ASTANA: A CITY LIKE OTHERS OR A CATALYST OF CHANGES?

Aigul ZABIROVA


Aigul Zabirova, Ph.D. (Sociology), lecturer, Eurasian National University (Astana, Kazakhstan)


The article is based on sociological research of the latest inner migration processes in Kazakhstan that brought Kazakhs to their new capital, the city of Astana. I have asked myself the following questions: What will Astana look tomorrow? How is it changing in the ethnosocial and ethnocultural respects? Will these aspects of its image change as rapidly as its political and architectural landscapes? Will the Kazakh capital develop into a contemporary city or will its dwellers preserve traditional culture, way of life and occupations? One should say that a trend toward metropolization of one or two large cities that attract money and labor is obvious in Kazakhstan. I have in mind greater migration flows to Almaty and Astana than to other cities and towns. Our sociological research concentrated on two more phenomena: an inner mass migration to Astana caused by sociopolitical factors (the capital was moved from Almaty to Astana) and the demographic situation (overpopulation and deficit in land in the republics south).

Our research was centered on the newcomers the number of which is fairly large. In January 1998 Astana (then called Akmola) was home for 275.3 thous; in January 1999, 318.2 thous; in January 2000, 378.9 thous; in October 2001, 435.5 thous.1 The number of Astana dwellers is growing not so much due to natural and administrative reasons as due to migration. Between the two population polls (1989 and 1999) the number of Kazakhs and their share in the citys total population increased from 49,798 to 133,585 thous (17.7 and 41.8 percent, respectively). Today, they comprise the majority of the newcomers. In 1998 13,214 people came, 9, 965 of them were Kazakhs, the figures for 199910,590 and 8,269, respectively. Between January 1998 and January 2002 the greatest number of the Kazakhs came from the Akmola Region; Almaty comes second where the number of Kazakh migrants is concerned, with the Karaganda (mainly the regions center), Kostanai (mainly the town of Arkalyk) and the North Kazakhstan regions coming next. Since 1999 when the center of the Akmola Region was shifted from Astana to Kokchetau, migration to the new capital Astana has been subsiding. The fourth migration flow is formed by people from the souththe Almaty and Chimkent regions.

All newcomers can be divided into two groups: those registered in the city and a greater number of those who came from the countryside and do not usually register themselves in the city for various reasons: they come in search of either seasonal or temporal jobs or cannot get registration. People from the rural areas prefer manual jobs and remain in the capital for different periods (they either look for temporal jobs or permanent settlement). According to statistical data, these people mainly look for jobs. In 1998, 77 percent of the Kazakhs who came to Astana were able-bodied; in 1999, their share among the migrants was 76 percent. According to the same source, by 1 June, 2002 there were 500 thous living in Astana. For several reasons researchers tend to doubt official statistics of Central Asian countries, yet my own research based on a real estate analysis in Astana and prices in this segment confirm that migration to the capital was indeed mass one.

Thus, in the recent time autochthonous population has been moving to cities in great numbers, yet the pattern of the previous periods changed considerably. People no longer move from villages to small towns, from small and medium-sized towns to large citiesthey move directly to cities. As a result they find it hard to adapt themselves to the urban way of life, which creates a great amount of ill-adapted people. The figures of migration from villages, small and medium-sized towns to large cities qualify the process as high-speed urbanization, which causes ruralization of cities, preserves sociocultural archaic features and traditions brought in by rural migrants. They preserve their agrarian mentality and close ties with their rural localities. This situation can be described as a cultural lag (W. Ogburn) between the structural shifts and sociocultural patterns: village dwellers bring their old norms and values when moving to cities. This explains why it is important to analyze their preferences in the spheres of employment, language, and culture: they will determine, to a great extent, the sociocultural landscape of the new capital and its development along either traditional or contemporary lines.

