KAZAKHSTAN’S SLAVIC POPULATION: DEMOGRAPHIC CHARACTERISTICS AND STATUS
Baurzhan Zhanguttin, Ph.D. (Hist.), assistant professor at Abai Almaty State University (Kazakhstan)
Researchers today are focussing greater attention on the problems experienced by the Russian and, in the broader context, Slavic population faced with the new sociopolitical conditions which developed after the collapse in the Soviet Union and the formation of independent states. In this article, we will shed light on the main demographic characteristics of Kazakhstan’s Slavic population, trace the changes in its status, and identify the sore spots and problems.
Kazakhstan is the second largest country in terms of territory in the post-Soviet space and the ninth largest in the world. It occupies an area of 2,725,000 sq. km. What is more, our republic is one of the most sparsely populated states in the world with 5.5 people per sq. km. By way of comparison, the population density in Russia is 8.6, in Kyrgyzstan 22, in Uzbekistan 52, in Turkmenistan 10, and in China 125 people per sq. km.
According to the 1989 population census, 6,062,019 Russians, 177,938 Belorussians, 875,691 Ukrainians, and 59,354 Poles live in Kazakhstan, that is, 44.3% of its total residents.1 They all enjoy extremely favorable cultural and linguistic conditions and level of urbanization, which has made it possible for them to attain a relatively high social and professional status. The Slavs have played an important system-forming and integrating role in Kazakhstan society, as well as in the functioning and development of an integrated economic complex, in the education system, and so on. For example, in 1989, Russians were widely represented in health care, physical culture, and social security—40.1% (5.9% Ukrainians and 38.5% Kazakhs), in public education—36.3% (5.6% Ukrainians and 42.4% Kazakhs), in science and scientific services (53% Russians, 25.4% Kazakhs, and 7% Ukrainians), and in management (47.6% Russians, 9.2% Ukrainians, and 30.2% Kazakhs).2
By the beginning of the 1990s, new trends gradually emerged in the republic. Primarily, the size of the population changed, the percentage of Kazakhs increased, their general educational level rose, and the situation on the labor market became aggravated. The collapse in the Soviet Union led to severe deformations in the status of the Slavic population and its members began to lose their previous feeling of well-being. According to the 1999 census, 5,185,898 Slavs resided in Kazakhstan. They included 4,479,620 Russians, 111,927 Belorussians, 547,054 Ukrainians, and 47,297 Poles. In this way, between 1989 and 1999, the number of Russians decreased by 26.1%, Belorussians by 37.1%, Ukrainians by 37.5%, and Poles by 20.3%. The percentage of Kazakhs, on the other hand, reached 53.4% (7,985,039 people). The increase in their numbers was due to a targeted repatriation policy, which returned 35,300 families (155,000 people) to their native land between 1991 and 1996, and rise in the population’s natural growth indices. Whereas in 1999 the overall fertility coefficient among Kazakhs was 17.1, among Russians it was only 8.5 and among Ukrainians 9.1 promille. The mortality coefficient for the same year among Kazakhs was 6.4, among Russians 13.6, and among Ukrainians 20.7 promille. This gave rise to a change in the natural growth indices. Among Kazakhs, it was positive, +10.7 promille, among Russians –5.1, and among Ukrainians –11.6 promille.
