Clarifying Attitudes in Northern Kazakhstan
An open letter to EurasiaNet correspondent Joanna Lillis concerning an April 14 report, headlined “Russians Blend Loyalty to Nazarbayev with Pro-Kremlin Sentiments.”
Dear Ms. Lillis:
We thank you for sharing with us the article, which was based on interviews with us and our compatriots. We are also thankful for keeping your promise not to distort our words.
At the same time, we were disappointed to see that not included in the article were some of our statements that we believe are key to clarifying our position on the matters about which you asked us.
In particular, we mentioned that you were not the only Western guest to visit our city recently to inquire about the life of the Russian minority in sovereign Kazakhstan. Not long ago, we met with OSCE representatives that inquired about the matter too. Also, we frankly stated to you that after the well-known events in Yugoslavia, Egypt, Libya, and especially Ukraine, we do not believe in the West’s good intentions towards us, the Russian community. The West, which is pragmatic to the level of open cynicism, only cares about matters related to its selfish interests. The West only sees other nations as a means to achieve its not-always-noble ends. The West does not like pro-Russian policies of the government of Kazakhstan aimed at establishing the Eurasian Union and encouraging integration in the post-Soviet space. It feverishly looks for forces inside Kazakhstan to counteract these policies.
In our conversation with you, we frankly and openly stated our position on such attempts. The West should not have any illusions as to its chances of playing a "Russian card" if the political situation in Kazakhstan deteriorates.
We do not conceal the fact that Russians in Kazakhstan face problems related to the use of the Russian language and its constitutional status; we are not happy with everything in the cultural and educational spheres, as well as personnel policies. We regularly raise these issues with the government and hope to eventually reach a compromise without any intermediaries, especially the West, which, in our eyes, lost all moral authority in the past years.
We were very surprised, to put it mildly, to see that you called our city Oskemen 11 times, and only called it Ust-Kamenogorsk once. You explained your choice by saying that the Russian name was just translated from Kazakh. In fact, the opposite is the case: Oskemen is a Kazakhified version of the Russian Ust-Kamenogorsk. The Russian name has a meaning, specifically, “устье каменных гор” (“the mouth of rocky mountains”). The Kazakh version, according to Kazakhs themselves, has no meaning. We do not believe that you did not know that, as well as the facts that our city was not officially renamed to Oskemen and that Kazakhstan is implementing a total de-Russification of the names of cities, villages, streets and squares. For this reason, we cannot think of a satisfactory explanation of your act. We could not convince ourselves that this was just an unintentional oversight.
At the end of our interview, we pointed out to you that we see a distinction between the ruling elite of the United States and ordinary Americans, who really do not care about Kazakhstan’s foreign policy and whether it will join the EU. We also expressed our sincere wish that Russians in all the countries and Americans reestablish the good relations they enjoyed in the 18th, 19th and first half of the 20th centuries.
Dear Ms. Lillis! We would appreciate it if you shared our letter with your readers.
Leaders and activists of Russian, Slavic and Cossack organizations:
V. Yu. Sharonov
Ataman of the Verkhyrtysh Russian Cossack Community
O. V. Navozov
Chairman of the East Kazakhstan branch of the National Slavic Movement LAD
N. D. Plakhotin
Member of the Council of the East Kazakhstan branch of the National Slavic Movement LAD
L. V. Kartashev
Chairman of the Russian National Cultural Center