Statistical data and the results of our research identify two groups of migrants to Astana: from the countryside and from other towns and cities. They differ greatly, the difference being created by the social and territorial factors. The first group is made mainly of Kazakhs who moved from southern villages. It can be described as a weak one (its members have no higher or specialized secondary education, no skill, no money and speak only the Kazakh language). The second group that comes mainly from regional centers (except Almaty, Taraz, Chimkent, Kzyl-Orda, and Taldy-Kurgan) can be described as a strong one. As a rule its members have higher or specialized secondary education, they are highly skilled, have money and speak both Kazakh and Russian. Our research was concentrated on these two groups.

We tried to compare them from the point of view of employment and culture; the research was not a representative one because we have no complete and reliable information about the original and general entity (those who migrate to Astana). Our sample comprised 100 migrants from villages and 100 migrants from towns; our method was standard individual interviews. We carried out our research in Astana in April-May 2001 with an aim to identify the motives of migration, the mechanisms of adaptation and the influence of ethnicity on adaptation. In addition, we posed ourselves the task of answering the following questions: What increases migration? Why do people movebecause of structural stress or individual preferences? Naturally enough, both factors are involved. The structural factors are formed by the weaker role of the republics regional centers because of the market changes in the economy and restructuring industry. This encouraged people living in such cities to move. Because of capitalist transformations small and medium-sized towns declined. Outflow of people from the villages is caused by economic reasonsthe poorest people move away in search of better (or rather any) jobs. The concepts of migration from villages to cities described as structural stress or forcing out can be applied to Kazakhstan in the same way as to many other developing countries. The capitalist changes and property redistribution in the countryside left the majority destitute and forced them to move to cities. At the same time, one can surmise that the first group moves to cities because rural migrants in cities can hope to improve their material situation despite latent unemployment or underemployment in the non-formal urban sector. This means that it redistributes incomes and, to a certain extent, alleviates the problem of social inequality that has become very urgent in Kazakhstan.

Can one say that people are attracted to cities only because the countryside rejects them? Our results suggest that migration today is not totally economic: Kazakhs are attracted by the cultural and everyday conditions of life in large cities. They hope to get education there, to wage more interesting and dynamic lives and to get their share of prestigious consumption. When analyzing migration mobility I proceeded from the fact that objective or structural parameters are individually filtered. Economic reasons are not the only reasons for migrationin fact, land-deficit and overpopulated regions in our republic are few and far between. The urban migrants are also guided mainly by social and economic reasons together with sociocultural and sociopsychological factors such as better prospects of self-realization. The job market of the new capital is much wider than elsewhere: there are suggestions to geographically optimize part of the urban settlements in the republic.

Dwelling conditions are another reason that drives people to cities. There is a confirmed hypothesis that the urban migrants (as distinct from rural migrants) can buy good flats or at least rent them for a long term. According to our poll, 47 percent among the polled urban migrants live in individual flats with all modern conveniences; 5 percent live in flats without conveniences while 2 percent own a house. In other words, over half of those who moved to Astana from other cities could afford a flat of their own or (22 percent) can rent a flat for a long term. Among the rural migrants only 9 percent own a house; 7 percent have individual flats with modern conveniences; 12 percent have individual flats without conveniences while the majority cannot afford dwellings of their own and have to rent them in private houses.

Lets have a look at how the urban space is organized. First, it is segregated. There are three groups of neighborhoods in Astana. The first group comprises new buildings. In the center there is the Samal neighborhood peopled mostly by high officials the majority of whom used to live in Almaty. Another neighborhood called The Red Village appeared somewhat away from the center. Its fairly comfortable flats are peopled by civil servants of the middle level the majority of whom used to live in various regional centers. There is a fashionable suburb, a VIP neighborhood. Some of the large national corporations such as Kazakhoil build their houses in the center. So far nobody can say whether the new Kazakh capital preserves the Soviet pattern of settlement that made the center and large apartment blocks highly desirable or whether the Western style prevailsindividual houses out of town. The city fathers pay particular attention to the left bank of the Ishim River where they are building new neighborhoods. An analysis of publications shows that both the authorities and the public prefer the Western style under which the center becomes less crowded. At the same time, the infrastructure of new developments (water and gas supply, etc.) together with new roads, transport and other communications are too expensive to cause disurbanization of Astana.

