Kazakhstan, home to some 130 ethnic groups, is making moves to shore up interethnic harmony following the upheavals and pogroms in neighboring Kyrgyzstan.
Posters promoting harmony have begun springing up around Almaty in recent days. At the city’s airport, a billboard proclaims, “Unity is Our Strength,” above a drawing of six inter-linked hands; bus stops are decorated with posters declaring, “A United People – One Heart.”
Kazakhstan prides itself on its record of interethnic accord and is keen to preserve good relations between ethnic groups, especially after the bloody example in southern Kyrgyzstan.
According to preliminary 2009 census figures, ethnic Kazakhs account for 63.1 percent of the country’s 16 million inhabitants. There is a sizeable Russian population (23.7 percent), and significant numbers of Uzbeks (2.8 percent), Ukrainians (2.1 percent) and Uighurs (1.4 percent).
On June 21, President Nursultan Nazarbayev met a group of young people in Astana and once again plugged his message of harmony. “Friendship and stability are golden assets that you should strengthen,” he told representatives of the capital’s gifted youth.
It is a message that must be continually stressed. Just beneath the surface, simmering discontent occasionally appears as Kazakhs become more assertive. In 2007 communal violence between Kazakhs and Chechens erupted in southeastern Kazakhstan, leaving 10 dead.