In addition, migration of the Slavic population had an influence on the change in numbers. The reasons for this are understandable. With the formation of the new states, the status of the Slavic population changed. Many members of the Slavic population did not feel themselves full-fledged citizens in the new independent states, and became concerned about their socioeconomic and national-cultural rights and interests. Our republic was no exception in this respect. According to the data of the Research Center of Russian Minorities, in 1994, 45% of the Russians surveyed in Kazakhstan believed they were discriminated against due to their nationality. This was observed in difficulties finding a job and the possibility of advancing in their career, decreased access to Russian culture and information, less opportunity of obtaining an education in Russian, and so on.3 If we add destructive factors to the above-mentioned, primarily the collapse in the Soviet Union, the severe crisis, the drastic production slump, and unemployment, plus the classical determinants of migration (market relations, the differences among the new states in standard of living, and so on), we can see the main reasons for the Slavic population leaving Kazakhstan. In so doing, during the first two years (1990-1992), they were determined almost exclusively by stress factors relating to the collapse in the Soviet Union and the economic crisis. Migration was spasmodic: in 1990-1991, it did not exceed the customary boundaries, with a slight increase in 1992. Compared with other republics, it remained the lowest. But whereas in 1994, every fifth Russian was ready to leave Kazakhstan, in 1997, every third had this desire. In 1998, there was a certain downtrend in this process.4
At one time, the Slavic population settled unevenly in Kazakhstan. For example, in the south of the republic 14.3% of the residents were Slavs, and 43.4% were Kazakhs, in the north, these percentages were 35.9% and 14.5%, in the west, 8.7% and 19.1%, in the east, 13.8% and 9.3%, and in the central regions, 13.9% and 6.6%, respectively. In so doing, the percentage of the Slavic population was the greatest in the north, east and center of Kazakhstan. Traces of the forced migration of the 1930s-1950s can be seen here. Seventy one point eight percent of the incoming Poles, 57.6% of the Belorussians, 55.2% of the Ukrainians, and 32.6% of the Russians settled in the north of the republic. In the central regions, 19.3% of the population consisted of Belorussians, 14.4% of Ukrainians, 13.7% of Russians, and 11.8% of Poles. Finally, in Eastern Kazakhstan, 15.5% of Russians and only 2.9% of Ukrainians, 4.0% of Belorussians and 1.1% of Poles were concentrated.
According to the data of the 1999 census, the republic’s urban population amounted to 56.0%, and the rural to 44.0%. The eastern Slavs (Russians, Ukrainians, and Belorussians) primarily lived in the cities, whereby their numbers essentially decreased everywhere. The largest city was still Almaty with a population of 1,129,350 people, 45.2% of which were Russians. The percentage of Ukrainians and Belorussians in the cities, which was small anyway, decreased two-fold by 1999. The number of Kazakhs increased from 23.8% in 1989 to 38.5% in 1999. The most urbanized was still the percentage of the city population in Central and Eastern Kazakhstan. The national composition of the republic’s capital, Astana, changed the most. The number of Russians here decreased from 54.1% in 1989 to 40.6% in 1999, and the percentage of Kazakhs during these years increased 2.4-fold.
By 1999, two trends characteristic of the village were noted. In Central and Eastern Kazakhstan, the size of the rural population is diminishing, whereas in the south and west of the republic, it is increasing.
The main characteristic in the evolution of the population’s age structure is that it is becoming older. This process is occurring at the expense of the Slavic population. The special feature of its age structure is that there is a much lower percentage of children under nine than among Kazakhs (22%). In 1999, this index was 8.3% among Ukrainians, 8.4% among Belorussians, 10.8% among Poles, and 11.6% among Russians. The problem of population aging has not been observed among Kazakhs and the number of those older than 60 does not exceed 6%, which cannot be said of the Slavs. This problem has become particularly prevalent among Ukrainians, 24.7%, and Belorussians, 23.8%. It is slightly less among Poles, 19%, and Russians, 17%. There are no significant age differences between the Slavic peoples and the Kazakhs with respect to urban and rural residents. On the whole, among the eastern and western Slavs, as well as among the Kazakhs, the number of children in rural areas was greater than in the cities. There are more able-bodied people in the cities than in the villages. But there are more Kazakhs aged 60 and older living in the villages, and more Russians and other Slavic peoples of the same age living in the cities. Finally, the average arithmetical age of Kazakhs is 25, that is, children constitute the majority of the indigenous population.5
A high level of education is characteristic of the Slavs of Kazakhstan. For example, out of every 10,000 people older than 15, 397 had higher education, 49 had incomplete higher education, 730 had specialized secondary education, 1,094 had universal secondary education (10 grades), and 835 had basic secondary education (8 grades). The same picture could be observed with primary education. At the same time, compared with the Kazakh population, these parameters look slightly different. Kazakhs outstrip Russians, Belorussians, Ukrainians, and Poles in terms of numbers with universal secondary and higher education, yielding only in terms of numbers with basic primary general education. Among the urban population, there were more Kazakhs with higher and incomplete higher education. For example, in the cities, 291 Ukrainians, 278 Belorussians, 290 Russians, 282 Poles, and 238 Kazakhs (per 1,000 people) had specialized secondary education. Whereas among the latter, 131 obtained a basic secondary education, 202 Belorussians, 185 Ukrainians, 181 Poles and 177 Russians attained this level of education. The situation is the same with primary general education. In the villages, Slavs dominated among those with specialized secondary education and among those who had primary general and secondary education.6 The number of pupils in Russian-language schools is on the decline (at an average of 2.9% per year), whereas in schools where lessons are taught in Kazakh, the opposite trend is observed (at an average increase of 3.3% a year). At the beginning of the 2000/2001 academic year, there were 5,730 schools in the republic which taught in Kazakh, attended by 1,692,700 pupils, and there were 1,441,500 pupils in Russian-language schools.
