Impact Of Civil Society On Kazakhstan Politics Essay

During the first years of its independence, Kazakhstan had been acknowledged in the international community as moving forward in its path to democracy, with its numerous independent media outlets, liberal government policies, and rapidly increasing non-governmental organizations. However, by the end of the twentieth century the early signs of democratization in Kazakhstan were replaced by the trends of political apathy and decline of civil society. This research analyzes why and how these trends of a developing civil society and democratic consolidation were reserved, and what are their main obstacles.

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This chapter gives a brief background of civil society formation in Kazakhstan since independence. There are two main hypotheses in this study. The first hypothesis deals with the impact of the deep traditional social cleavages among Kazakh people on democratic consolidation, whereas the second hypothesis examines the influence of Western-based civil society on democratic consolidation. Then the chapter will continue by emphasizing the other main obstacles in the way of civil society development in the Republic of Kazakhstan.


The new process of civil society’s formation in the Republic of Kazakhstan has started after the collapse of Soviet Union and getting its independence in 1990. The end of 1980s and the beginning of 1990s were the years of economic, social and political reforms that stimulated the creation of social unions for protecting rights and interests of different social groups. The fist associations were the Independent Trade Unions. They represented interests of workers that worked at the non-governmental sector of economy. In addition, the mass media, political parties, public and religious associations were actively institutionalized.

The most significant public association was the social movement “Nevada-Semipalatinsk” that aimed at closing nuclear polygon in Semipalatinsk. Particularly, the development of civil society and its institutions depends on the state and its activity in creating political, legal and others conditions. Therefore, on June 27, 1991 was adopted the Law on Public Associations that led to emerging such political parties as “Alash”, “National Congress of Kazakhstan”, Social Democratic Party of Kazakhstan, Civil Movement of Kazakhstan “Azat”, “Adilet”, the Republican Party and others. Thus the further development of party system was contributed by the adoption of the Constitution of Kazakhstan in 1995 (amended in 1998 and 2007) and the Law on Public Association and on Political Parties in 1996 and later in 2002.

By the year of 1990s was created a Coalition of Social Protection. It included 28 different organizations, political parties, and movements for teamwork in overcoming burning social issues by discussing and finding solutions on consolidated base.

On December 1994 the President of Kazakhstan signed the resolution for creating Republican Trilateral Commission on Social Partnership in the sphere of social, economic and labour relationships. That Commission has initiated the development of constructive trilateral relations and creation of social partnership system.

Between 1991 and 1996 there was clearly a flourishing of civil society activism in Kazakhstan. In addition, in independent and local media there was a growth of television stations, radio stations and newspapers and magazines. Human rights groups were formed and many organizations in the country made links with international groups. International organizations in turn, with the permission of the Kazakhstan government began working with local groups on issues such as environmental protection, youth issues, civic education and other important issues. This aid process was also going on within the economic and political spheres where organizations such as the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the United Nations worked with the national government to improve the overall economic and political structure of the state.

In 1999 in almost all regions of the country were opened “Info-Centers of Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs)”. The main aim of such centers was to interact with regional NGOs and provide them with consultative, informational and methodological assistance.

According to Kalashnikova, NGOs are effective middleman between state and citizens and they undertake many important factions in social transformations in the framework of regulation of public relations. In this regard the Confederation of NGOs of Kazakhstan (CNOK) positions itself as an important part in consolidation of joint actions for a more effective work of NGO in the process of interaction and cooperation with authority. The coordinated actions conducted by this Confederation in order to lobby legislative drafts in the Parliament and Government, were developed with taking into account interests of NGO. Therefore this is gradually become a systemic practice of such an equal interaction. [1]

Thus, speaking at the extraordinary IX session of “Otan” Party, Kazakhstani President Nursultan A. Nazarbayev among the main prospects of fulfilling political reforms especially emphasized that “we intend to implement measures on development and strengthening of civil society institutes. A wide support to Kazakhstan NGO will be provided, which would allow raising the level of development of civil society, as well as effectiveness of state society policy”. [2]

On December 2000 was adopted the Law on Social Partnership in Kazakhstan that provides the conciliation of interests between representatives of public authority, unifications of employers and employees. In 2001 was introduced the Law on Noncommercial Organizations, and in 2002 Concept of State Support for NGOs, including support for socially significant projects of NGOs through the signing of social contracts with them. In March 2003, a state Program of Government Support of NGOs was approved, which authorizes specified government branches to create conditions for sustainable development of NGOs, and to strengthen their role in resolving socially important problems based on cooperation with and support from the government. In 2004 the government established a fund for NGO activities.

