Constitutional framework of political order and ethnopolitical clashes in the Republic of Kazakhstan
Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №3 - 2011
Author: Sarsekeyev Massat, Kazakh National Pedagogic University, Almaty, Kazakhstan
A constitution is a code of legal norms which has supreme legal
force and regulates the basis for relations between a person and society on the
one part and the state on the other part. A constitution has a sociopolitical
dimension, which means that it is a kind of a social contract which regulates
the political interests of social groups. Failing such a contract it would be
difficult to reach consensus in the society.  However, process of discussion
and adoption of the Constitution can trigger off political and legal conflicts.
Legal conflicts connected with mass events have certain features. As
a rule, these are political and ethnic relations between a group of population,
social strata and political parties. Legal aspect of such mutual relations does
not arise at once instead it is being formed as far as relations are get
institutionalized. For instance, subject of self-determination of a nation,
idea of establishment of the state and then proclamation of sovereignty,
delineation of state borders, etc. arises in an ethnopolitical conflict. It is
impossible to clench all these matters without adoption of relevant legal acts.
Meanwhile, legal aspect of a conflict is formed from that moment and further it
can evolve within legal procedures. Ethnopolitical confrontations in Kazakhstan
between the Kazakh and the Russian population during discussion and approval of
the Constitution of the country had the very same features.
One of points at issue was a text of the preamble of the
Constitution which reads as follows: “We, the people of Kazakhstan, united by a
common historic fate, creating a state on the indigenous Kazakh
land … accept this Constitution.”.  As a rule preamble of the Constitution
sets out conceptual provisions which represent its platform and axiological
values which convey philosophy of the basic law of a country.
Preamble of the Constitution purports that the people of Kazakhstan
is a main subject and is a sole source of state power in the country. However,
it contains not only political and legal aspect but also historical and
cultural context. On the one hand it reflects the existing political reality,
i.e. polyethnic composition of the population. On the other hand this wording
of the preamble tried to find an idea and political compromise which would help
reach some common denominator in polar positions held at that time by
representatives of the Kazakh and the Russian ethnicities in their views of
both their history and shared political future. Indeed the wording “people
united by a common historic fate” is an appeal to collective historical memory
which implies common achievements, experience and hardships with an urge to
proceed to creating common statehood, to become a full subject of joint future
for every ethnos and national minority residing in the republic. At that
mentioning of “the indigenous Kazakh land” in the Constitution on the one hand
is an idea which confirms a thought of a continuous process of ethnogenesis of
the Kazakh nation and on the other hand a stating fact of new political
reality, i.e. proclamation of the Republic of Kazakhstan. It only confirms the
thought that citizens in this state must not be derogated from their rights in
terms of ethnic affiliation and at the same time priority should be given to
symbols, standards and values of the Kazakh culture during a process of
political socialization of a person. That is why this formula of interethnic
consensus is quite compromise both in terms of content and form and it has been
fixed in the Constitution of the country.
Another matter of dispute between representatives of the Kazakh and
the Russian ethnicities was clause 1 article 2 of the Constitution of the Republic of
Kazakhstan “The Republic of Kazakhstan is a unitary state with a presidential
form of government.”  Following USSR collapse former Soviet republics marked
their political frontiers which divided previously uniform space into separate
territories. Territories of residency of different ethnicities in the Soviet Union
did not always coincide with the administrative borders. The former USSR had the widest
settlement of the Russian ethnos. One of biggest Russian diasporas
outside their historical native land stayed in Kazakhstan. If one studies
geography of settlement of the Russian ethnos in Kazakhstan, the Russians made
the bulk of the urban population and major industrial centers as well as in
northern and north-western regions of Kazakhstan. That fact was attributed to
both socioeconomic and historical and geographic reasons.
Northeastern region of Kazakhstan was turning into one of seats of
separatist attitude in the republic. That time the region had strong
pro-Russian attitudes. Moreover, such aspirations were heated by activities of
informal regional leaders and politicians of Republic-wide and Union-wide
level. In particular, well-known deputies of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR
Petrushenko A., Vassilyeva T., and deputies of the Republic’s Parliament
Galenko A., Vodolazov A. were active organizers of numerous political
separatist campaigns. In particular, Vassilyeva T. has repeatedly advocated
separation of the right bank of Irtysh River of Kazakhstan and its joining Russia
or establishment of a national autonomy.  Developments following a Transdniestria
variant could have lead to bad political after-effects.
Another separatism seat was formed in western Kazakhstan when in June 1990 Ural Cossacks established a revival committee which adopted
the Declaration of establishment of autonomy for Ural Cossacks, revision of the
borders of the Kazakh SSR, restoration of the territorial division of Russian
in the borders existing before 1917. The adopted manifest substantiated
separation of a number of oblasts of Kazakhstan to the benefit of Russia. Anti-separatism meetings held in cities of the republic were a response to that
initiative. Azat public movement came up with that idea and it managed to
mobilize thousands of supporters against celebration of 400 years of service of
autocracy by Ural Cossaks.
Tension began to get more exacerbated on September 15, when 800
representatives of the Cossak communities wearing military uniform presented
themselves in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. The atmosphere reached its
peak at midday. The authorities decided to take the Cossaks away to railway
stations and to send them to their homes in order to avoid outrages. Departure
of Cossaks and then supporters of Azat GDK who earlier arrived in the city
allowed easing tension which finally subsided. 
Another subject of ethnopolitical conflict was a principle of single
citizenship which is fixed in clause 3 article 10 of the Constitution reading
as follows “Foreign citizenship of a citizen of the Republic shall not be
recognized.”  In such manner it was legislatively determined that no citizen
of Kazakhstan can have valid citizenship of any other state. Citizen of Kazakhstan can receive and have citizenship of Kazakhstan provided that he/she simultaneously does
not have any other citizenship.
