The Protest Trends. What Does the Future Hold for Kazakhstan?

Newspaper Central Asia Monitor has published an interview with political expert Nurtay Mustafayev titled «Fleeing the Aul: What to Do with the Mass Migration from Rural Areas to Cities?» In it, the famous Kazakh expert assesses the situation with criticism. Of course, he couldn’t refrain from the philippic addressed to the Kazakh nationalists who, «instead of helping, say, Atabek», are «travelling around „brussels“ to meet with the runaway oligarchs».  

Let us highlight the most crucial, in our opinion, observations of Nurtay Mustafayev:

  • Kazakhstan is experiencing the unprecedented growth of internal migration since acquiring independence.  
  • A significant part of the increased internal migration flow is accounted for by the «village — city» movement.
  • In 2018, a combined total of 319 thousand Kazakhs arrived at the three cities of the republican subordination (Nur-Sultan (previously Astana), Almaty and Shymkent) primarily from rural areas. Minus those who left, the growth of the city population constituted 91.3 people by means of internal migration.
  • The unregulated migration from villages to big cities and the problems associated with has started even before the collapse of the USSR and is continuing in sovereign and independent Kazakhstan.
  • The country is experiencing a sharp polarization among the population in terms of the income level, the worsening of the way of life in the village, the massive exodus of the villagers to big cities in the hopes for a better life. With that, the position of the authorities in regard to the migrants has always been aggressively disrespectful.
  • Currently, the authorities assess the sharp increase of internal migration as a threat, therefore, they have begun paying attention to it and make certain efforts to solve the problem.
  • The urbanization is a global trend and is inevitable, therefore, Kazakhstan will not manage to avoid it which, by the way, is only going to be helped forward by the severe nature and climate conditions.
  • The state is planning to bring the level and the quality of rural life more in line with the level and the quality of life in big cities and, to achieve this goal, not only has it worked out and approved a number of national programs but begun putting them into practice.
  • The chances that the state will be able to ensure the level and the quality of life in rural areas that will be comparable with that of big cities do not exist.

Though we mainly agree with these ideas, we would like to draw the reader’s attention to the fact that the demographic processes that are now going on in Kazakhstan will inevitably affect the internal political processes as well. So, for instance, the massive outflow of the Kazakhs from rural areas to big cities (first of all, to the three biggest residential areas of the country) has already resulted is the following consequences:

1) Extensive «bidonvilles», in other words, residential areas with the high density of spontaneous development characterized by the absence of sharp deficit of the main infrastructure (electricity, water-supply line, water-waste disposal, garbage disposal, administration) necessary for the fully-functional social life of a person and by the highly marginalized social environment.

2) The share of the marginalized population without permanent jobs and sources of income, that is scraping by via casual earnings, payments from the government as part of the social aid programs as well as via the support of the family has noticeably grown.

3) The actual unemployment rate is noticeably higher than shows by the official data since a part of the unemployed are listed as «self-employed».

With that, the state’s capabilities to decrease the level of unemployment via continuing education and retraining, moving the people to the labor-deficit regions or stimulating jobs creation are not very effective due to the fact that the national economy, especially the processing industry and the service sectors, is not competitively viable and, therefore, cannot develop gradually and noticeably increase the demand for labor force.

In our opinion, Kazakhstan has already formed a stable and a rather large social stratum that:

  • Does not feel indebted to the state and the political system in the slightest since its socio-economic standing has significantly worsened since the collapse of the USSR and the appearance of sovereign and independent Kazakhstan.
  • Has no real possibilities to change its socio-economic status and, therefore, well-being. With that, the existing mechanisms of social support of this category of the citizens are too weak economically and too complex bureaucratically.
  • Is like «combustible» material that, even though it cannot be organized by the external forces and directed at any given side, is capable of becoming unexpectedly active, even aggressive, if, at any given time or in any given place, the state becomes weak or dysfunctional.
  • Will inevitably grow in number due to the continuation of the urbanization process and the outflow of the citizens from rural areas to big cities.

It is hard to estimate how big this stratum is in number as well as to offer a terminology to describe it. In our opinion, using the word «marginal», in this case, is not only offensive but incorrect since there is a big difference between those can indeed by described by this word and those Kazakhs who have been forced to move from villages to cities and change their way of life together with their place of residence.

Since, according to the authorities’ forecast, the level of urbanization in Kazakhstan will constantly grow, every ten percent of such growth will result in about a million of new city residents. And this mass will not only have to build their nests in a new place but to adapt to the new way of life as well. For this reason, we believe that, in terms of the social consequences, what has been going on in Kazakhstan for more than two decades is not that different from the massive collectivization that took place in the USSR. Except for the absence of the state violence and a large number of victims perhaps.

At this point, it is impossible to tell how active this social stratum will be in the internal political domain and, if it will be, then in what direction it will be moving (towards democracy and free market or, alternatively, towards nationalism, religion, negation of modernity and its achievements). It is possible, however, that it is these people (the people that have lost practically everything «expect for their chains», the people that, so far, have gone unnoticed by Akorda  and «the Library» and by their political opponents as well), that will serve as the most crucial argument in choosing the direction of the future in which Kazakhstan will move.


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