Identity and integration of Germans in Kazakhstan

According to official statistics, Kazakhstan is today home to more than one hundred different ethnic groups. Germans whose ancestors had mostly come to Russia over 200 years ago were deported to Central Asia and Siberia during World War II. Later on, Gorbachev’s policies of glasnost as well as Germany’s ethnically defined immigration policies offered them the option to migrate to Germany. Today, less than one fourth of what were once one million Germans remain in Kazakhstan.

This project deals with identity of Germans in Kazakhstan against the backdrop of extensive change. The Kazakh nation-building process, Germany’s modified immigration policies, the out-migration of most Kazakhstani Germans to Germany, and new transnational social networks require readjusted strategies and open up new opportunities. In order to grasp the multiplicity of aspects the study focuses on one field site in Kazakhstan. Between October 2006 and October 2007, I conducted field research in the City of Taldykorgan, which is situated 300 km northeast of Almaty. The city has about 130 000 inhabitants and the German population is stated to be about 1 500.

Integration in Kazakhstan

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Kazakhstan was formed as a nation-state based on the model of the former Soviet republic. The nation-building process was not only in this respect tied to the Soviet past. Of particular importance for this research is the significant relevance of ethnic nationality during the Soviet period (Brubaker 1999). My research explores in how far the Germans perceive and represent themselves as a differing nationality or ethnic minority in present day Kazakhstan, and how they are integrated into the Kazakh nation both legally and in official discourse.

Many authors (e.g. Holm-Hansen 1999; Diener 2004; Cummings 2006) underline that ethnic identity has gained increasing importance over the course of the Kazakh nation-building process. The implications for the German minority are twofold: on the one hand, this model of nation-building gives them the opportunity to ‘reinvent’ their traditions and to revitalise the German language; on the other hand, it should be considered that these policies of ‘ethnification’ weaken the Russophone community in Kazakhstan to which the German minority belongs.

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