Russian banned for Kazakh ministers

Russian banned for Kazakh ministers

ALMATY – Reuters
Russian banned for Kazakh ministers

Kazakhstan further loosened cultural ties with its former political masters in Moscow Feb.27 when a ban on speaking Russian in cabinet meetings took effect - despite many ministers favouring that language over their native Kazakh.

Veteran President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who wields sweeping powers while paying close attention to public opinion, ordered the switch the previous day.

The only Soviet-era leader still in power, the 77-year-old has run the Central Asian country since 1989. He is fluent in both languages and switches between them in his speeches.

But many Kazakhs, including some senior officials, are not, and prefer Russian, and cabinet meeting have generally been bilingual too.

But in the Feb. 27 meeting, broadcast live on state television, only one participant in the chamber, Education Minister Yerlan Sagadiyev, was permitted to speak Russian. Exceptions were also made for provincial officials who joined via videolink.

After independence, many former Soviet republics rushed through the process of severing links with Moscow, known as de-Russification. Kazakhstan, which became self-governing in 1991, took things more slowly, in part because ethnic Kazakhs at that time made up less than half of its population.

Four years later, Nazarbayev made Russian the country’s second official language. But in a census compiled in 2009, only 62 percent of the population said they were fluent in spoken and written Kazakh, compared with 85 percent in Russian.