Kazakhstan's future lies in the Kazakh language

These are the words of Nursultan Abishevich Nazarbaev, president of the Republic of Kazakhstan. This conclusion, along with the determination of the immediate future of the Kazakh language, which has received state status, shows the current state of this language which has yet to enjoy widespread usage in all spheres of our public life.

Just before the dawn of the Kazakh nation's independence, i.e., in 1989, the Kazakh language was declared the official state language. In 1995 a constitutional resolution was passed that is clearly and precisely spelled out in article 7 of the Constitution: "The state language of the Republic of Kazakhstan shall be Kazakh." The law adopted two years after this resolution, "On languages in the Republic of Kazakhstan", states that "the state language in the Republic of Kazakhstan shall be Kazakh", and that it is necessary to provide all the organizational, material, and technical conditions needed to enable all citizens of the Republic of Kazakhstan to master the state language easily and free of charge. The government passed numerous acts and resolutions in order to comply with this law. State programs were implemented to expand the sphere of language application.

Thus, throughout an entire region where the native language had been trampled over the course of many years, a new movement began: it became the goal to freely use the language in public life. In state organizations and local authorities, record keeping began to be converted to the state language. Kazakh-language media outlets began to increase in number.

Despite these positive changes, in many spheres of our society's daily activity Kazakh remains merely a language of translation. This is due to deep-running political and judicial factors.

For approximately 300 years the Kazakh community did not comprise a full-blooded government, and could not manage its own affairs. The Kazakh people were unable to form a civilized nation. Many difficulties arose due to the fact that, from the outset, the Kazakh people did not pass through the phase of capitalism, instead "jumping" from feudalism to socialism. In other words, they skipped a natural phase of social development.

The Soviet government, having put an end to the civil war and grown somewhat stronger, began conducting a rather contradictory policy with regard to national issues. This influenced all the national republics, and in certain cases was taken to extremes. The decree of the Council of People's Commisars of the Kazakh SSR dated February 2, 1921, "On the manner and form of using the Kazakh and Russian languages in state establishments of the Republic", states: "All republican central and provincial establishments must maintain records and interactions in the Russian language".

The victory of socialism in the 1930s in the Soviet Union left national interests and issues overshadowed by socialistic internationalism. Unity of form and content was destroyed, and propaganda of the culture of socialist content and national form began. On April 5, 1938, a special resolution was issued: "On obligatory study of the Russian language in Kazakh schools". These measures lead to an abrupt change in the Kakazh language's sphere of application. The result was that 700 Kazakh schools in Kazakhstan were closed. Mixed schools began to spring up like weeds.

The law "On languages in the Republic of Kazakhstan" was passed at a time when the country was in the midst of a complex demographic situation. While the number of Kazakhs did not exceed 40% of the population in their own land, Russians, Ukrainians, and Belorussians numbered over 7 million persons, comprising over 40% of the total population. This factor must not be ignored, given that the first document proclaiming freedom – the Declaration of the State Sovereignty of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic – ascribed primary importance to the task of consolidating and fortifying good relations among the peoples living in our country.

In the years of independence, significant changes began taking place in our society’s socio-political sphere. The arrival of market relations to a certain degree formed our economy. The demographic situation no longer bears any comparison with that of ten years ago. Today, representatives of the Kazakh nationality comprise 63% of the total population. Despite weak development of the state language, it has become imperative for representatives of all ethnic groups and diasporas to acknowledge Kazakhstan as their homeland.

The Kazakh language, however, the state language now for twenty years, in reality is unable to achieve its actual status. Schools in which studies are conducted in Kazakh account for less than half of the approximately eight thousand secondary schools across the republic. The same situation is witnessed in vocational secondary and postsecondary educational institutions. And the current percentage of Kazakh-language media outlets is less than satisfactory to our country-forming nation.

On the basis of the conviction that these longstanding difficulties can only be overcome by passing a special law regarding the state language, in 2008 a group of academicians from the Kazakh Humanitarian and Judicial University of Astana drew up a proposed law "On the state language of the Republic of Kazakhstan". It was published in volume No. 14 (903) in 2008 by the republican newspaper Ana tílí. The government, however, did has not accepted the proposal. Executive authorities hold that the current law "On languages" is sufficient to resolve the situation.

To be sure, passing the law would incur its own difficulties. But it is normal for all civilized governments to take the interests of the vast majority into account. Most importantly, if desired the proposed law could be discussed in detail and examined from all angles so as to develop the most optimal version. The number of linguists, noted people working with language policy, and philologists, and the level of education and moral strength of the deputates in the parliament, are quite sufficient to accomplish this.

Passing a law regarding the state language would create new linguistic relations in society, and would increase its role as a significant factor in consolidating all the peoples residing in Kazakhstan. At present, laws regarding the state language are in effect in nearly all the countries of the post-Soviet region.

In the opinion of many philologists, it is impossible to correct the current situation without adopting a special law regarding the state language. A regulatory basis for adopting such a law could be found in article 93 of our primary law, which states the following: "In order to implement article 7 of the Constitution, the Government and local representative and executive authorities shall provide all the necessary organizational, material, and technical conditions needed to enable all the citizens of the Republic of Kazakhstan to master the state language easily and free of charge in compliance with a special law".

Moreover, due to the disagreement between the goal and the concept of the current law "On languages of the Republic of Kazakhstan", the latter has failed and will fail to create the necessary environment for free development of the state language in society. In all honesty, the law contains only article 4 – "The state language of the Republic of Kazakhstan". The remaining articles have not a few regulations that contradict the state status of the Kazakh language.

For example, the first part of article 23, "Legal protection of languages", states: "The state and other languages in the Republic of Kazakhstan shall be under state protection." And in passing from one ministry to the next, an important regulation specified in the third part of the article was neglected, which states: "The list of professions, specialties, and posts requiring sufficient knowledge of the state language in accordance with qualification requirements is established by the laws of the Republic of Kazakhstan".

All of the above has obtained state status, but its status is the current, not fully realized judicial aspects of the Kazakh language. There is also the human and social point of view. Most importantly, the fact must not be ignored that the national language is dependent on the level of awareness, national pride, and the degree of its demand. Our people lack the awareness that one ought not to set oneself higher or lower than others. Indeed, the spirit of independence does not fully develop us. Here it would not be out of place to quote one of the noble sons of the Turkic world, Mustafa Shokai: "Is our nation's independence possible without national spirit? History knows and has seen no such thing. A nation's freedom is the result of national spirit. And national spirit itself develops and bears fruit on the soil of freedom and the nation's independence."

Hence, the fate of the state language requires an awakening of national existence. To be quite frank, if one examines the problem more in depth, the means of action, i.e., the fate of the Kazakh language, is in the hands of Kazakhs themselves. In civilized countries the fate of the language is decided by the activity of the masses, and the level of dignity of the Kazakhs in power. And this must be our chief path. This has been borne out indisputably in our own life over the past twenty years, and the historical experience of advanced peoples.

Only after the passing of a law regarding the state language, and the full acknowledgement of the moral strength of our people's independence, will our president’s current strategic goal – "Kazakhstan's future lies in the Kazakh language" – become a daily reality.