The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 brought about a seismic change regarding the smaller Soviet republics that declared independence from the central Soviet state (Brubaker, 1996). Kazakhstan was the last such republic to declare its independence in 1991 (Caron, 2019). The social, cultural and political developments that have taken place over the last three decades therefore point to the development of divergences in identity, many of which operate around the remit of Russian influence and the impact of wider processes of globalization. President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who held the highest executive office in the country for almost three decades played a central role in the post-Soviet developments that occurred in Kazakhstan, in particular with regard to political and economic processes, increasing economic liberalization and an eagerness to embrace the potential economic benefits associated with broader globalization (Omelicheva, 2014). In this sense, the idea that Kazakh national identity has developed based on primordial lines has some merit. The post-Soviet era has in many ways been personified by an increasing focus on a uniquely Kazakh identity, linked to the national state and its historical cultural foundations. Primordial assumptions of cultural and societal trends that are rooted in the idea of ancient foundations has thus in some ways marked the development of Kazakh national identity since independence in 1991 (Tauyekel et al, 2016). However, the overt eagerness to embrace globalisation highlights the continued relevance of the modernist theoretical agenda about Kazakh identity. As such, at a general level, it is credible to argue that both primordial and modernist assumptions of identity formation have relevance and applicability to the Kazakh national context.
Above all, one of the key driving factors in modern Kazakh society centers on the role and outlook of youth. One of the reasons that accounts for the vital role assumed by young people, such as students, centers on the demographic makeup of the country and the degree to which young people assume a relatively preponderant proportion of the overall population. In this sense, in addition to being a young country in terms of its practical political independence, Kazakhstan also exhibits youth in terms of demographic makeup. Laruelle (2019) thus suggests that people under the age of 29 make up nine million of the overall Kazakh population, a number that constitutes 51 % of the country’s society. As such, in terms of assessing the formation and propagation of identity within the context of Kazakhstan, the assumptions of young people are clearly of vital importance.
Asiya et al (2014) offer a detailed assessment of national identity among young people in Kazakhstan, with a particular focus on students through the use of an empirical study which focused on survey data from 100 students at the Al-Farabi Kazakh National University. Asiya et al (2014) highlight the fact that the post-independence period in Kazakhstan was characterized by a need to develop a new national identity that differed from that of the Soviet era and thus conformed to the idea of a uniquely Kazakh identity formation. This assumption that the post-independence era was exemplified by an eagerness to propel a specifically Kazakh identity is credible. In particular, a number of sources point to the fact that in the years after 1991, public and social policy agendas in Kazakhstan focused heavily on propelling the idea of a Kazakh identity that was distinctly different from that of Russian identity (Lee, 2004; Dave, 2007; Lecours, 2010).This willingness to project a national identity was characteristic of many post-Soviet states and therefore, developing a unique Kazakh identity based on processes such as language was a key policy feature.Asiya et al (2014) suggest that language represented a vital component of the newly emerging Kazakh identity, an assumption reinforced by a broad array of other sources (Rees et al, 2017; Fedorenko, 2012; Laruelle, 2016; Fergus, 2003).
Despite the fact that the post-independence period was characterized by an eagerness to project and develop a Kazakh identity, it is nonetheless credible to suggest that acceptance and tolerance for other ethnic identities also personified the policy agendas adopted after 1991. In this sense, the emergence of a pluralist society marked the societal development of Kazakhstan (Laruelle, 2019). The emergence of pluralism in Kazakh society, in addition to the developing process of globalization therefore impacted directly on the formation of identity among young Kazakhs. The youthful population of the state meant that by 2010, a large proportion of the population had no personal memory of the Soviet era and thus embraced new outlooks and approaches with regard to ethnic diversity and tolerance of ethnicities (Laumulin & Laumulin, 2009). Laruelle (2019) suggests that pluralism therefore developed alongside a willingness to project a specific and unique cultural identity that was conducive with the idea of Kazakhness. As suggested, Asiya et al (2014) point to the use of language as a means by which to propel this new societal outlook. As such, although Russian was maintained as a “language of inter-ethnic communication”, Kazakh was propelled as the national dominant language on which culture and identity could be fostered (Asiya et al, 2014: 24). Added to this, it is once again important to emphasize the fact that Kazakh cultural identity, especially among young people and students has been directly influenced by the processes of globalization and the eagerness of policy makers to garner the economic and financial benefits associated with inter-territorial trade and commerce. Technological innovation and the development of internet and digital technology is also cited as being a key source of influence over the direction of outlook among young Kazakh’s (Blum, 2011; Lecours, 2010).Thus, it is clearly possible to see the degree to which the development of identity over the course of the last three decades in Kazakhstan has been heavily affected by a broad array of issues, many of which impact directly on the outlook and attitude of young people and students.
- Asiya, K., Saniya, N., Yermek, C., & Gulnara, B. (2014) ‘Globalization and cultural attitudes of youth in Kazakhstan’. Global Journal of Sociology , 4(2), pp. 23–28.
- Brubaker, R. (1992) Citizenship and nationhood in France and Germany . Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
- Caron, J. (2019). Kazakhstan and the Soviet Legacy: between continuity and rupture . London: Springer.
- Omelicheva, M. (2014). Nationalism and Identity Construction in Central Asia . New York: Lexington.
- Tauyekel, O., Zinakul, B., Gulzada, M & Kalamkas, A. (2016). ‘Formation of Kazakh Identity’, The Social Sciences , 11, (8), pp. 1545–1551.
- Laruelle, M. (2019). Nazarbayev Generation: studies in youth in Kazakhstan . New York: Lexington Books.
- Laumulin, C & Laumulin, M. (2009). The Kazakhs: children of the steppes . New York: Global Oriental.
- Lecours, A. (2010). ‘Ethnic and Civic Nationalism: towards a new dimension’, Space and Polity , 4, (2), pp. 152–166.
- Lee, C. (2004). ‘Languages and Ethnic Politics in Central Asia: the case of Kazakhstan’, Journal of International and Area Studies , 11, (1), pp. 101–116.