Date: Mon, 3 Nov 1997 11:58:26 -0500
Clans in Kazakstan
A dialog from CenAsia list, November 1997
Date: Mon, 3 Nov 1997 11:58:26 -0500
On the article in the Wall Street Journal a few days back:
Can anybody support the notion that there is any significant truth to some of the Wall Street Journal article's assertions?
>The Great Horde broadly runs the country ... Little Horde appears to
Is this true? The article itself says that the new prime minister is from the Little Horde.
>Some modern folk even pretend that the old Kazak custom of
Is any significant amount of bride-snatching practiced? [This would presumably require that it is done against the will of either the bride or her family or both, and that is not a ritual act pretending theft.]
>Nursultan Nazarbayev ... is also from the Great Horde, as was his
What does it mean to say Kunaev was Nazarbaev's mentor? -- is it clan loyalty or membership in a certain party?
>Deputy Prime Minister Ahmetzhan Yesimov is from Mr. Nazarbayev's own
Is the word 'clan' here use to mean 'horde' or the narrower 'uru' (which is a more probable equivalent of 'clan')? Are Nazarbaev's sons-in-law supposedly from his same clan? If so, then we have a violation of the tradition of clan exogamy -- so does this support the argument that tradition decides everything, or rather that elite intermarriage is occurring like we have in such tradition-ridden places as America? And what do you know, his daughter runs the news-agency! -- I guess she was chosen because she was of his same horde.
>Few believe official explanations that the move is being made because
Why would he want to take it out of the territory of his own horde, in which he came to power, and where presumably he has the greatest strength?
>a salesman from the countryside, abducted his bride partly because it
Is this 'widespread' bride-abduction then supposedly a way of circumventing the horde principle of organizing society? Are we supposed to believe that the 'abducted' brides are entering into marriages which otherwise would be socially unacceptable to them? I can't make out which version of traditionalism the Kazaks are supposed to be governed by.
It sounds to me like some journalists (and some of their sources) are getting carried away with the romanticism of it all... Kazakstan would hardly be worthy of making the front page of the Wall Street Journal if we didn't find there wild throw-backs to barbaric practices and Mongol mentalities...
>Businessmen hiring staff and diplomats analyzing politics say that a
If businessmen believe in the horde-traditionalism-theory of Kazak society, does this mean it must true? British colonial administrators in India also had elaborate explanations of the native mentality which they thought helped them to operate as effective administrators...
Date: Wed, 5 Nov 1997 11:26:05 -0500
On the general topic of clans in Kazakstan, I have been assured by various Kazaks that these play an important part in personal and business relationships. One of the most vivid illustrations was given by a Kazak businessman, who told the story of having obtained a very valuable shipment of goods from a fellow Kazak whom he happened to meet while in Moscow. They had never seen or heard of one another before the meeting. Once my informant had established his membership in the other Kazak's clan, he was given the shipment on credit and without any collateral. This story was told to me by the Kazak businessman to illustrate the idea of a unique honor among Kazaks.
Date: Wed, 5 Nov 1997 17:11:50 GMT
James thanks for the interesting information given above. Is this really the tribal relationship which has been stated in the Wall street Journal? This rather look like more of a new 'clan' or a "cult-formation" taking place in Kazakstan which certainly needs to be studied. This argument also seems to be underestimating the role of mafia in dealing with business in this country. Is mafia has placed itself under the 'clan' cover to claim the legitimacy? Is the 'membership' mentioned above really a membership to a certain clan group? If we consider this as a tribal relationship then a new "revivalism" of the "tribalism" is taking place in Kazakistan which seems to be rather different than the traditional tribalism. Is it not?
Will appreciate any comments on this issue,
Date: Wed, 5 Nov 1997 13:25:10 -0500
At 11:26 AM 11/5/97 -0500, James Critchlow wrote:
I am willing to believe that "clans" (or are we talking about "juzes"?) play a role in Kazakstan -- indeed, as an anthropologist, I should welcome this as it might help people to recognize the importance of anthropological knowledge. However, I would note the following:
1) While I have hear the importance of the "juz" and/or "uru", I have also heard Kazaks who are heavily involved in politics and business and who know a lot about the juzes say that they are not really important -- that in the bureaucratic power play, other things are much more important.