At the same year was held the first Convention of world and traditional religions’ leaders with the participation of the most eminent religious figures and representatives of different confessions. On this Convention was adopted the Declaration “To Peace and Consent” and was founded Forum of Peace and Stability. There was also proclaimed a religious goodwill in Kazakhstan and was built a new Catholic Church (to welcome Pope John Paul II in 2001), a synagogue, a Russian Orthodox Church, and an enormous mosque in the new capital, Astana. In 2006 was opened the latest and most ostentatious monument to Kazakhstan’s tolerance is the Pyramid of Peace and Reconciliation in Astana. [3] It became a place of carrying out of Congress of World and Traditional-National Religions. In addition the active development has had the national cultural centers united in Assembly of Peoples of Kazakhstan. Thus, the interethnic consent has been mainly reached by the governmental policies. It should be said that these policies were successful to maintain nation-building process of multiethnic society of Kazakhstan.

During 2002-2006 years the president of RK created three successive structures which were used as communication channel between authority and civil society. The first structure was the Permanent Meeting on Working out Suggestions about Further Democratization and Development of Civil Society. Unfortunately, this meeting was unsuccessful, firstly because it was not attached to official constitutional status that means that its recommendations on realization political reforms could be ignored by authority at any point and the second is that the members of this meeting mostly consisted of pro-presidential supporters. In November 2004 was appointed a new structure – the National Commission on Democratization and Civil Society. In contrast to the previous structure, this Commission had a higher status, established relations with regional states, carried out nation-wide dialog and it was given a great responsibility. However, its work also did not bring the desired results. The next structure was established in March 2006. It was the State Commission on Development and Concretization Program of Democratic Reforms in the PK under the chairmanship of the head of state N. Nazarbayev. The main aim of this Commission is working out the state program for reforming political system of Kazakhstan and creating conditions for organization of national dialogue on realization of democratic transformations. However, according to oppositions these suggested measures do not make any real reorganizations of political system, they only “suppose insignificant changes.” [4]

Since 2003 the Government has hosted four high-profile Civil Forums in which was outlined the importance of partnerships of authority with NGO sector, was created Civil Alliance of Kazakhstan, were proposed amendments in Constitution, by which state financing of public associations is not permitted. [5] Within the framework of these processes was established the effective legislative base. On the same lines, a number of laws on Assembly of the Peoples of Kazakhstan, on local government, on political parties, elections and mass-media were adopted and improved. These laws promoted activization of work with institutes of civil society and have brought the significant contribution to process of introducing standards of OSCE.

In July 2006, the President N. Nazarbayev adopted the Concept of Civil Society Development for 2006 – 2011. This Concept is developed according to the national program of democratic reforms and strategy of joining the world’s fifty most competitive countries. The main aim of this Concept is the further improvement of legislative, socio-economic and methodological base for comprehensive development of civil society’s institutions and its equal partnership with government and business sectors in concordance with international legal instruments within the framework of international agreements and pacts in the sphere of human rights [6] . The power structures have started its realization, and formation of constructive cooperation within the bounds of triad “civil society – state – business.”

However, the civil society in Kazakhstan still has not developed to the full. In such conditions the state institutes play a key role in establishing consent and dialogue in society. But, the strategic task in this case is gradually to redistribute functions in favour of civil society’s institutes. Kamyrova states that only in such condition the high degree of stability and the civil peace will be provided. In other words, the state institutes should take measures directed on supporting initiatives of public associations. [7]

During the years of independent development in Kazakhstan was formed the new political regime as well as were created numerous unions and associations. Today the cooperation of third sector and non-governmental organizations with the state bodies is positively shifting. However it is too early to talk about establishing of the strong civil society which serves as the main base for democratic consolidation.


