Accepted Paper:

The case of the oralman: the wrong kind of Kazakh?  
Catherine Alexander (Durham University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines the case of Kazakh repatriates (oralman) to a 'homeland' space that represents a shocking break from the 'timeless' space they took with them. I consider the creation and contested use of this category (oralman) and the emergence of differentiated forms of citizenship.

Paper long abstract:

This paper examines the case of Kazakh repatriates (oralman) to a 'homeland' space that represents a shocking break from the 'timeless' space they took with them. I consider the creation and use of this category, 'oralman', and the emergence of differentiated forms of citizenship.

During the Soviet period, the indigenous population of Kazakhstan was severely reduced by enforced collectivisation and famine from the 1930s onwards. This, combined with the gulag network which received thousands of deportees, resulted in a titular nation (Kazakh) population in 1991 which numbered less than 50%. In the early 1990s the President formally welcomed back (including promises of work and housing) Kazakhs who had left as a result of Stalinist oppressions: these people are known as oralman. The numbers who returned exceeded estimates; a quota system was introduced that limited numbers and increasingly began to specify professional qualifications. Many of the non-quota oralman were without papers and thus at best ineligible for help, at worst an illegal presence. More traumatic for many was finding the dominance of Russian in cities (returnees speak Kazakh). Equally difficult is the resentment of locals, whether Kazakh or not: oralman are frequently caricatured as excessively pious, speaking strange Kazakh, prolific; 'not like us' in other words.

Just as many now wryly identify themselves as 'Soviet citizens' pointing to other times and spaces, so these Kazakhs are simultaneously in place and displaced, stigmatised by the people they've come back to join. This suggests an anomaly at the root of calls for population increases: there is now the 'right kind' of Kazakh (professional, Russian speaking, urbanised) as opposed to the wrong kind─and the wrong kind is being reproduced. Citizenship is thus being redefined in temporal and spatial terms, with strong echoes of Soviet modernism and the time / space politics imbricated in that project. Post-Soviet Central Asia also adds a twist to the demographic concerns of European former socialist states as spatial divisions cut across ethnic groupings, emphasising the political nature of these categories.

Panel W070
Transitions: movements in space and time