2) I have heard many stories in Central Asia about how complete strangers helped someone out in a pinch, for example, providing substantial sums of money on the premise that the borrower will find them and pay them back somehow. This is done in the ethos of honor and openheartedness which is very strong in Central Asia -- and, I expect, also on the assumption that one can always benefit from reciprocity in a time of need. In this context, it is more difficult to assess the role that shared "clan" membership plays when people trust one another. And I have heard a zillion stories of people who don't trust their close relatives, so even close common descent does not guarantee anything.
3) We must entertain the possibility that this business of juzes is something that many people think about in a way that is different from the reality they live. I am thinking about the many times I was told by sincere and thoughtful people during Soviet times that there is no poverty or prostitution in the Soviet Union. And people will often tell you now that, during Soviet times, you could find "everything" in the stores and it was very inexpensive. In the absence of real information (or clear thinking), people come to accept certain stories about their experience, and they tend to choose stories which they find congenial, for whatever reason. I think part of the appeal of the clan concept is that, on the one hand, it makes people feel a broad if abstract sense of connectedness, and on the other, it helps people to explain why things don't work out for them -- everyone else is using clan ties to get ahead of them...
4) When we are talking about "clans" we need to be careful to have a clear idea what is involved. If we are talking about the juz (horde), then we are talking about extremely large groups on the scale of millions of members. There are only three juzes in Kazakstan and they are regionally concentrated, so in most aspects of life experience, the vast majority of people anyone has to do with are members of the same group. This means that the juz criterion could hardly be decisive in settling disputes or choosing partners or any of the other things that clan loyalty is supposed to determine. If we are talking about the "uru", then we must bear in mind that many of the members of the elite group that our western business men come in contact with -- generally quite Russified -- have little idea what uru they belong to and how it is related to other urus. They do know, however, who their army buddies, classmates, Komsomol mates, etc. are and they rely on them.
While loyalty and relationships are very important in a social system in which patron-client relations determine access to so many vital resources, and perceptions of relatedness play an important role in building loyalty, I think we need to be wary of the sometimes quite schematic ways that people explain themselves. It is well-known that most Americans believe their society is democratic, but just yesterday here in Boston we had an election in which a mayor was reelected by 15% of the registered voters -- a mayor who was unopposed and who came to office as a result of rising through the party apparatus (replacing his former boss when he went off to the Vatican). What does it mean when people assert that their society is the most democratic in the world -- other than that they want to believe it and they don't think much about the contradictions. There are real parallels between the manifestations of patronage, loyalty and political power in Boston to those in Kazakstan, but this would be anathema to those who wish to see America as quintessentially democratic.
Date: Wed, 5 Nov 1997 15:41:07 -0500
John Schoeberlein-Engel wrote about "the ethos of honor and openheartedness which is very strong in Central Asia."
I don't want to sidetrack this very interesting discussion on clans, but I was wondering if anyone had any citations for books/articles written on hospitality in Kazakhstan (or Central Asia in general). One often hears Central Asians express pride in their tradition of welcoming guests. Any ideas as to the origins? Details on specific rituals?
Date: Wed, 5 Nov 1997 15:32:56 -0500
>I am willing to believe that "clans" (or are we talking about
Central Asians with whom I have spoken use "clan" quite
>1) While I have hear the importance of the "juz" and/or
One frequently hears in Almaty that "zhuz" membership is all important in getting preferred employment.
>2) I have heard many stories in Central Asia about how complete
A well-placed academic (economist), in this case an Uzbek, told me that if one is approached by a member of the same clan with a request for a loan, even if the parties are not previously acquainted, it is incumbent on one to accede. He implied that without the clannic tie there would be no question of giving a stranger a loan.
>3) We must entertain the possibility that this business of juzes is
This seems to overdo the idea of "cognitive dissonance."