely represented not only people of different ethnicities but also of different races.

As for India, in this country, unlike in Kazakhstan, the vast majority of local population is mostly composed by close (in terms of race) ethnicities. The same situation can be observed in most multi-national states of Europe, for example, Belgium or Switzerland. Therefore, at the present moment Kazakhstan is a unique state multinational and multiracial state [3].

Internal environment in today’s Kazakhstan can be characterized as stable. Various ethnic groups estimate interethnic relations in their regions as positive and benevolent.

Both Kazakh society and inter-ethnic cooperation in the country have undergone significant changes in recent years. In the course of economic and political reforms in society were formed new social groups; freedom of thought and tolerance were approved. Democratization of society has provided conditions for the revival and development of culture and languages of Kazakhstani peoples. This development is based on the civil unity of all ethnic groups of Kazakhstan, which contributes to the harmonization of interethnic relations.

However, there is a number of objective factors negatively affecting the state of interethnic relations: a low standard of living, unemployment and the existence of crime, lack of legal culture, demonstrations of ethnic self-isolation tendencies. [4].

Kazakhstan was able to adequately respond to one of the greatest challenges of our time — to preserve inter-ethnic stability, consolidation of society, to prevent conflict over ideas that separate peoples and ethnic groups living on its territory.

For the multi-ethnic and multicultural state the task of strengthening inter-ethnic harmony is one of the basic conditions for the development and success of the reforms.

As of May 2005, Kazakhstan has 3474 secondary schools with the education on Kazakh language, 2514 — on Russian, 2017 — Mixed: 78 — Uzbek, 13 — Uighur, 3 — Tajik, 1 — Ukrainian. Besides there is a number of Sunday schools, where children can learn their native language at their parents willing.

In some cities there are schools of ethnic revival. For example, in a Pavlodar school education process is made in 12 languages: Ukrainian, Korean, Armenian, German, Tatar, Bashkir, Chuvash, Hebrew, Chechen, Ingush, Polish, and Azerbaijani. In the school of ethnic revival in North-Kazakhstan region education is conducted in 10 languages: Armenian, Polish, German, Hebrew, Tatar, Bashkir, Chechen, Ingush, Ukrainian and Azeri languages. In these schools children study not only their native language, but also literature, ethnography, history of their nation and world religion.

Each year by the state order up to 30 books in the languages of ethnic minorities in Kazakhstan with a circulation of more than 80 thousand copies are published.

Since 1995, the Republic is exercised by the allocation of 10 per cent quota for admission to higher educational institutions of national minorities.

Actively working with various diasporas media of the country. Today, the country’s newspapers and magazines are published in 11 national languages, the largest of which are Korean, «Koryo Ilbo», German «Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung», the Ukrainian «Ukrainski News"and the Uighur «Uygur avazi».

44 television station broadcasting in 12 languages and 18 radio stations — in 7 languages. The first national channel «Kazakhstan-1» broadcasts programs in Uighur language — «Alita», Korean — «Koryo Saram», German — «Guten Abend».

The series of educational programs, «Kazakhstan is our home» on Kazakh national television is devoted to the history, distinctive culture of various diasporas living in the country. [5]

Culture is a way of the nation’s self-expression. For the Republic of Kazakhstan, with its unique multiethnic composition free cultural self-expression is one of the most important factors in maintaining peace, harmony and political stability. The importance of culture for the policy is determined by the following provisions.

  • Political prospects of Kazakh society and its cultural development are interrelated and interdependent;
  • The nature of the political system and political relationship depends not only on the balance of political forces, and other determinants of the present moment, but is also determined by historical and cultural heritage, those values, traditions, attitudes, patterns of behavior, psycho-emotional preferences, which are included in culture;
  • Power is an integral part of culture. In order to understand the nature of power, it’s necessary to take into account its attitude to the past, present and future, material and spiritual values, including property, freedom and human rights, religious forms of spirituality, etc.;
  • Stability of the political system of Kazakhstan is associated with preservation of the multi-ethnic cultural diversity, which is not an isolating factor, but a source of spiritual enrichment of every human-being and an important condition of inter-ethnic harmony and civil peace in the society;
  • Entry of Kazakh culture into the world cultural community in conditions of globalization requires developing political guarantees for its originality and relevance [6, p. 172–173].

A model of cultural development is essential for the development of ethno-political processes in modern Kazakh society, because it is the choice of such a model that would mainly affect the degree of stability and consolidation of various social and ethnic groups in the country.