The second group of dwellings in the capital are individual private houses, mainly too old and therefore devoid of modern conveniences. It was in such houses that Kazakhs mainly lived under Soviet power and which are now settled by rural migrants. The third sector that is a sort of a link between the two polar types is large apartment blocks built during Soviet times. The real estate market distinguishes between five-storied buildings of inferior quality and much better blocks built in the latter half of the 1980s and early 1990s. This is where rural migrants find their new homes. On the whole, one can say that civil servants alone get housing free, while those of the companies that build their own housing distribute it among their employees. There is a sector of newly built commercial housing of high quality (according to the CIS standards) which is too expensive for the absolute majority of urban migrants, to say nothing of rural migrants. This means that nobody builds housing for the newcomers. In fact, population of Astana is increasing faster than the pace of housing construction. This probably explains why all sociocultural groups painfully respond to the citys segregation according to incomes and official positions.

We also analyzed the migrants employment. First of all we wanted to find out which spheres employ them in the first place: the economic situation leaves them certain niches in the labor market. The National Human Dimension Report of Kazakhstan for 2000 cites interesting figures: in 1999 the able-bodied in Astana comprised 53.4 percent of the total population. They were employed in the following spheres: 0.9 percent worked in agriculture; 26.0 percent in industry; 73.1 percent in the services.2 Economic sociology regards the services sphere as the tertiary sphere. In Astana it is represented by traditional types: trade, consumer and communal services, transport and construction. So far Astana is trailing behind Almaty where the modern types of services (banking, information, communication and insurance) are concerned. The majority of rural migrants have no capital (including financial), therefore they tend to work in the spheres that do not require large personal investments and which can provide them with means of subsistence. They are: trade, services and construction that is developing rapidly. Our information says that the new private sector plays a considerable role on the labor market: it gives employment to about 75 percent of rural and about 25 percent of urban migrants. At the same time, practically nobody who moved from rural areas started their own businesses. The majority of them are hired and mainly unskilled workers. Rural migrants are mostly self-employed and limit themselves with trade and basic services.

On the whole, the group cannot be classed as unemployed: they can be called poor within the employment limits. This explains why when talking about poverty we do not limit ourselves to deprivation (low incomes, no housing of their own, no timely and high-quality medical services, inadequate diet and poor living conditions) and also include the unfavorable positioning on the labor market (inferior education and professional training and lack of necessary connections). On the whole one may say that the majority of the rural migrants have no stable incomes. In addition, families spend more when living in a city and do not produce their own food as they do in the countryside.

As a rule, the rural migrants form more or less homogeneous mass: they are unskilled workers or have inadequate branch specializations. They are mostly seasonal workers and have no means of production. About a quarter of rural migrants work at small private enterprises together with relatives, friends, and people from the same localities. Such businesses that operate mainly in trade and the services are making their first steps. They pay more than self-employed people can earn but the relations in them differ greatly from the relations in state structures and large companies: the new private sector offers contracts for indefinite terms. Quite often new businessmen use illegal forms of employment: they hire people under oral contracts or hire them temporarily. Self-employment and employment at new private enterprises are rarely stable. Many of the self-employed do not look at themselves as entrepreneurs. Significantly, the majority of the polled look at their status of self-employed or doing unskilled jobs as temporal. This is especially true of the young people between 18 and 25. They hope to get education that is regarded as an instrument of social mobility. The results of our interviews suggest that they prefer civil service rather than employment in firms or industry. The preference for white collar jobs is typical of nearly all Oriental cultures and survives despite the gap between what a clerk and a skilled worker can earn.

The urban migrants live differently. The majority of the respondents works in state structures and is paid out of the budget while mere 25 percent are employed by the private sector. They concentrate in trade and the services like the rural migrants, yet their higher education level allows them to fill in better posts: they are shop assistants in supermarkets, boutiques, salons or work as consultants, sales managers, managers of sales area, etc. They enjoy different labor conditions under better contracts. In other words, the sphere of employment, including the tertiary sector, is also segregated according to places from which migrants arrive.