My hypothesis is that democratic consolidation literatures argue that civil society has a positive impact on democratic consolidation in the country. However, in Kazakhstan in spite of the massive increase of civil society associations and implementation of programs for its development, the civil society does not foster democratic consolidation because it is hindered by the following features: (1) the deep traditional social cleavages among Kazakh people impede democratization’s development (people are tied to their tribe and clan-based past); and (2) the Western-based civil society prevents indigenous people to determine their own priorities, that is civil associations were not created by voluntary.

Thus, this research has two research questions and two hypotheses. The independent variables of my study are traditional social cleavage and western-based civil society, while the dependent variable is democratic consolidation.

Research Question 1.

How traditional social cleavage among Kazak people impact on democratic consolidation?

Research Question 2.

How Western-based civil society influence on democratic consolidation?


H1: The deep traditional social cleavages among Kazakh people unfavourably impact on democratic consolidation.

H2: Western-based civil society prevents democratic consolidation.


This study used qualitative analysis that tested hypotheses in order to examine why the development of civil society does not lead to democratic consolidation in Kazakhstan and what are their main obstacles.

A. The Impact of Traditional Social Cleavages among Kazakh People on Democratic Consolidation

Regarding my first independent variable, civil society in Kazakhstan has been hindered by the traditional social cleavage. Thus, despite of the existence of NGOs and their efforts to inculcate the values of democracy into Kazakhs social life, the people of Kazakhstan remain tied to their kindred and clan-based past. These clans and their traditional adherence still exercise a powerful hold in Kazakh society today. Clans throw down the democratization by undermining the linkage between society and the political institutions of the state. Ziegler argues that “clan networks interpenetrate formal institutions, destabilize regime consolidation, and make long-term change, growth and democratization more problematic. The clan identities are strong, but ascriptive and exclusivist, and therefore tend not to foster cross-cutting linkages.” [8] The existence of clan-based features hinders development of civil society and its attributes, because most of political, economic issues solve in the framework of tribal and clan affiliations.

According to Rumer, the tribal and clannish consciousness not only outlived but also became stronger in the Soviet epoch. Consolidation and development of tribalism “…was the natural, spontaneous form of unity during assimilation policy, which was held by Moscow in order to divide national community.” [9] Clannish unity and solidarity enabled spiritual and material survival during soviet time. However, at that time these clan identities were overshadowed in official dialogue. [10] Thereby, for Kazakh society the enormous importance has not only national consciousness but also clan-based factor.

In this way, is the “traditional society” [11] still actual in contemporary Kazakhstan after officially proclaiming the goal of building a poliethnic state representing the multinational Kazakh society? Does it constitute a basic foundation for the formation of a unique Kazakh Civil Society?

In Kazakhstan, Kangas states that during the pre-Soviet period, traditional norms and values, based on clan and tribal loyalties, were passed from one generation to another over centuries. These norms dictated behavior and communal interaction: “Politics was the art of family ties and loyalties.” Along the same lines, most Western scholars define these lineage groups as tribalism. They argue that tribalism is associated with political instability, it is largely responsible for the survival of Kazakh society through various periods of history. Also the tribal belonging is generally recognized and plays an important role in the functioning of the society and of political life, at least in rural areas. [12]

Thus, Kazakh people were divided between three tribal and nomadic “Hordes” (Zhuz): the Grate Horde (uly zhuz) inhabited the South and Southeast regions, the Middle Horde (orta zhuz) predominated in the Northern, Central and East regions, and the Small Horde (kishi zhuz) represented the West and Northwest regions. The origin of the Kazakhs hordes is still argued by scholars. Most of them consider that it was caused by as historical as well as geographical factors. These hordes interacted among themselves and formed a uniform system of Kazakh statehood. The Kazakh social structure was marked by a clearly defined hierarchy, in which the Great Horde dominated the Middle and the Small Hordes.

