Ethno-cultural associations in Kazakhstan: The Soviet footprint and resources for civil society
This study examines ethno-cultural associations—public institutions representing interests of minority groups—and discusses their role in the development of civil society in ethnically rich Kazakhstan. Minority associations developed in Soviet times inherited Soviet-era property and certain charitable and social practices. The Soviet footprint translates into hierarchy and state subordination. Based on interviews with representatives of associations and their visitors in Almaty, the study focuses on their quotidian activities and attempts to explain why these associations are providers of various resources for civil society development. The findings show evidence of the state being a part of the institutional synergy in the civil sphere. As part of the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan and being “government-organised NGOs,” ethno-cultural associations add their voice on “togetherness” and “unification” of diverse nationalities and to the official rhetoric of the new patriotic act. Despite transparent loyalty to the authorities and lacking a formal political agenda, cultural and social activities of these associations remain relatively autonomous. The study concludes that their real non-decorative functions deal with creating unionism, providing opportunities for social capital development, and fostering an understanding and appreciation of ethnic diversity. These associations have a potential to bridge the gap between communities while providing platforms for civic exchanges and being intermediaries between the public, the state and their kin states.