21 December 2004
Ye. Bondarenko, D. Kislov from Ferghana.Ru reported, stiffer Russian legislation thinned out immigration of ethnic Russians from Uzbekistan. The motherland turned out to be a foster parent. Cunning Russians, however, came up with a solution. Kazakhstan. Why not? It has a large territory and its economy is in a shape to rival Russian. The border is within reach and - also importantly - there are lots of Russians in Kazakhstan.
Census in Kazakhstan in 1999 revealed a growth of the population. There is more to the tendency than the traditionally high birth rate. Ethnic Kazakhs come back to find life quite acceptable due to the efforts of the state. Other ethnic groups emigrate to Kazakhstan too. Take Russians, for example. Balance of Russian immigration amounted to 26,668 people in 2003 and 32,228 in 2004.
About 1 million Russians (or 4% of the population) live in Uzbekistan. In the East Kazakh Region of Kazakhstan alone (the traditional Russian-populated area) they amount to 45,83%. Even Kazakhs do not outnumber them by much (48.54%). It is Russian immigration to Kazakhstan from nearby countries that recompenses for what Russians leave Kazakhstan for Russia. Between 1989 and 1998 Kazakhstan accepted 13,133 Russians and 514 of them (or about 4%) were immigrants from Uzbekistan. These are but official figures. The actual state of affairs is different. Official figures do not count whoever is in Kazakhstan illegally or whoever is away earning money.
So, Russians are nomads in Central Asia now. But why leave Uzbekistan for Kazakhstan and not the other way round? It was not easy at all to find someone who had first-hand information and experience to answer the question. Because would-be immigrants from Uzbekistan are reticent. They are afraid to say too much.
"I have already taken by wife and daughter to Ust-Kamenogorsk. I'm selling our apartment here in Tashkent to join them there," Igor, 29, said. A certified engineer, he earned his daily bread in Tashkent as a self-appointed cabby. "A lot of our acquaintances and friends left for Kazakhstan. Besides, I want a normal salary paid for what I'm a specialist in. I'm fed up with how things are here where I never know if I'm going to earn anything or not. And I want to be able to speak my mind. We may even decide to move on at some later date. No, not to Russia - Kazakhstan is not any worse than Russia. We'll go abroad."
Igor hopes to be granted citizenship in Kazakhstan.
Motives of many other immigrants are similar.
"My daughter and me would have gone to Russia long ago, but there will be problems with citizenship and lodging there," hotel manager Irina, 45, said. "Besides, we do not have relatives in Russia. Cannot say that we have any in Kazakhstan, but in Kazakhstan one can make himself without help. I'm not saying there is any harassment here in Uzbekistan or something. It's just that we will have to leave Tashkent sooner or later in any case. There are lots of Russians in Kazakhstan. Salaries there are decent, and goods are not that expensive."
"Sure, it is possible to earn a fine salary in Tashkent too," translator Irina, 32, announced, "but living standards in Kazakhstan are higher. Consider Astana. It is practically a European capital! I want to live in Europe but nobody will let me leave Uzbekistan for Europe. It will be easier to accomplish that in Kazakhstan. I know, I asked around. Besides, I have relatives there encouraging me to come over. So, why would I stick around here?"
"I'm leaving to earn some dough for the time being. Still, I'm already thinking about settling there for good. There are lots of Russians there, that's what I like. Russians are rare in Tashkent nowadays. When I see one, I'm happy like I met a friend or something! It's different in Kazakhstan where Russian is a state language. That's great because I do not speak Uzbek. Everything will be in the Uzbek language here in Tashkent soon - I'm not even talking about regions. Well, I'll go and see what salaries there are like. I have some acquaintances who invite me to go there together," Nikolai, 22, said.
Obtaining citizenship in Kazakhstan for an ethnic Russian is not that easy. He or she must have lived in Kazakhstan for 5 years and have $8,000 in a bank. Kazakhstan does not want paupers which is only understandable.
All these and other difficulties notwithstanding, Russians are not alone to be leaving for Kazakhstan. There are also Uzbeks, Koreans, and Tatars. Some of them aspire for citizenship, others merely want to earn some money.
According to Andrei K. (his family moved from Tashkent to Kazakhstan not long ago), business opportunities in Alma-Ata are better.
"A lot of my friends moved to Kazakhstan to set up businesses here," Andrei wrote to Ferghana.Ru news agency. "In Tashkent, businesses are slowly strangled by bureaucracy. Every next government resolution is more moronic than the previous one. Absurd demands, the necessity to pass through administrative levels, etc. It takes between 10 and 20 days to have some shipment pass through the Uzbek customs - and that's official. You need approval from between 5 and 10 structures. Bureaucrats everyone. You approach them only to discover that someone is sick, another is away at some wedding, the third has a funeral to attend, and the fourth is picking cotton in the fields. Even when they all are present, all of them want their palms greased. Sure, Kazakhs and Kyrgyzes aren't exactly lily-white either but in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan problems like that are solved inside of half an hour."
Businessmen say that there is more economic freedom in Kazakhstan than in Uzbekistan. Nobody hunts down menial workers from abroad or organizes mass passport checks.
"I came here, rented an apartment, and found a job with a nice firm. That's all," cook Sergei Zherdev said. He has lived in the capital of Kazakhstan for over a year now. "Nobody has inquired about my citizenship yet."
It seems that Kazakhstan needs manpower too. Unlike the Russian Federation, however, it knows better than to reject Russian brains and hands fleeing nearby Uzbekistan where they do not find themselves needed.
Average salary in the East Kazakh Region amounts to 16,874 tenge or about $130. Miners (this industry is well developed in the northern part of the region where Russians mostly concentrate) are paid 3.7 times better than agricultural workers in southern Kazakhstan.
Kazakh is the only state language in Kazakhstan. Russian is the second state language in Kyrgyzstan. The situation in Uzbekistan where Uzbek is the state language is confusing. All documents even in state organizations are drawn in Russian or in Russian and Uzbek while students of high schools in distant regions speak practically no Russian.
Eurasian Monitor Team sociologists from Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan ran a survey this autumn to discover that the majority of respondents quite content with their lives reside in Kazakhstan - 56%. The World Bank regards Kazakhstan as the CIS leader in economic reforms.
OSCE experts believe that Kazakhstan with its economic reforms has accomplished the most among all five Central Asian countries. The US Department of Commerce granted it the status of a free-market economy in March 2002.
Kazakhstan is the only country in the Commonwealth whose economy regained the pre-crisis 1991 level in 2003. Employment level has already reached 90.2% there. Population amounts to 15 million, 3 million of them providing jobs for themselves and their families.