A Czech Microcosm

Borodinovka, Kazakhstan 1995

There were some 800 Czechs living in Kazakhstan in the village of Borodinovka, located 120 km from Aktyubinsk - the major city of northern Kazakhstan in 1995. The history of Borodinovka begins in 1911, when several Czech families moving from Moldavia relocated to the region in response to an offer of the Russian government to farm the rich lands in exchange for a parcel of land. At the beginning, before the first harvest, the Russian government supplied them with staple foods and building materials. The early years were difficult, as were many of the other years to come. The settlers had to adapt to the many changes brought about by the development of Communism, from the Lenin era through to its end under Gorbachev. With the fall of the Soviet Union, the entire economic and political structure collapsed. The independent State of Kazakhstan was created and with it also came a policy of intense nationalism. After decades of oppression of the Kazakh culture, which meant among other things the imposition of Russian as the official language, the Kazakhs now impose their own language and single mindedly pursue their specific interests. An additional consequence of their zealous desire for a self standing nation, and a reaction to long-term denigration, is quick revenge against all non native ethnic groups. The pressure tactics and ethnic discrimination have been quite successful; most Russians, Germans, and Poles have already left the country, and the Czechs are now beginning to plan the same move.

The foundations laid by Czech farmers are evident everywhere in the village. Whereas the Kazakhs, who come from a pastoral, nomadic tradition lives in houses without trees or gardens, the homes of the Czech settlers are rather like oases in the middle of the desert. Fruit trees surround their houses, and vegetable and flower gardens contrast with white washed walls. What do they grow? Whatever is grown in central Europe: garlic, leek, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, green peppers, raspberries, grapes, and black current. They also raise farm animals such as goats, cows, chickens, ducks, geese, rabbits, pigs, and sheep and sometimes horses. This type of back yard agriculture helps them to cope despite the food shortages and the generalized economic crisis.

When they look back on their past, the Kazakhstan Czechs speak fondly of Lenin under whom they did not have to pay taxes. Stalin was another story. Under his rule, many were sent to labour camps, their land and goods were confiscated, and families suffered. Today, they say that in the grand scheme of things, the Kazakhs are not such a mean people, some who have been in the village for many years even speak Czech. The new ones who are being sent into the area by the government, however, are less friendly. They are pressuring the Czechs to leave Borodinovka; they claim the country is theirs. It appears that the Czechs are indeed planning to leave Kazakhstan to the Kazakhs. Whether it is because they do not wish at adapt one more time, or because the miserable economy has little chance of improving in their lifetime, or perhaps they are tempted to return at long last to their native country is not clear. Most likely all of these factors play a role. One thing they are sure of: their children have no hope of a future in Kazakhstan.

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