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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Germans in Kazakhstan

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Kazakhstan Facts
Area:    2,717,300 sq. km.
Capital:    Astana
Total Population:    16,847,000 (source: unknown, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

The future of Germans in Kazakhstan appears relatively stable, with a low risk of serious protest or rebellion. The significant outflows of ethnic Germans during the 1990s (approximately 600,000) have decreased, and many changes now encourage them to stay, including a booming Kazakh economy, tighter immigration regulations in Germany and greater efforts by the German government to support those ethnic Germans remaining in Kazakhstan. While autonomy has not been permitted by the Kazakh government, German money has helped to build community centers, hospitals and other infrastructure projects in German areas. Nevertheless, the group has a strong sense of communal identity and is concentrated in two areas of the country. Real or perceived discrimination favoring ethnic Kazakhs remains an issue of contention for many, leaving open the risk of future protest.


Analytic Summary

Todayís Germans of the former Soviet Union are descendants of settlers who accepted Tzarina Catherine the Greatís 1763 offer of land along the lower Volga River as part of her campaign to introduce more efficient agricultural methods to the area. Most Germans emigrated from Swabia, an area in southern Germany. They were mostly Lutherans and Mennonites, and a smaller number were Roman Catholics. Granted freedom of religion and local self-government, the Germans formed a prosperous community whose language and culture remained largely intact.

German settlement of the region of modern Kazakhstan took place in three stages, with the first Germans arriving in 1871. By the beginning of the 20th century, more than 110 German settlements had been established in the northwestern territories. After the Bolshevik Revolution (1917), the Russian Germans were allowed to establish a Volga German Autonomous Republic in 1924. However, during Stalinís collectivization program in the early 1930s, many German owners of large farms from the Volga region were forced to settle in Kazakhstan. After the 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union, Stalin ordered thousands of Volga Germans to be relocated to Siberia and Central Asia. For about a decade after the war, the Germans remained "special residents," forbidden to resettle and ordered to report regularly to the authorities. Their plight began to improve after the 1956 meeting between Konrad Adenauer, the West German Chancellor, and Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet leader. Their formal rehabilitation was made official in 1964, when the Supreme Soviet cleared ethnic Germans of accusations of collaboration with the Nazi invaders.

After the easing of restrictions, many Germans chose to settle in Central Asia. The "Virgin Lands" campaign initiated by Khrushchev in the early 1960s was an incentive for Germans to settle in Kazakhstan. As a result of these developments, in the 1980s more than half of the more than two million Soviet Germans were concentrated in Kazakhstan.

Following the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, the government of the new state of Kazakhstan implemented policies to bolster national identity. The national policy of "Kazakhization" has amounted to the political and economic exclusion of minorities who do not speak Kazakh. In particular, laws requiring proficiency tests in the Kazakh language for all public sector jobs and university students place limitations on Germans' abilities to take part in public life and the economy, given that group members speak primarily Russian or German (POLDIS04-06 = 3; ECDIS04-06 = 2; CULPO204-06 = 2).

Today, Germans live mostly in the northeast of the Kazakhstan, between Tselinograd and Ust-Kamenogorsk (GROUPCON = 3). A minority also live along the Kazakh-Kyrgyz border. They are distinct in terms of religion, language and custom from the Kazakh population (BELIEF = 2; LANG = 1; CUSTOM = 1).

Despite a strong sense of communal identity, accented by linguistic and religious distinctiveness, Kazakhstanís Germans are not highly mobilized or organized politically. They are represented primarily by cultural organizations which also act as political mouthpieces to advocate for German cultural and political rights (GOJPA06 = 1). German protest since Kazakh independence has been low to non-existent (PROT90X = 1; PROT99-06 = 0). Though not expressed in recent years, past grievances were primarily cultural, in particular regarding German-language education and religious freedom (CULGR04-06 = 0), and political, in terms of seeking greater rights (POLGR04-06 = 0).



Dietz, Barbara. 1994. "Germans in the Former Soviet Union." Current Politics and Economics of Russia. 3:4.

LexisNexis. Various reports. 1985-2006.

RFE/RL. Various reports. 2001-2003.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. 2005. "Kazakhstan: Special report on ethnic Germans." Humanitarian News and Analysis,

U.S. State Department. Annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Kazakhstan. 2001-2006.

U.S. State Department. International Religious Freedom Report: Kazakhstan. 2001-2006.

Wolf, Marcus, and A. Frank. 1993. "No Future for the Ethnic Germans in Kazakhstan." Aussenpolitik. 44:2.


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Information current as of December 31, 2006