01/08/2021, 16.59
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Row over Kazakhstan’s northern territories

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Two lawmakers from Putin's party question Kazakhstan’s right to its northern territories, sparking an irate response from the Kazakh foreign minister, slamming Russia for the famine of the 1920s. Former Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev is awarded the Orthodox Order of Gratitude.

Moscow (AsiaNews) –  The border controversy between Kazakhstan and Russia that started in December is front-page news again.

Following the New Year break, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev (pictured) wrote an article published in Yegemen Qazaqstan (Sovereign Kazakhstan), the main state-owned newspaper, in which he publicly comments for the first time statements made by United Russia lawmakers Vyacheslav Nikonov and Yevgeny Fedorov, about who actually has a right to Kazakhstan’s northern territories.

Although minor political figures, the two members of Russia’s lower house of parliament, are seen in Kazakhstan as expressing Moscow’s official position, sparking outrage in the country, to the point that some are calling for an international criminal probe against the two.

For now the reaction is limited to diplomatic exchanges, but the two – especially Fedorov – have refused to retract their statements, pushing Kazakh Foreign Minister Mukhtar Tleuberdy to issue a very public and irate reply.

Citing his “higher education and knowledge of the history of our homeland”, he used “a very Russian expression to refer to what the Russian lawmakers said: “it is a load of bullshit” (бред сивой кобылы). For a high-ranking diplomat, this is a decidedly undiplomatic.

In his article, Tokayev cited the 1921-22 famine, instigated by the revolutionary power of the new Soviet Russia immediately after the civil war, to punish the Asian (and Ukrainian) peoples who had hosted the White counter-revolutionary armies.

“If it had not been for the famine caused by the Russians, our nation would be much bigger than it is today,” writes the president. “It is time for historians to clarify the responsibilities of those who starved people to death”.

Tokayev also insists on the need to de-Russify Kazakhstan, support the national language over Russian (which was mandatory under the Soviets) and review the country’s official historiography, perhaps “to tell the centuries-old history of Kazakhstan, and all its territories, through some films or television series on Netflix and HBO,” since few people read history books or manuals anymore.

Tokayev's statements are, however, quite tame, and published only in the Kazakh edition of the newspaper, not in the Russian version. Of course, the president is speaking to his own people, in order to boost their sense of national pride rather than fuel a diplomatic war with Russia.

However, in Kazakhstan, print media and TV have gone after Putin and his policies, and the reference to the famine of the 1920s is bound to irk Russian leaders since it is a very sensitive topic in Russia.

In Ukraine, the Holodomor, the great famine of the early Soviet era caused by Stalinist policies against the peasantry, is also a major bone of contention. Tokayev has somehow unsealed one of the “Pandora's Boxes” of Soviet times.

Despite the storm, which is bound to increase, the Russian Orthodox Metropolitan of Astana (Nur-Sultan) Aleksander (Mogilev) on Wednesday awarded former Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev the Orthodox Order of Gratitude (Algys in Kazakh ) for the spiritual rebirth of Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan’s  “eternal president”, who still controls the country as chairman of the Council of State, has always tried to present himself as an advocate of interfaith dialogue, and used this  occasion to wish a Merry Christmas to Kazakhstan’s Orthodox Christians, saying that “thanks to our unity we will overcome every test that afflicts us” in the current difficult period.

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