I have already written above that employment is one of the most important mechanisms of adaptation of newcomers. We have established that rural migrants from the southern regions are mainly employed in the tertiary (non-formal) sector of the urban economy that preserves traditional economic forms. In many cases this type of employment is latent unemployment. Under the non-formal sector we understand (like other researchers of Oriental cities) the sphere of employment outside the modern formal state-sanctioned sector. It includes retail trade, the simplest services, small traditional and semi-traditional industry, shops of handicraftsmen, etc. Due to social transformations in Kazakhstan the tertiary sector employs large groups: the non-formal sector offers jobs to the city poor, rural migrants included, unemployable by the capital-intensive sphere of firms and helps them survive. At the same time, the non-formal traditional sector is an equivalent of not only latent unemployment but also political instability. Publicist writers describe these social groups as marginal. It should be said that this description is based on the writers a priori opinion rather than on empirical data. Our results have testified that despite their marginal (in the majority of cases) socioeconomic status the rural migrants in Astana have adapted themselves to lack of stable incomes and the absence of permanent homes. One should admit, at the same time, that the growing number of the lower urban strata extends the sector that serves them, which produces even greater poverty.

Open-air markets are the most dynamic parts of the multi-structural Kazakh economy and are one of the pillars of the traditional commercial and intermediate capital. The capital has the central open-air market and several othersthey are, in fact, an inevitable attribute of any eastern city. Their structure is hierarchical: the poorest sell fruit and vegetables, they are mostly self-employed; a higher group sells meat (mutton, beef, and horseflesh) and fish. The majority of its members are also self-employed. Wholesale sellers mostly own their businesses. They sell sugar, rice, and oil. Small and average businessmen sell consumer goods; modern domestic appliances are sold by large businesses. As elsewhere in the East, in Astana the highest group is made of large wholesale sellers. The urban markets have their seasonal and economic fluctuations, therefore economic and financial crises put many wholesale sellers, especially big ones, to the brink of disaster.

Firms constitute the second, and small, sector of the urban economy. The share of small businesses is not large, the majority are employed as hired labor. I have written above that this sector is functioning according to the capitalist principles and is fairly capital-intensive. Among the polled urban migrants 37 percent found jobs through relatives; 16 percent through friends; 19 percent independently; 11 percent were invited by industrial enterprises and organizations. The share of those who found jobs through press adverts was 5 percent; 2 percent got jobs through labor exchange; 6 percent were just lucky.

Among the polled rural migrants 50 percent got jobs through relatives, people they knew in the same localities; 29 percent found their jobs independently; 9 percent through friends; 6 percent through press adverts; 4 percent were lucky. We asked both groups how they had been looking for jobs and identified several methods. First, half of the respondents (50 percent in each sample) asked relatives for help. The answers to the previous question show that this was the most promising way. Second, 7 percent of rural migrants applied to employment services and none succeeded. This confirms that the traditional mechanism of adaptation is very important for those who move from villages to cities and for those who move from towns to cities.

Even before we started our poll we had surmised that the clan, or the family was practically the only mechanism of adaptation for rural migrants. This opinion was suggested by sociological writings, therefore we paid particular attention to the network of relationships in a modern city, the role of informal ties in job and house hunting, and the use of ethnicity as an adaptation instrument. The result testifies that traditional ties were mostly used to find employment. Our free interviews of the migrants showed that they frequently moved away from their people to be free of any additional obligations. Obviously, in all important (rich or highly placed) communities and groups people tend to maintain contacts and cooperation. We had no access to such groups. According to our observations, special forms of conduct (clan) were typical of such ethnic minorities as Ingushes, Chechens, Azerbaijani, Uzbeks, etc., employed in trade.

