ASTANA – Kazakhstan is a multicultural country with more than 130 nationalities living within its borders. The Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan (APK) helps these ethnic groups to unite, pursue their cultural values and traditions and preserve their language. The Astana Times interviewed Yelena Rogovskaya, chairwoman of Polacy, a Polish ethnic group and public association in Kazakhstan.
“The Polish history in Kazakhstan started from the 1830s,” Rogovskaya said. “The opponents of autocracy were exiled on the territory of the modern republic (of Kazakhstan). They decided to settle on these lands for another reason and have left a considerable contribution to the history of Kazakhstan. During World War I, many Poles moved to Kazakhstan even from tsarist Poland; as a result, in some of the regions there were large numbers of Poles. By 1926, there were 1,807 citizens of Polish background, 1,112 in cities and the rest in the regions. Here are the territories where the tsar exiled opponents of his regime and as did the Bolsheviks. A mass deportation followed of different nationalities during Stalin’s repression. The communist integration was demonstrated by repressing hundreds of thousands of Poles, Latvians, Lithuanians, Estonians, Germans, Tartars, Chechens, etc. The Polish community was perfectly fit for the role of the inside enemy, as among them were the so-called ‘special settlers’ from Ukraine who were deported from 1937 to 1941 to the villages of the northern regions like the Kokshetau, Karaganda and Akmola region.”
According to Rogovskaya, Poles were mostly occupied with agriculture throughout their history in Kazakhstan.
“Today, there are still about 48,000-50,000 Poles living in Kazakhstan, mostly in the northern part of the country; the number decreased from about 55,500,” she said.
The Polacy Centre has been operating since Sept. 25, 1999, with the main goal to preserve the native language, culture, traditions and history, according to the leader of the Polish community. Two artistic troupes were also created under the auspices of the association: the vocal ensemble Stokrotka and dancing troupe Kuyavyachek.
“Today we have 13 Polish centres in Kazakhstan. We participate in round tables, friendship festivals, conferences and other venues that are held by the APK; I myself am a member of the APK and take part in the assembly’s congresses,” Rogovskaya said.
The Polish association is supported by the APK, Rogovskaya explained. “We have a Sunday school at local school No.5 where children, no matter the nationality, can learn Polish, our history and culture. Poland also supports this initiative; on their side they send Polish philologists to teach here and Polish national high school graduates have an opportunity to enroll in universities in Poland. Annually, a specially-created commission arrives here to hold exams. The Polish side also pays them in stipends and adults also can visit Poland on a monthly basis at the Polish government’s expense.”
“I myself often visit Poland with my children, where we learn Polish culture, traditions and history. We learn about Polish cuisine and we feel proud that we can visit our historical motherland. We also feel proud to be Polish and thanks to the policy of our President we kept our identity, faith and language,” she said.
“I am happy to live in Kazakhstan where people of different nationalities get along and live in harmony,” Rogovskaya continued. “Kazakhstan has become my motherland, I am glad to have another historical motherland. I am often asked if I would like to move to Poland and the answer is – no, but to visit Poland – yes!”
“I have been living here all my life, I am doing for a living what I love doing and I am appreciated here; I am socially active in different events, no time to waste. We have all the means of communication with the friends and relatives that live in Poland and we do have quite a few relatives there,” Rogovskaya concluded.