Astana (AsiaNews) In the ex soviet republic of Kazakhstan for the first time in the country's history, two religious festivals have been legislated for. They are Christmas as according to the Orthodox calendar and Kurbanaid, the Muslim festival of Sacrifice (Eid). It is a very important step forward given that up until now for the sake of absolute laicism, Kazakhstan forbid the public celebration of religious feasts, instead following the soviet style of marking important "political" dates such as : World War Two Victory Day, May 1st etc.
After years of petitioning from both Christians and Muslims, the state launched a commission. Among the experts Fr. Edoardo Canetta, member of Fidei Donum from the diocese of Milan and professor at the University of Astana. After long discussions the decision to integrate the two religious festivals in the civil calendar came about because of one fundamental idea: because the state is lay, it does not purport its own values but must recognise the values present in its population. Without the strongest values among the Kazakh population ( which includes the Kazakh ethnic majority, but also immigrants from Poland Germany, Russia and Ukraine who have become state citizens) are Christianity and Islam.
The Christian community (about 30% of the population) will finally be able to celebrate January 7th and 8th which will undoubtedly now overshadow the only other holiday during the period, New Year. In the former USSR New Years was used as a substitute to Christmas, promoted as a time for joy and the family.
Muslims who make up over 60% of the population, have been asking for the recognition of Eid for many years. But the state was staunch in its refusal, out of a fear of breeding fundamentalism.
Many Christians describe the decision as "an unexpected gift". Eastern rite Catholics celebrate Christmas together with the Orthodox Church on January 7th following the Julian calendar.
In Kazakhstan religious freedom is guaranteed by the state, but with an obligation to register and a certain state control. Islam in Kazakhstan is of a mystic nature and is not fundamentalist. Between Christians and Muslims there is a relationship of dialogue , even if the entire area of central Asia suffers in the aftermath of fundamentalism exported from Afghanistan and Pakistan.