''Kazakh language’s switch to Latin alphabet is connected with an orientation to Western technology''

Well-known Kazakhstani politician and former press secretary to the government of Kazakhstan tells about the conversion of the Kazakh alphabet from Cyrillic to Latin

''Kazakh language’s switch to Latin alphabet is connected with an orientation to Western technology'' Photo: zavtra.ru

Kazakhstan's government has recently adopted the decision on switch of the Kazakh alphabet from Cyrillic to Latin. It was reported in the article of President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev, published in the newspaper Egemen Kazakhstan. The single standard of the new Kazakh alphabet and charts in Latin are planned to develop by the end of 2017. Realnoe Vremya contacted the former press secretary of the government of Kazakhstan, famous Kazakhstani politician Amirzhan Kosanov, who spoke about why one should not politicise the president's decision on the switch to the Latin alphabet, whether Kazakhstan has distanced itself from Russia that way and how the reform will impact on the local population.

''We should treat it as a return to normal''

Mr.Kosanov, what has caused such decision? As far as I know, there have already been plans to switch from Cyrillic to Latin earlier?

This topic has been very actively discussed in the society, we can say since the day of Kazakhstan's independence. Officially, if I remember correctly, five years ago, President Nazarbayev said that we were to be converted to Latin by 2025. Activity sometimes transformed into passivity, but the president has raised the subject again in today's article, he has elaborated approaches to implementing this idea.

There are many reasons for that, and we cannot say that the society treats it definitely. There is no consensus, including among those who do not speak the Kazakh language, Russian-speaking residents, and so on. But I think that there should not be special problems: the Kazakh society, in principle, is ready for this — we used the Latin alphabet in the past century, from 1929 to 1940. We have a whole layer of history, literature, scientific papers — all written in Latin, but in 1940, it was taken a categorical decision that the Kazakh writing was to switch to the Cyrillic alphabet. It is very important that it's being discussed now, not like in 1940 when they solved the issue at one fell swoop.

''I think that there should not be special problems: the Kazakh society, in principle, is ready for this — we used the Latin alphabet in the past century, from 1929 to 1940.'' Photo: zebra.today

Many people politicise this issue, but it is important to understand that Kazakhstan is a sovereign state, the Kazakh language actually becomes a state, defining language. At the same time, the country has a quite tolerant national policy — the Russian language is not prejudiced, those people who speak Russian can find themselves in any sphere of life. Therefore, I believe that we shouldn't be politicised, we need to treat this as a return to normal. Yes, there are many people (including the older generation) who taught the alphabet using the Cyrillic alphabet, studied Kazakh, Russian languages in Cyrillic, and they may have some difficulties. But now in Kazakhstan the education is very developed, including in English — young people speak English, they are quite advanced in this matter. Therefore, for the future generations and young people, the conversion to the Latin alphabet will not be difficult.

What needs to be done in order to fulfil the conversion? Has infrastructure been prepared for this?

Kazakhstan has strong philological, linguistic school, we already have the infrastructure, and most of the population is ready. The English language is very popular in Kazakhstan, on the Kazakh television channel we even have the British TV series Sherlock Holmes shown in the original English and with Kazakh subtitles. You see, for 26 years, we have a whole generation grown who wants to be closer to the European (in positive sense) values.

Of course, this is a difficult question, and it is actively being discussed. Even among the Kazakhs there are those who: a) do not understand what it is, b) against, C) just do not want to lose comfort (if a person is 50-60 years old, for example).

''We have a presidential state. The president outlined the year of 2025, and from today the government must fulfill the will of the president. The society is ready, and I think it will support this idea.'' Photo: wionews.com

How is the Latin alphabet close to the Turkish version?

We should not exaggerate here. The Turkish language (though we all are Turkic speaking) should not be associated with the Kazakh language. So, it's not a benchmark for us. The benchmark for us — our Kazakh language taking into account modern realities and the adapted Latin alphabet.

People in Kazakhstan distinguish between who is Pushkin and who is Putin

If to be honest, is this decision connected with politics or linguistics?

There is a certain part of politics here (the language issue has always been politically biased). Besides, every state has its own vector of development. For example, Kazakhstan's democratic community has always advocated the European way — we are closer to European democratic values, their traditions in the arrangement of social life, personal liberty, which, incidentally, has always been inherent to the Kazakhs. Of course, 70 years of the hegemony of the Communist party, Stalinism, Khrushchev, Brezhnev has had its impact: in particular, there were problems with national self-determination. As a simple example, in the 1980s in then capital of Kazakhstan Almaty there was only one Kazakh school in the city of one million…

''If the West really was rotting, regressing in terms of technology (which write some anti-Western media), then perhaps we would have to hold on to others, including the Russian, technology.'' Photo: total.kz

This conversion, in particular, is connected with a focus on Western achievements in economy, science and technology, for understanding of which it is necessary, first of all, to speak English, and it is the Latin alphabet. If the West was really rotting, regressing in terms of technology (which some anti-Western media write), then perhaps we would have to hold on to other, including Russian, technology.

However, we should not politicise this issue too much. Although we can expect a response of Kremlin's propagandists, who from today can start blaming our government that they are drifting towards the West. Russia also wants to be friends with the US and Europe, so why Kazakhs can not? It is not a drift but a desire of Kazakhstan to integrate into the developed world community.

But still, can we consider this conversion as a sign of estrangement of Kazakhstan from Russia? Will we remain allies, isn't it a kind of split?

Indeed, many people hint at the relations with Russia because the Cyrillic alphabet is associated with Russia. But I would not exaggerate this issue because Russia is our eternal neighbour: we have 7.500 kilometres of common border, a million Kazakhs live in Russia, Russians also live here, and we have harmony and stability — we live in peace and understanding.

I will note that the Kazakhs have a cautious attitude to the current Russian authorities. It must be admitted. After the annexation of Crimea, after what have been done (and is being done to) Russia with Transnistria, Abkhazia, Donetsk and Lugansk, Kazakhstan treats quite critically the Kremlin's actions in the destruction of integrity of the territories of post-Soviet states. A scalded cat fears cold water, this neo-imperialist position of the Kremlin is not particularly conducive to people aspired to this current Russian political values. After all, people in Kazakhstan distinguish between who is Pushkin and who is Putin, who is Lermontov and who is Medvedev (there are such analogies).

By Lina Sarimova