Nation-Building amid Authoritarian Modernization: the Kazakhstan Case

DOI: 10.20542/0131-2227-2016-60-6-70-79

E. Petrenko, Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations, Russian Academy of Sciences (IMEMO), 23, Profsoyuznaya Str., Moscow, 117997, Russian Federation (

Abstract. Historically, the Kazakh state was built on the basis of common ethnical identity, as the territorial factor could not be a common ground for nomadic tribes in the classical meaning of nation-building. Both common culture and language played a great role in it as well, but ethnicity was the main force that united people from different groups in one nation. The politicization of ethnical identity existed in Kazakhstani political discourse since the origin of the first Kazakh khanate until recently. It helped people to distinguish themselves from others, such as neighboring tribes in the Middle Ages, the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union, and the Russian Federation later. After the collapse of the USSR, Kazakhstani authorities escalated the use of ethnical identity as a basis for nation-building, emphasizing their symbolic politics to recreate Kazakh symbols and heroes. That aggravated the Russian-Kazakh rivalry and cultural opposition, which resulted in further reshaping of nation-building in order to create the Kazakhstani nation instead of the Kazakh nation. With help of this new approach, Kazakhstan is seen by its leader Nursultan Nazarbaev as a future Eurasian hub which would connect both East and West, and become a leader of the Central Asian region. To achieve this, Kazakhstan needs to be modernized. Under current regime, it is being done in an authoritative manner. Being a subject of nation-building, authorities are trying to use this process as a resource for social modernization. They are attempting to build a nation around the core of the Kazakh culture supposed to use linguistic, cultural and ethnical potential to succeed in international relations. Turning weakness into strength would help Kazakhstan become a regional leader in the relatively near future. However, to achieve this goal, Kazakhstan needs to modernize its social and economic sphere, to make both more democratic, so that minor groups in the country are ensured in their rights and may use their opportunities for their own good and for the benefit of the country. If this happens, we believe that Kazakhstan would have a stable society able to withstand even the change of the country's leader, without escalation of conflicts now suppressed by authorities. 

Keywords: Kazakhstan, nation, nation-building, national and ethnical identity, politicization of ethnicity 

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For citation:
Petrenko E. Nation-Building amid Authoritarian Modernization: the Kazakhstan Case. World Eonomy and International Relations, 2016, vol. 60, No 6, pp. 70-79.

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