Kazakhstan: The vexed question of language

8 Oct

There’s not too many issues that can get the people of Kazakhstan hot under the collar – the threat of Chinese expansion is one that springs to mind, another is the use of right-hand drive cars – but one sure-fire issue that can guarantee a good turnout at a rally is the vexed question of language.

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Kazakh, the state and official language, still struggles to claim a dominant role in the country, with Russian still in widespread use in many spheres.

Last Sunday, October 2, around 1500 people turned up in warm, sunny conditions to protest in favour of the Kazakh language, with some calling for a clause in the constitution that gives Russian equal status for use in state bodies to be dropped.

The usual suspects were out in force from the world of nationalist politics and literature. Two hours of speeches ensued broken up by some poetry and performance by a boy-band. The age profile of the demo was predominantly the over 50s with a few families hanging around. Slavic features were conspicuous by their absence in the crowd.

Maybe if the organisers want to get their message to a wider audience, instead of speechifying from the stage they should try some new approaches. How about a rap competition in Kazkah or a poetry slam to appeal to young people? Piles of Kazakh language newspapers were scattered about for people to take home but what about some DVDs or books for kids – the next generation which can ensure the survival of Kazakh.

Refreshments were also absent from the proceedings – another missed opportunity – the crowd could have been fed with baursaki – fried dough balls – swilled down with kymys – fermented mares’ milk – provided it was ordered in Kazakh!


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