Mon, Jan 01, 2007 - Page 4 News List

Children of the gulag live with amnesia

FORGETTING THE PAST Young people don't know and aren't interested in the Stalin-era deportations and repression that landed their families in Kazakhstan's gulag camps


The rebellion was a watershed for Kazakh identity. It resonated too strongly for the government to ignore this year, so in October, President Nursultan Nazarbayev quietly dedicated a statue to commemorate the event. But the gesture received little coverage in the press, which is controlled by the government.

Opposition leaders and several thousand nationalists hoped to use the statue as a gathering point for an anti-government rally, but the government moved swiftly to crush preparations for it.

With Kazakh nationalism having become mostly the purview of the anti-Russia opposition here, the government has had to use other avenues to promote a coherent national identity. That is no small challenge in this country of 17 million people who span 80 different ethnicities and nearly as many religions -- a direct legacy of the Soviet Union's use of Kazakhstan as a holding pen for prisoners, dissidents and people who did not fit in the Russian mainstream.

Popular culture has been one tool of choice, especially through the government-financed movie studio KazakhFilm. This year the studio released its biggest hit yet, a historical piece called Nomad that tells the little-known story of an ancient battle to give an uplifting view of Kazakh identity. The film, a US$34.5 million production, broke box-office records in Kazakhstan, grossing more than US$1 million.

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