Our studies of the configurations of the social and group self-identification have revealed that original solidarities (real contact, ethnic groups) are still more important than the latest (constructed) identities such as a civil identity. So far the ethnic factor has preserved its importance in the structure of personal identity, which is explained by societys rejection of many large social-group communities. Post-Soviet experience has testified that ethnicity is still important in times of crises. Today we can see that ethnicity remains the main identification factor; in many cases ethnicity has served and is serving as an instrument of interaction inside groups and among groups; for over ten years now it has remained the basis of world perception. The post-Soviet practices have illustrated the functions of ethnicity. In the situation when distinctions between groups are important a person reacts as a group member rather than as an individual. In other words, social (ethnic) categories and inter-group (inter-ethnic) comparisons are both the basis of the individuals self-identification and a means of finding his place in society. It should be added that an awareness of ethnic affiliation is greatly influenced by the fact of living either in a polyethnic or monoethnic environment and comparison between various ethnic groups in polyethnic societies. In this context migration from a monoethnic to polyethnic environment creates a problem of inter-ethnic cooperation and relationships.

The problem of ethnocentrism is one of the major aspects of an analysis of ethnic relationships. It is an example of favoritism inside a group and means that ones own group and its members are living in better conditions than the other comparable groups. Soviet sociology described it as a negative social and psychological phenomenon, yet science rejects any axiological assessments of objective phenomena. Indeed, while being an obstacle to cooperation between groups ethnocentrism maintains positive identity inside one of them. According to Gordon Allport, there are three conditions in which ethnocentrism subsides: an equal status of the contacting groups, official encouragement and support for ethnic contacts (creation of a favorable social atmosphere) and cooperation for the sake of a common aim. We have discovered that there is no aggressive ethnocentrism in ethnic relations. What is more, there is a trend among the groups with lower social statuses (rural migrants) to describe themselves as superior (for example, kinder) to other more successful and economically stronger groups.

Social psychology (Serge Moscovici) contains a proposition that conscience is organized like identification matrices based on a multitude of identities. A certain identity dominates depending on the context (ranging from political to scientific ones). The prevailing identity means that a definite world outlook predominates, therefore the dominating identity organizes (or, rather, offers) its hierarchy and its order. We wanted to find out how ethnic identity was expressed because the nature of ethnosocial relations in Astana was increasingly influenced by the degree of similarity and dissimilarity between the identification matrices of the newcomers and those who had been living in Astana (Akmola) from the very beginning. We proceeded from a hypothesis that ethnicity played a special role in the migrants adaptation to the urban environment and verified this by comparing ethnic identity and its importance for the rural and urban migrants, on the one hand, and for those who had been living in Astana from the very beginning, on the other. Hence the question: What are you to the greatest extent? The variants of answers were I am a citizen of Kazakhstan; I am a Kazakh, I am Russian, etc.; I live in Astana, and other variants. The analysis of answers showed that those who lived in Astana and the urban migrants identified themselves as citizens of Kazakhstan (54.4 and 52 percent, respectively). Among the polled rural migrants only 28 percent looked at themselves as citizens of Kazakhstan; they mostly identified themselves by their ethnic affiliations (59 percent). The share of this answer among the urban migrants was 21 percent. The old timers in Astana identified themselves with the city (29.7 percentthe second place after citizenship) while for the newcomers this identification came third. In other words, one can surmise that there are different axiological orientations among the old timers and newcomers. Obviously, the closer are the axiological structures of various groups living in the city the greater is hope to reach a consensus, including in ethnic relationships.

The above analysis has demonstrated that the capitals sociocultural situation and its ethnosocial and ethnodemographic landscapes are very much affected by migrations inside the country, therefore the makeup of Astanawhether traditional or modernwill be determined, to a great extent, by bridging the gap between the economic, political, architectural and construction changes, on the one hand, and the way of life, culture, and preferences in the sphere of employment, on the other.


The article was funded by the Catherine T. and John D. MacArthur Foundation, Grant No. 0062792 Kazakhs: Migration Mobility and Ethnic Identity.

1 See: Annual statistical data for Astana (1998-2001).


2 See: Natsionalniy otchot o chelovecheskom razvitii Kazakhstana za 2000 god Borba s bednostiu za luchshee budushchee, Almaty, 2001, p. 81.

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