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Kazakhstan: Religious Policies at the Service of National Identity

‘Danger Could Come from an Increasing Radicalization of Islam’

“The religious factor could, in the future, assume an ever-increasing role in the process of Kazakh national identity”. according to Giannicola Saldutti, an associate researcher at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Geopolitics and Auxiliary Sciences, based in Rome. He was quoted by Fides News Agency on January 3, 2019.

According to the expert, Kazakhstan, which celebrated 27 years of independence from the former Soviet Union on December 16th, needs to conduct careful religious policies because “the danger could come from an increasing radicalization of Islam, a phenomenon at the moment averted by the measures adopted by Nazarbaev, determined to constitute a national identity based on the public veneration of state institutions and on private freedom of worship.”

Saldutti pointed out that, since December 16, 1991, President Nazarbaev has been engaged in the formation of a true national identity: “While during the 1990s and early 2000s, the ‘Russian’ component of Kazakh society seemed to still have a considerable influence in internal political decisions, today the state seems to have set off on the path of full awareness of national sentiment. The decision to reform the Kazakh alphabet from Cyrillic to Latin and to make significant changes in the toponymy of the state, as well as the approval of a new military doctrine, aimed above all at the northern oblasts of the country, make the new strategic will of a country eager to carve out a space for maneuver in the international community clear.”

According to the researcher, the growth of Kazakhstan in 27 years of independence has been constant: “The conditions of the region’s economy at the end of 1991 were worrying. The transaction towards the market economy for the former USSR countries proved to be highly traumatic. Not to mention the social crisis due to the great ethnic variety present. Almost thirty years later, however, it is to be recognized that Astana has managed to avert the most serious risks, constituting a strong state entity in the region, capable of leading a true multivectorial foreign policy and weaving shrewd and profitable relations with Russia, the USA, and China.”

In this sense, the process of democratic transaction seems to have been placed in the background: “The presidential figure is intractable and now firmly anchored in the mentality of the Kazakh people. In any case, however, in assessing the overall political situation we must take into account the political history of the country and the local political habits strongly rooted in a world of nomadic origin such as that of the Eurasian steppes. Most probably, the democratization of Kazakhstan will only restart thanks to a new generation of politicians, able to complete the transaction having experienced different international political scenarios than the Soviet one.”

According to official data provided by the Kazakh Ministry of Foreign Affairs, out of 17 million inhabitants, 70 percent are Muslims, about 26 percent are Christians, 1 percent of whom are Catholic.

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