Actually, each zhuz seeks dominating positions and shows displeasure if another zhuz dominates. So, the historical domination of the Great Horde is not at all viewed by members of the other two zhuz as the right and natural state of things. Umbetaliyeva argues that in the Kazakh nomad society the system of authoritative dominance was based on the principle of the genealogical kinship, which came from traditional nomads’ view of birthright and seniority. The system of the genealogical kinship which was carrying out the ideological function in a nomadic society, served as the basic tool for regulation social relationships. Thus the important role in social and legal ranging of the nomadic population was played by historically developed concepts of the “senior” and “younger” tribes. Hence, the structure of political organizations of Kazakhs was being constructed in the form of the genealogical hierarchy of tribes and clans. The strong (senior) tribes and clans acted as a kernel of the Kazakh military associations. Round them integrated less strong (younger) tribes and clans, and thus on this basis were formed state entities. Therefore the degree of influence of tribes and clans’ hierarchy on decision-making process in power structures depends on the heritage of the past institutes and political calculation of the present. [13]

Along with the past idealization, in the consciousness of Kazakhs there is “a natural selection” only those traditions, which were carried out a protective role. At the same time emerge steady institutional mechanisms, established by nomadic society throughout centuries and brightly embodied in the tribal relationships. The innovations inculcated from above which do not have any a real basis in the fundamental consciousness of society, can create a vacuum which will be rapidly filled with tradition, as more habitual and clear for a society. [14] Giffen et al. argue the same “that these traditional relationships have filled the vacuum caused by the collapse of the Soviet system.” [15] But at the same time giving a crucial importance to traditions it will not lead to successful modernization.

According to some researches, the present political system of the republic is more democratic and modernized than totalitarian political system of the recent past. However the political culture of Kazakhstan evolves in the opposite direction, which is typical for traditional society. The reason, probably, is that the new culture does not represent the whole system which is traditional, passing on individual the experience of previous generations and, hence, the vital activity program. Thereby, the inversion tendencies have been prevailed as in the social consciousness as well as in political consciousness. Thus, it is possible to conclude that in the early nineties there was a cultural revival and legalization of Kazakh tribalism which created the favorable conditions for strengthening Kazakh clannish elites.

The appreciable prevalence of titular ethnic group in the top echelons of authority has cardinally changed orientation of the new elite cohort, mediated by parentage and national identity. And as the population of any country adopts mostly that culture which is preached or adhered by elites, there will be interference of “tops” and “bottoms”. Thereby the transformation of existing political institutes at any level into the tool of revival of traditions is typical for Kazakhstani society, as well as for any transit society.

Moreover, during this period the Kazakhstani elites were dominated by the representatives of the indigenous nation and people from villages that have kept traditional culture and favored the strengthening of the internal differentiation by tribal affiliation. Along the same lines, Danilovich argues that “villagers move to town and claim that they are the only carriers and protectors of the genuine Kazakhs identity and virtues. In doing so, they try to instill a sense of guilty to the more educated urban Kazakhs who make up the ruling elite in Kazakhstan.” [16] Galiev states the same that about 65% of Kazakhs live in villages and mostly they are adherents of customs and traditions. Thus when they come to the cities they encounter an environment of hostility, because the Kazakhstan’s cities are made up of non-Kazakh populations (with the exception of cities in the South). That is why they search for the support and revives the tribal relations. [17] Thereby, the intertribal communications, as Umbetaliyeva highlights, for most people became the only way of survival and adaptation to modern conditions. [18]

Also it must be said that representative of the Great Horde are more adherent to the tradition of tribalism than the Middle or Small Hordes, because the south is traditionally an agrarian part of Kazakhstan. Moreover, the overwhelming majorities of ethnic Kazakhs in the parliament, as well as the president of the country, belong to the Great Horde. Thus, according to the data for 2000 year, by the Great Horde were supervised 23 higher state posts, whereas by the Middle Horde – 13, and by the Small Horde – 6. [19] Nevertheless the invisible to onlookers clan struggle continues till present day. The expert poll conducted by the Institute of Development of Kazakhstan, has shown that 29 % of respondents believe that zhuz and clan affiliation play a crucial role in the distribution of privileges, posts and positions. [20]

The same view was taken by Griffen et al., they argue that tribes and clans have become the basis for some political organizations, and that systems of patronage enable clan members in positions of power or authority to distribute benefits and other high-ranking positions to members of the same clan. [21] Some Kazakhs scholars argue that the process of rediscovery of Kazakh national heritage has given weight to the idea that tribes and clans are important and that there has been a certain “re-discovery” of old tribal links. They go further, arguing that a type of Kazakh aristocracy continues to exist, “leaders associated with traditional clan based communities have emerged in every sphere of society, occupying high positions both in political and business structures.” [22] Thus, the hordes continue to play an important role in the Kazakh society. According to Danilovich, the revival of tribal relationships holds back democratization, undermines the principle of the rule of law, and nourishes authoritarian tendencies. [23]

