POLES IN CONTEMPORARY KAZAKHSTAN
KS. ANDRZEJ ZWOLIŃSKI
Beatification of Fr. Władysław Bukowiński on 11 September 2016 has been the first ceremony in history of Kazakhstan. It closed a kind of a chapter in the history of this country and opened another one. For Poles who are still in the country of steppes, it is a great hope and also a serious look at one’s past, at history of martyrdom and overcoming some difficulties of life on the earth which they did not choose themselves.
As a result of mass deportations – enforced relocations – in the years 1940 – 41 in Kazakhstan, there were about 200 thousand Polish citizens. NKWD documents allow for defining this number for about 80-82 thousand people of Polish origin. Polish investigators say that these are definitely lowered data.
Some of these people left Kazakhstan steppe in 1942, with the army of gen. Władysław Anders and, then, in the years 1943-44 – with the army of gen. Zygmunt berling. Statistics of returns of Poles to homeland are still being investigated and changed. Basically, it is assumed that among 1.5 million deported to the USSR in 1948, the country was left by: 114500 people in 1942 -with the army of gen. Anders; 263413 people – on the basis of contracts of 1944 and 1945 and 35 thousand of people with ‘the division of Kościuszko’. In total, over 400 thousand Poles returned from Russia. It is estimated that a big part of them died till 1948. Hundred thousand Poles were in prisons, concentration camps and in exile.
A number of Poles in Kazakhstan has not been defined yet. It concerns people of deportation from the 30s of XX century. The number of compatriots who lived on this area before 1936 is unknown. The census of 1926 showed that in Kazakhstan SRR 1807 people of Polish origin. In the opinion of investigators, the number of Polish population in Kazakhstan before 1936 did not exceed 5 thousand people. So, we must be very careful with the Soviet censuses because they were falsified, thus they were not credible. For example, it was required that nationality was to be written in the ID, and most Poles still in the year 1959 did not have IDs. They did not receive passports earlier than at the end of the 60s, and some of them not earlier than in the 70s of XX century. One of Polish women says: - We were not allowed to leave. We have not been controlled till the war, as it was known that we did not have anywhere to go. We were not allowed to, and we had not had passports till the year 1980. It was hard for us to get passports, as birthday certificates had been left in Ukraine. We sent our request for them (…). When you are going somewhere, you will take a certificate. But we did not travel a lot, because in the beginning we were not allowed to go even to Ałma Ata. Only when were we given passports, we could travel.
The local authority was often wrong – accidentally or deliberately – it registered Polish population as the Ukrainians or the Russians. Moreover, there was pressure to change the nationality, there was a lot of mockery at young gentlemen of Polish origin. People of Polish origin were considered as uncertain, suspected and disapproving of the Soviet Union and the whole state ideology.
As a result – according to the soviet censuses – the number of Poles in Kazakhstan amounted to 53 102 citizens in 1959; in 1970 there were more of them – 61 136 people, and in 1989- 59 956 people.
In order to survive
Poles staying in Kazakhstan became rooted in that ‘foreign land’ with their families, which survived here. Their children – the young generation – underwent indoctrination resulting from the education system and the state ideological formation. They carried an inner conflict in themselves, which resulted from the clash of values deriving from their homes, where religious practices and Christian belief were cultivated, together with mottos and the trend of soviet atheism.
A lot of Poles still live on the Kazakhstan land. After the collapse of the Soviet Union (1991), the sense of Polishness started to appear. For example, the Congress of Poles of Russian Federation was established, which supports Polish organizations of various names. They were supported by homeland, by supporting efforts in the sphere of reappearing culture and ethnical conscience of compatriots. The activity of the Polish Community or Foundation ‘Help to Poles in the East’ and the Catholic Church revives tendencies for getting organized by Polish communities remaining on the area of post-Soviet countries.
Essential changes were to come with announcement of independence by Kazakhstan and beginning the process of rebuilding one’s sovereign statehood. The very transformation of the political system worsened the economic situation of the society in the beginning, as well as Poles. There was reduction of workplaces, there were arrears in paying salaries and social benefits. Inflation devoured savings of people. Unjustified breaks in supply of electricity, water, heating and gas, as well as shortages of basic food products caused drastic lowering of the living standard.
Slowly, there was recovery of the Catholic Church, both in Russia and in countries which constituted the Soviet Union. On the whole area of the Community of Independent Countries the population is about 8-9 million, and people have Polish origin of which they are not aware.
In Kazakhstan official censuses in 1989 spoke about 59 956 people being the Polish diaspora. Those were people who admitted to their Polish origin. After 1989 there was a numerous decline in Polish population in Kazakhstan. The last census - from 2009 – proved that the Polish origin was declared only by 34 057 people. In comparison with the years 1999 this number decreased by 13 245 people. Nationality changes were easily caused by the general social situation. This decision was often made by fear, sometimes from one’s initiative – in order to survive or have a possibility for social or professional promotion. So, in Kazakhstan one can meet people with Polish surnames, but of Russian or different nationality than Polish. As one of investigators noted: ‘If somebody decided to change his nationality, his faith into a different one, more suitable, at once he found it better to live. Luckily, there were very few such people. It was considered as moral crime, dishonor and shame to reject one’s faith or nationality among one’s compatriots’.
A Pole in Kazakhstan today
In the beginning of XXI century life conditions of Poles in Kazakhstan do not diverge radically from the average one. It is the most difficult to live on rural areas but Poles are already experienced in coping in agriculture. For many years they have participated in utilizing steppes, developed agriculture -however, their role was not appreciated. Not to mention about a textbook in history about Kazakhstan. During the existence of the Soviet Union, this country was a cereal facility – it was called ‘granary of USSR’.
On 14 April 1993 the Supreme Council of Kazakhstan acknowledged the Act about rehabilitation of victims of mass political repressions. On its basis –also Poles in Kazakhstan – were given damages for the time from 1936 to 1956 and extra benefits on transport, energetic and telecommunication services.
The current policy of Kazakhstan has a kind of nationalist tendency: managerial posts in administration and in other public institutions can be given to only native inhabitants. Non-native inhabitants can become only a deputy or have a different function from the managerial one. There are rare exceptions, like the one that in the region of Tajszyn, for years, the superior of the territorial administration authority was Anatol Makowiecki – son of deported Poles from Ukraine. In 2012, during parliamentary election, he gained a post of e deputy of Mażylis (the lower chamber of the parliament).
The issue of Poles in Kazakhstan returns all the time, in the context of the Polish migration policy. Efforts are made to revive contacts between Poland and Kazakhstan which influences the situation of Polish population in the country of steppes. History has come the full circle and there appears a possibility of compensating harms again, which are born in the hearts of the exiled and their descendants. However, first it is necessary to get to know their history and the current situation. And the future of the Polish home on the steppes of Kazakhstan still depends on many decisions and actions, which we are going to face up.
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