The trends manifested during the 1980s are still observed in the national composition of university students. In the 1980/1981 academic year, 50% of students were Kazakhs, in 1989/1990, 54% were Kazakhs and 31% Russians, in 1999/2000, 66.7% were Kazakhs, 23.6% Russians and Belorussians, 1.8% Ukrainians, and 0.3% Poles. At the beginning of the new century, Kazakhs began to dominate among those studying at university day departments (66.2% compared with 23.2% Russians, 1.8% Ukrainians, 0.3% Belorussians, and 0.1% Poles). In terms of extramural courses, almost the same picture has developed: Kazakhs comprised 67.9%, Russians 23.9%, Ukrainians 1.8%, Belorussians 0.4%, and Poles 0.1% of the students taking such courses. At the same time, the percentage of Russians was the highest among those studying at night schools (45.2%).7
The reasons for this national composition of university students are multifarious. We are inclined to explain them by the more favorable age structure among Kazakhs compared with the Slavic population, as well as by migration processes. In addition, the percentage of Slavic young people living in Kazakhstan who enter Russian universities should be taken into account, as well as the fertility rate, where Kazakhs have much higher indices than the Slavic peoples as a whole, and so on.
By the beginning of the new century, the situation on the labor market had become aggravated in the republic. During the past decade, the size of the economically active population decreased by 8%, and the level of unemployment, according to official data, amounted to 12.8%. The number of unemployed rose steadily. In the Commonwealth countries it topped the 14 million mark, including 9 million in Russia, 3 million in Ukraine, and 1 million in Kazakhstan,8 and affected every resident without exception, regardless of their gender, age, length of service, or nationality. During the 1990s, the number of workers decreased in essentially every area: industry, construction, geology, and so on. Among the employed rural population, the percentage of Russians (men and women) amounted to 16.3%, of Belorussians to 0.8%, of Poles to 0.5%, and of Ukrainians to 3.6%. The reduction in employment in rural areas caused their residents to move to the cities in search of work. In 1999, Russians amounted to 43.4% of the urban population with a job, Kazakhs to 40.8%, Belorussians to 0.9%, Ukrainians to 4.6%, and Poles to 0.3%.9
In Astana, the Slavic population had the best index among the employed: 6.2% Belorussians, 6.3% Poles, 4.0% Ukrainians, and 3.4% Russians, with Kazakhs bringing up the rear at 2.2%. In the republic’s former capital of Almaty, the number of employed among the Kazakhs amounted to 6.7%. They yielded to Russians at 12.3%, but outstripped all the other Slavic peoples.
