Kazakhstan’s proposed language policy would have 95% of its residents speaking the Kazakh language by 2020. In addition all official government, businees and cultural communication would be conducted in Kazakh, a member if the Turkic language group.
Although, officially Kazakh has always been considered to be the state language, the Russian language has had official “equal” status. In fact, practically all of the important aspects of offialdom have been conducted in the Russian language, because the elite of the country received their education and training in Russian during the Soviet period. Officials who are tested for Kazakh language proficiency do not fail the exam, no matter how poor their knowledge of the Kazakh language may be. It’s the examination certificate that matters, not the actual language skill of the official.
Supporters of trhe new direction are resolute: At a recent language conference, academic Mõrzatai Sergalijev stated that, taking Estonia as an example, education officials or school directors who don’t know the Kazakh language should be fired. He added that it’s unacceptable that, a Ruusian ‘genetleman’ who demands that bus stops on public transport should be announced in Russian, should either leave the country or miss his bus stop.
Kazakhstan, a country of 16 million, with a 63% indigenous popluation, has 24% of its residents as Russian. The country’s extensively multicultural, because Stalin’s deportation policy brought millions of non-Kazakhs to Kazakhstan. It covers an area equivalent to Europe. Estonia, with a population of 1.3 million has some 25% of its residents as ethnic Russian.
Estonia, however, is handling the language issue with kids gloves if compared to Kazakhstan’s newly announced plans and if contrasted with Quebec’s stance on unilingualism.
Estonia has instituted a gradual transition to the Estonian language in the 63 Russian speaking schools still operating. There has been a marked decrease in the size of the Russian student population. In the near future, this is predicted to drop below 5000. Some 10% of ethnic Russian students are now attending Estonian speaking schools.
It seems that the slow but inevitable consolidation of Estonian as the only vernacular language of the country is fulfilling the intention of at least those who helped re-establish Estonia’sa independence and who had survived deliberate Russification as foreseen by the Kremlin. This motivation probably derived from an understandable survival instinct.
Yet there are several international organizations, including Amnesty International, who fail to understand the necessity for preserving a small, but thriving culture amidst a multi-lingual Europe where the English-French-German presence is prevalent and dominant.
They also fail to realize that it was only a few short years ago, when one could meet policemen, physicians and some other government workers whose knowledge of the the country’s native tongue did not exist. In fact a few ethnic Russian teachers assigned to teach Estonian grammar in Russian schools could not converse in Estonian.
It will be intereasting to observe how Moscow and the international community react to Kazakhstan’s new lanuage policy. Kazakhstan and Estonia are both considered to be part of Rusasia’s ‘near abroad’ as determined by Moscow. Can Kazakhstan’s initial determination bear the brunt of Russian displeasure or will it be forced to find a compromise acceptable to the Kremlin? Time will tell.
Kasakhstan to institute comprehensive unilingual language policy