At that time representatives of not indigenous population accounted
for 60% in the ethnic structure of the republic. Moreover, a lot of them had
their historical native land, for instance, ethnic Germans, Poles, Greeks. That
is why it was impossible for the principle of single citizenship not to become
a subject of high-pitched arguments in poliethnic cultural environment.
However, it was still the ethnic Russians who voiced the strongest protest in
that problem. Several reasons were behind such behavior. First, disagreement
with a loss of one big native land and their formerly dominating
politico-economical and sociocultural status in it and second, concerns in
connection with possible complication of trade and economic and humanitarian
relations between neighboring regions of the two countries.
Nevertheless the Constitution has recognized single citizenship
principle which was advocated by national patriotic forces and that decision
was substantiated by the following arguments of political and legal nature.
Military service in Kazakhstan is universal and every citizen of conscription
age must do military service for a regular term in the armed forces of the
country. It is also a constitutional obligation of a citizen which is confirmed
in the Constitution where it is stated that protection of the Republic of Kazakhstan is a solemn duty and obligation of each its citizen. In case if any
citizen of Kazakhstan has citizenship of another state it will be impossible
for such citizen to discharge this constitutional obligation to protect his
native land because foreign citizens do not have a right to serve in the Armed
Forces of the Republic of Kazakhstan.
Another political and legal conflict which would arise in case if
dual citizenship principle was approved in the republic is that it would be
impossible for any citizen to exercise his/her elective right, namely to be
elected and to elect to the state agencies, to participate in republic-wide
referendums or to have access to civil service because due to legal and political
reasons such rights cannot be recognized for a citizen of any other nation.
This principle has also been fixed in the Constitution of Kazakhstan.
Still key point at issue was determination of a status of the Kazakh
language and the Russian language and political and legal position of Kazakhstan as a sovereign nation. 1990s were featured with growing tension in northern
regions caused by ambiguous response of the Russian speaking population with
respect to the status of languages and system of state in Kazakhstan. In late November a local Soviet in Ust-Kamenogorsk initiated amendments to a
draft of new Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan. The country began
discussing a new version of the basic law which entailed growing tension on
The population began to send to Ust-Kamenogorsk Soviet hundreds of
remarks, amendments and suggestions related to a draft of the new Constitution.
Essentially they concerned status of the languages, establishment of two
chambers in the Parliament, i.e. Soviet of the Republic and Sovient of
Nationalities, deleting the word “unitary” from draft wording. Deputies of the
City Soviet sent their proposals to Almaty. Not all suggestions were adopted
and it caused outcry of a part of the population voiced at large-scale meetings
throughout the republic. .
Discussion of a constitutional status of the state language has
caused maximum exacerbation in Kazakhstan’s society. The Constitution assigns
state status to the Kazakh language while the Russian language is used along
with it in state organizations and bodies of local self-government and the
state sees to creating conditions for studying and developing languages of the
people of Kazakhstan. 
National and patriotic movements were not broadly developed in post
Soviet Kazakhstan due to historical and political reasons. Nationalism ideology
failed in the republic and did not develop into a dominating trend of internal
policy. That is why history of Kazakhstan and especially the language gained
meaning of a national idea among national patriots. They assigned to the
language a part of rousing national feeling of the Kazakhs which was amorphous
at that time and integration of the people based on political idea. Language
was used as a tool to identify the Kazakh ethnos and to shape a new
sociocultural contest of its existence in political and legal conditions of the
post Soviet period. But on the other hand having provided the Kazakh language
with a status of an equivalent of the national idea it was difficult to avoid
assigning sacral meaning to it. The Kazakh language was begun to be perceived
as a treasury of the national culture and therefore its role and position were
determined by the moral and ethical mission which was imposed on it in the work
of reviving national self-awareness.
Meanwhile, representatives of Slavic movements of Kazakhstan maintained an opposite view of the language problem. In their opinion the
Russian language also has to be assigned status of the state language.
Arguments in favor of that stance were its popularity in the post soviet space,
wide sphere of application in the republic, poliethnic composition of Kazakhstan’s population. However, status of the official language granted to the Russian
language the field of use and opportunities of application of which are not
less than those compared to the Kazakh even though guaranteed by the
Constitution caused their vigorous protests. Slavic public movements held
several campaigns including pickets, meetings, demonstrations and even arranged
a number of publications in printed mass media and speeches on TV where they
stated their disagreement with unequal in their opinion status of the
languages. They argued that it indicated obvious discrimination in terms of
language. Thus, a linguistic problem despite constitutional guarantees of
ensuring full functioning of the languages was in their opinion direct
consequence of unequal legal status of the languages.
It should be said that those statements of representatives of the
two ethnoses contained more commitment and political assessment rather than
constitutional and legal since in fact a language is rather a tool than a
feature of political status or sacred value. First of all it is a tool of
communication and exchange of information. And this is functional mission of
the use of language. Even though an opportunity to settle linguistic clashes
within the constitutional and legal process is first of all connected with use
of a functional approach to settlement of language-related problems.
1. Sapargaliyev G. (2007). Constitutional law: academic course.
Almaty: Zhety Zhargy, p.6.
2. Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan. (2009). Almaty: Zhety
3. Ibidem. p.72.
4. Ignatov F. (1990, 9 September). For the sake of concord. Kazakhstanskaya
5. Potential ethnic conflicts in Kazakhstan and preventive
ethnoploicy. (1997). Almaty: KISI. P.24.
6. Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan. (2009). Almaty: Zhety
7. Akava A. (1992, 28 November). Meeting is put off. Kazakhstanskaya
8. Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan. (2009). Almaty: Zhety
Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №3 - 2011