On the whole throughout the republic, the eastern and western Slavs dominated among the employed (men and women) in the north—(35.3% compared with 14.0% among Kazakhs), in the central regions (14.7% compared with 6.9%), and in the east (13.9% compared with 10.1%). In Western Kazakhstan, there was a larger percentage of employed among the Kazakhs, 17.6%, whereas among the Slavs, this percentage was 8.3%. In the south, the number of employed Kazakhs was 3.2-fold higher than the same index among the Slavs, and in the north of the republic, the greatest percentage of the employed population was among the Poles (70.5%), Belorussians (56.4%), and Ukrainians (55.1%). As for Russians, they were clear outsiders here at 31.8%. In Central Kazakhstan, Belorussians had the best indices (20%), followed by Ukrainians, Russians, and Poles. At the same time, Russians were best adapted in the east and south of the republic (15.8% and 14.4%, respectively).10 Among the Slavic population, the percentage of those employed in the administrative structures of all levels, including organization directors, was quite high. Among them Ukrainians accounted for 9.6%, Poles for 9.5%, and Russians for 9.3%. Belorussians lagged slightly behind at 8.3%, but they were ahead of the Kazakhs at 7.9%. However, Kazakhs were more broadly represented among more qualified specialists at 14.5%. They were followed closely by the percentage of Russians in this sphere at 12.1%, while the indices for Poles and Ukrainians (10.7% and 10.6%, respectively) were somewhat lower, with Belorussians bringing up the rear. The Kazakhs outstripped western and eastern Slavs among the qualified employees of the agricultural, forestry, and hunting industries, as well as fish farming and fishing—24.3%, leaving the other nationalities far behind (Poles—11.7%, Belorussians—10.0%, Ukrainians—8.8%, Russians—6.5%). The Russians had the best employment indices among specialists with mid-level qualifications. They amounted to 13.3% of the employees in public services and utilities, as well as commerce—10.6%, and formed the backbone of highly qualified employees engaged in various branches of industry, construction, transportation, communications, geology, and mineral prospecting, 16.5% (compared with 7% among Kazakhs). There was a high percentage of Belorussians, Ukrainians, and Poles among machinery and vehicle operators, as well as fitters and assembly workers (22.6%, 20.8%, 20.4%, respectively, compared with 11.5% among Kazakhs).11 In this way, the Kazakhs held the majority in only two of the nine different types of job we looked at. As for the sectoral preferences of the Slavic population, they were mainly defined by an urbanized lifestyle and a high qualification level.
At the turn of the 21st century, the language problem was still a complicated and subtle issue. As early as 22 September, 1989, the Law on Languages of the Kazakh S.S.R. was adopted, in which Kazakh was declared the state language, and Russian the language of communication among different nationalities, which greatly insulted the Russian population.
The reasons for this phenomenon are very obvious. First, they are explained by the long years of domination of the Russian language in many spheres of public life, which meant that Russians did not have to learn the languages of other ethnic groups. As a result of this, very few Russians in the republic have a command of the Kazakh language (only 0.9% according to the 1989 census). Second, significant numbers of Russians, Ukrainians, and Belorussians were clearly not ready for the drastic change in their ethnic status. We will note that the law on language in Kazakhstan was the most liberal of all similar laws adopted in the republics of the Soviet Union, which many analysts admit.12 Only 7% of Russians believe that their future in the republic is directly related to learning the Kazakh language. In so doing, 42% of Kazakhs believe that Russians would do best to learn the language and culture of the indigenous population.13 With the passage of time, it is possible to make a real evaluation of the strategy chosen by the Slavs under the new conditions. The results of the census recorded that 14.5% of them had a command of the Kazakh language. By the beginning of the new millennium, this index was the highest among Russians—14.9%, among Ukrainians—12.6%, and among Belorussians and Poles—9.9%. In so doing, 100% of Russians had command of the language of their own nationality, 13.5% of Belorussians, 16.1% of Ukrainians, and 9.1% of Poles. Seventy-five percent of Kazakhs had a command of Russian, and between 98.3% and 99.4% of the representatives of other Slavic nationalities. The situation in the cities and rural areas developed differently. The number of people with a command of the Kazakh language was higher among Russians in rural areas—15.4% than in the cities—14.7%. Among Ukrainians, Belorussians, and Poles, on the contrary, the situation was more favorable in the cities than in the villages.14
It should also be noted that after Kazakhstan acquired state independence, its Slavic population found itself in a difficult period of national development. We believe that today Slavic Kazakhstanis constitute an essentially stable portion of the republic’s residents, who have survived the “painful” stage of adaptation to the changing conditions.