Amrekulov, Kazakh scholar, states that there will not be democratization on the all poliethnic society’s scale until the basic Kazakh society is democratized. “Without becoming a united nation, without having down with discord, tribalism and inequality of tribes and zhus, how can we be the civilized modern nation and bring equality, justice and freedom to other people?” [24] He also adds that the ancient zhuz structure of Kazakh society became a source of split and competition of Kazakhs. That is why before democratize all poliethnic society and state, firstly should be democratized the state formative ethnos. Kazakhs should democratize the Kazakh society, change their internal interrelationships, reach equality and equal representation of all tribes, create atmosphere of trust and partnership, publicity and democracy. [25]

Thus, according to the aforesaid, it is possible to make following conclusions. The development of civil society was hindered because of the traditional social cleavage. Despite the existence of NGOs and their efforts to implement the values of democracy into Kazakhs social life, the titular ethnic group remains tied to their kindred and clan-based past. These tribal relations have a negative influence on the society and political life of state. As this factor has a strong influence in politics it may result in unforeseen consequences. Thereby, while people of the country will not strive for equality and are not willing to fight for it, democracy will not take hold.

B. The Influence of Western-based Civil Society on Democratic Consolidation

The second hypothesis is related with the Western-based civil society that prevents democratic consolidation. In other words, foreign assistance in establishing civil society organizations in Kazakhstan can hinder democratization, as these organizations have not been determined by their own priorities.

Associations between people will grow as they realize their similarities and their power when able to form a group. One of the reasons that civil society can be effective in democratic nation is that people come together and decide what is important and make their opinions known to decision makers. Without a common sense of defining a problem and determining a best solution, the need for any given organization will not be as apparent to the population. If outside groups are setting up organizations, it is probably that people will likely join an already established group; it is much easier than establishing a group on one’s own. Additionally, the people establishing these organizations are from well-regarded, democratically-successful, economically well-off, Western nation. As for example, the report of UN for 2002 shows that NGOs of Kazakhstan get about 67,3% of donor support from foreign and international organizations. [26] Also most of financial support to NGOs, particularly in the civil and political rights spheres, comes from key foreign donors such as the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) for public health and electoral reforms in particular, the Counterpart Consortium (social issues), and the Eurasia Foundation and Soros Foundation (education and civil rights). [27] However, funding from foreign donors is decreasing, because 2007 amendment authorizing the state to fund NGOs and it has allowed a number of NGOs to receive support from the government. The USAID has been the largest single-country donor organization in Kazakhstan, providing over 500 million U.S. dollars in programs assisting the development of the country’s economic sector, health care system, and democratic institutions. [28] Likewise, the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) supports civil society initiatives on promoting human rights and freedoms, civic participation, the fight against corruption and the rule of law. Since 1991, EIDHR has provided more than 8 million euro to nearly 100 projects in Kazakhstan. The projects have been implemented by Kazakhstan’s non-governmental organizations covering all regions of the country. [29] Moreover, within the framework of EU 2007-2013 Regional Assistance Strategy for Central Asia, the EU provides assistance of 719 million euro to Central Asian states, both at regional level and for each country individually. [30]

Thus the considerable support comes from outside organizations. This is a problem for creating true associationalism, as many organizations feel a sense of entitlement to foreign support. Western organizations create the platforms, supply funds, and secure offices and equipment. Local organizations are responsible only minimally for their own existence. This sense of entitlement hinders the ability of people to understand what is required to operate a successful association, and fuels the idea that someone else is responsible for their success. In other words, the process of civil society development in Kazakhstan did not come about evolutionary, i.e. from “bottom”, but rather under influence of international community.

Furthermore, Western NGOs hinder the ability of indigenous people to determine their own priorities. Western organizations with their democratically-based ideals determine which organizations to set up or to fund. Fauson states that organizations in Kazakhstan were not created by the grass-roots desire for change or to have an impact on policy, but rather were based on the priorities of the Western donors. Indigenous priorities may be segregate, which would not resonate well with Western nation and therefore not receive funding, thus limiting the development of associationalism to those gro