China Is Delighted With ‘Chinese-Speaking Kazakh President’, Who Seemingly Is Not So Fluent In State Language Of Kazakhstan – OpEd

South China Morning Post, in an article entitled, ‘Xi Jinping extends birthday wishes to Chinese-speaking Kazakh president known for standing up to Putin’, said: “Zhu Yongbiao, professor of politics and international relations at the Central Asia research institute at Lanzhou University, said the fact that Tokayev’s birthday coincided with his state visit and the summit could be seen as an arrangement to make him feel “particularly valued and cherished by his friends”. Zhu said the birthday greetings reflected the “closeness of the personal relationship between President Xi and Tokayev” and showed a sense of ease between the two leaders. He noted that is was relatively rare for a Chinese president to have “direct and intimate” communication with a leader from another country, without the need for translation…Born in 1953 to a family of Soviet intellectuals, Tokayev has served as Kazakhstan’s foreign minister and prime minister. He also speaks fluent English and French…”

Let’s add to the above another important fact: Kassym-Jomart Tokayev got his high and higher education in Russian. So, it is his first language.

Kazakhstan has got big problems with ensuring linguistic homogeneity, particularly as the country is headed by the President who has given the impression of being not fluent in Kazakh and not able to freely carry on a conversation, while using the State language. He mainly uses Russian while doing the public speaking. That’s understandable, given his professional life experience and educational background. His first working language has been and is the State language of the Russian Federation.

Russian President Vladimir Putin apparently took into account such a factor, while seeing Kazakhstan as ‘a Russophone State in the full sense of the word’.

Some of MPs from his ruling party go even further. Thus, Biisultan Khamzaev, a member of the State Duma Committee on security and anti-corruption, spoke in favor of holding a referendum on ‘the reunification of Kazakhstan with the historical homeland – Russia’. “Central Asia is Russian land! There are discussions on the internet about the possible reunification of Kazakhstan with Russia […] I support the holding of a referendum in Kazakhstan on reunification with its historical homeland – Russia”, – he wrote in his Facebook account. Mr.Khamzaev added that Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev delivers his statements in Russian, which, in his opinion, ‘may be taken as an indicator that this [Kazakhstan] is [originally] Russian land’.

The Russian authors seem to be glad to say that Mr.Tokayev has decided to ‘freeze this transition [to the Latin alphabet] and leave everything as it is’, given that ‘the language issue is increasingly being raised by Russia’.

Why did B.Brauer, a German citizen, speak Kazakh much better than Mr.Tokayev?!

But it seems not to be just a matter of vulnerability to Russian pressures. Yet back in 2004, Murat Uteghenov, a Kazakh journalist, in his piece entitled ‘Why does B.Brauer, a German citizen, speak Kazakh much better than Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan K.Tokayev?!’, said the following: “In 2002, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan, representing the [Kazakh] government in Parliament, achieved the exclusion from the bill ‘On The Diplomatic Service’ of an article with the wording ‘a person entering the diplomatic service must know the official State language’. We can’t say unequivocally anything about our other diplomats. But one thing is for sure: If accepted and strictly observed as a part of the bill ‘On The Diplomatic Service’, the article with the wording ‘a person entering the diplomatic service must know the official State language’ would have cast serious doubt on the continued presence of Erlan Idrisov [Kazakh FM in 1999-2002] and even Kassym-Jomart Tokayev himself [Prime Minister of Kazakhstan in 1999-2002] in the [Kazakh] foreign service. Those gentlemen knew what they were fighting for in Parliament then”.

It was a long while ago. Not much seems to have changed in this regard since then. It may sound too pessimistic, but you can judge it for yourself.

At the summit held in Astana in October, 2022, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev discussed with Russian President Vladimir Putin the idea of promoting the Russian language in the CIS and proposed creating an international organization to support and promote the Russian language in the post-Soviet countries. A week later he pointed to ‘the inadmissibility of using the Kazakh language for political games’.

At the summit held in St. Petersburg in December 2022, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev declared that the next year would become the year of the Russian language. The public at home has been ambiguously treating Tokayev’s idea: critics believe that in a country where the Russian language is used almost everywhere, it is necessary to support and promote Kazakh. Yet Tokaev, being a Russian-speaking person, believes that ‘the application field of the Kazakh language is expanding every year’ and ‘therefore, there is no cause for concern’.

Even the top Kazakhstani official in charge of languages, Adil’bek Kaba, obviously doesn’t agree with him. This representative from the relevant governmental agency confirmed that there was a real risk that Kazakh would become a calque [a copy] of Russian. “Our language becomes detached from its Kazakh nature, turning more and more primitive. We are worried that the nation will lose its roots”, he said. Adil’bek Kaba also admitted: “Truth be told, there is a Russian language [original] behind every document”. According to him, the documents are first being prepared in Russian and then translated into Kazakh for the record.

The Kazakh president cannot but knows all this. But, nevertheless, he clearly believes that everything is normal with the official state language of Kazakhstan and apparently wants others to believe this, too.

It turns out, that in this case Mr.Tokayev, who time and again takes care about the Russian language and believes that there are ‘no cause for concern’ over the Kazakh language, radically disagrees not only with the Kazakh majority, which makes up 70% of the population in Kazakhstan, but even with his own top official responsible for the development of the languages in the country.

It may be supposed that for Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the need to deliver a speech in Kazakh is a kind of stepping outside of his comfort zone. That’s why his working meetings are likely being held in Russian nowadays. Anyway, public speeches and TV interviews by the Kazakh cabinet ministers (and other high-level officials) and MPs in Russian have become increasingly frequent.

Not only that, he began promoting people without the sufficient knowledge of State language to ministerial posts.

Satkaliyev is not fluent in Kazakh, but he belongs to the Jalaiyr tribe just as does Tokayev

Here is a recent example of how this is being done., in a piece entitled ‘In Kazakhstan, Russian-speaking minister is being compelled to learn Kazakh’, reported: “On April 6, [Almassadam] Satkaliyev [who had been appointed the new Minister of Energy of Kazakhstan just two days earlier] was presenting the bill ‘On Heat Power Engineering’ to the members of the Majilis [lower chamber of the Parliament of Kazakhstan]. MP Bakytzhan Bazarbek made a remark that the minister had to speak the official state language of Kazakhstan. “If you cannot speak Kazakh, you must have a [Kazakh speaking] assistant”, he said”. After the remark by MP, the head of the Energy Ministry was not at a loss and promised to learn the Kazakh language in 6 months.

For more than a quarter of a century, Almassadam Satkaliyev has been working for state companies and in the civil service. Just now, in the fifty-third year of his age, he has promised to engage seriously learning the official State language of Kazakhstan. The question is: what he had been doing so far? Almassadam Satkaliyev, not an oil engineer nor electricity engineer himself, is a mechanic, mathematician-applier by training. He is also not fluent in the official State language of Kazakhstan. But with all this, Almassadam Satkaliyev, according to Wikipedia, belongs to the Jalaiyr tribe of the Senior zhuz, just as does the current Kazakh president, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. This is the reality Kazakhstan is dealing with today.