There are still many problems which must be resolved rationally and carefully. We believe there are two development scenarios here. The first requires the Slavic peoples to shift from their status as the de facto majority to being willing to accept the status of an ethnic minority. The main problem associated with the professional growth of a resident of our republic is not national affiliation, but lack of knowledge of the Kazakh language. We are deeply convinced that learning it and having a command of it does not mean losing one’s ethnic individuality. In addition, resolving the adaptation problem also depends on the authorities. They must take into account not only the economic and environmental expediency of the decisions adopted, but also their safety for the ethnocultural milieu of the population, which essentially all socially significant projects have an influence on. This means that projects should undergo ethnoenvironmental experts’ examinations. In so doing, the main question to be considered is what the consequences of the decisions adopted might be for the ethnocultural groups. Experience with this kind of experts’ examination has been accumulated abroad, including in Russia.15 A determining, if not the main, role in this problem is played by Russia’s policy toward its fellow countrymen living in the new independent states. As time has shown, one bilateral agreement alone on civilian questions signed by the presidents of Russia and Kazakhstan in Moscow in January 1995 removed the most urgent problems, although it did not resolve everything. But it was the first step toward settling them. Of course, there must be further integration between Kazakhstan and Russia. The second alternative for the development of events is the mass exodus of the Slavic population from Kazakhstan. Our republic is not interested in this. Far-sighted politicians understand that its departure will mean irretrievably losing the most qualified workers, academic and technical intelligentsia, and high-class specialists. For Kazakhstan, the mass exodus of Slavic and other nationalities will mean the loss of an entire stratum of culture. The republic is primarily interested in creating real conditions for integration in the new situation. No one can say today which of these scenarios will become a reality in the new millennium, only time will tell.
1 See: Natsional’niy sostav naselenia Respubliki Kazakhstan. Itogi perepisi naselenia 1999 goda v Respublike Kazakhstan , Vol. 1, Almaty, 2000, p. 6.
2 See: Itogi Vsesoiuznoi perepisi naselenia 1989 goda, Vol. 3, Almaty, 1992, pp. 3, 4.
3 See: Migratsii i novye diaspory v postsovetskikh gosudarstvakh, Moscow, 1996, p. 211.
4 See: Zh. Zaionchkovskaia, “Migratsionnye sviazi Rossii posle raspada SSSR,” in: Migratsionnyie protsessy posle raspada SSSR, Moscow, 1994, p. 16; Naselenie Rossii 1999, Seventh Annual Demographic Report, Moscow, 2000, p. 138.
5 See: Naselenie Respubliki Kazakhstan po natsional’nostiam, polu i vozrastu, Vol. 4, Part 1, Almaty, 2000, pp. 6-9.
6 See: Statisticheskiy iezhegodnik Kazakhstana 2000, Almaty, 2000, pp. 94-95.
7 See: Ibid., pp. 98-99.
8 See: Kazakhstan, 1991-2001, Informational-Analytical Collection, Republic of Kazakhstan Statistics Agency, Almaty, 2001, p. 64.
9 See: Zaniatoe naselenie Respubliki Kazakhstan po natsional’nostiam i zaniatiiam. Itogi perepisi naselenia 1999 goda v Respublike Kazakhstan, Vol. 3, Almaty, 2001, p. 5.
10 See: Ibid., pp. 43, 45, 52, 56.
11 See: Ibid., pp. 10, 11.
12 See: B. Eshment, “Problemy russkikh Kazakhstana—etnichnost ili politika,” Diaspory, No. 2-3, 1999, p. 173.
13 See: Migratsii i novye diaspory v postsovetskikh gosudarstvakh, p. 209.
14 See: Naselenie Respubliki Kazakhstan po natsional’nostiam i vladeniiu iazykami, Vol. 2, Almaty, 2000, pp. 10, 12.
15 See: Metody etnoekologicheskoi ekspertizy, Moscow, 1999, p. 9.