And the biggest controversy concerning the model of cultural development is connected with the definition of status roles of ethnic cultures.

One of such models is the model of mono-ethnic and monocultural state, represented in the writings of A. Ghali, who believes that Russian culture brought nothing positive for the Kazakhs and that Russian culture is impeding self-identification and self-determination of Kazakhs.

However, Kazakhstani realms show that the above-mentioned model is not effective, because the specifics of Kazakh culture development, both in the past and in the future presupposes interaction with other ethnic cultures. Kazakh culture is historically included in such type of interaction. Russian culture and Russian language is neither an opponent nor an obstacle for development of Kazakh culture and Kazakh language. As rightly pointed out by Nursultan Nazarbayev, the «two cultures’ flows» — the Kazakh and the Russian — are leading on the unique multi-cultural space, called the Republic of Kazakhstan.

The second model is based on the concept of cultural mobilization, it is preferable on the official level. Its basic content is that ethno-cultural development of Kazakhstan should be based on the interaction of cultures while the mandatory consolidating role of Kazakh national culture [6, 177–178].

In fact, the model of modern ethno-cultural interaction in the Republic of Kazakhstan today is a new form multicultural society. While in such countries as Canada or Australia multiculturalism is adopted as their official policy and its main points are: 1) the preservation of cultural heritage of minorities, 2) the alignment of intergroup relations with the help of measures against racism and other forms of discrimination and 3) the support of equal opportunities [1, 60–61], in Kazakhstan there is no need for such measures. The peculiarity of our way is that on our land for decades have lived representatives of different ethnic groups and they developed special Kazakh mentality, its special spiritual status. It is expressed in the rejection of isolation and nationalistic extremes. Kazakhstanis cherish the established community of cultures. Long experience of cultural contacts between representatives of different ethnic groups in Kazakhstan, has helped to develop common cultural orientation of the majority of the population. Along with this they helped to create in Kazakhstan the atmosphere of ethnic tolerance and mutual respect.

Indigenous ethnic group — the Kazakhs — for centuries had to fight for its independence and sovereignty. Kazakh people withstood the test of time, and have a rich and complex history. Through the time they got an understanding that the most important thing is to live in peace, harmony and good neighborliness with other nations. Here one of the main features of Kazakh people mentality — respect for the cultures, religions, traditions and customs of other ethnicities. The independence of the country is supported by common cultural and spiritual values of all peoples living in here. Achievements of national cultures, their openness to dialogue, innovation, mutual influence and enrichment become a national heritage of all of Kazakhstani citizens.

Thus, the ethnic communities living in the country have an important mission — to become bridges of cultural dialogue between Kazakhstan and other countries.

Nowadays in Kazakhstan there are all prerequisites for the transformation of ethnic and cultural diversity of the country into a positive factor of social development. All peoples and ethnicities — Kazakhs, Russians, Ukrainians and Germans, Uzbeks and Uighurs, and members of other ethnic groups — consider themselves the creators of a new cultural community of Kazakhstani people. According to the President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev, «every citizen of Kazakhstan, regardless of their ethnic origin, should be aware that Kazakhstan — is flesh of his flesh, his native state, always ready to defend his rights and freedoms. Only in this case, appears a root base for nurturing and fostering a sense of Kazakhstani patriotism, only in this case, co-citizens will experience a sense of pride in belonging to the state, which is known to the whole world as Kazakhstan»[4].


  1. Terborn G. Multicultural Societies //Sociologicheskoe obozrenie. Vol. 1, № 1, 2001
  2. Multiculturalism// http://q.silver.queensu.ca/ -philform/.
  3. In Kazakhstan are starting to form ethno-social enclaves// http://www.ksilon.kz/analitika/index.php? ELEMENT_ID=1784.
  4. The middle-term strategy of Kazakhstani People Assembly//www.akorda.kz
  5. Amirova A. Interethnic relations in Kazakhstan // http://www.analitika.org/article.php?story=20050528001447693
  6. Malinin G.v. , Dunayev v. Yu., Kurganskaya v. D., Nysanbayev A. N. Theory and practice of interethnic and cultural interaction in modern Kazakhstan — Almaty: The Institute of Philosophy and Political Science by the Ministry of Education and Science RK, 2002

Marmontova T.V.
Candidate of History,
Associate Professor of Regional Studies Department,
Eurasian National University named after L. N. Gumilyov