ASTANA – Exactly 20 years ago the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan was established by a presidential decree to unite different ethnic groups living in Kazakhstan and 2015 has been proclaimed the Year of the Assembly.
Koreans, like many other nationalities, endured the ordeal of Stalin’s forceful repressions in 1937 and deportations from Far East Russia. They were the first ones to face aggressive Soviet oppression and were accused of spying for Japan as a result of the difficult political relations at the time. They were labelled as the ‘untrustworthy’ peoples of the Soviet Union. While thousands were shot, hundreds of thousands were forcefully relocated to Central Asian states, including Kazakhstan, on a trip that was meant to have no survivors.
Today, the Korean community in Kazakhstan is a well-respected ethnic group and the Korean Association in Astana holds many events throughout the year, according to Chairman of the Korean Association in Astana Alexander Kim, who has assumed the position 13 years ago.
“The achievements of the association are immeasurable. It’s not quite as simple as building a house, for instance. It’s been an ongoing, hard work of 13 years. Day after day, year after year. The span of our activities varies between young students to elderly people who are all active members of the association in Astana,” he said.
Kim explained the association has many departments that are actively engaged in popularising Korean culture in Kazakhstan through dances; traditional Korean drum music that expresses the authentic Korean spirit and a choir called Chong Ryu that has been recognised as a People’s Artist of Kazakhstan and has been performing for more than 12 years.
“We also have a youth movement headed by Alexandra Yugai within our association. She is on a mission to bring the youth together to make sure they participate in all these events,” said Kim.
He is a staunch believer that any public movement should be based on enthusiasm.
“A public association is something that requires one’s soul and a lot of hard work without compensation. If someone comes here to think of gaining something in return then it won’t work out. A person that comes to us with the mindset ‘to help’ without looking for any profit or gain, [that person] will do very well at our association,” he noted.
The association’s schedule is packed with events for the whole year in collaboration with the Astana city administration and other departments within the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan, according to Kim.
At the moment, according to unofficial data, there are about 150,000 ethnic Koreans that still live in Kazakhstan, many of them are well-known worldwide, such as the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games bronze medalist figure skater Denis Ten or the famous boxer Gennady Golovkin, who is half Korean.
“We closely collaborate with the South Korean embassy. Under the auspices of the embassy, we have established the national Korean centre in Astana where people not only of Korean descent have a chance to learn Korean. There are also volunteer exchange groups and foreign exchange groups between South Korea and Kazakhstan.”
Kim said Koreans in Kazakhstan are very practical. If they don’t need something, they won’t do it and they will be direct about it.
“We conducted a public poll once where Koreans were asked why they prefer not to work for the government. The answer was simple and very direct – those jobs are not well-paid. So Koreans choose other sectors like business, legal field, banking, the financial sector. They want to use their skills practically without unnecessary illusions. Our people had to adapt to challenging situations hence we have become even more resilient, actually one of the most resilient people in the world I would say because Koreans in any country occupy a respected niche in society,” he said.
The chairman expressed his honest opinion about the lives of Koreans in Kazakhstan and stressed that no matter the nationality anyone can either do well in this country or have a lamentable future. It all depends on the personality and character, he explained.
“For me, if people live in a certain country they are first of all citizens of the country no matter the nationality,” Kim said. “Koreans in general are well-off in Kazakhstan. In my opinion, it is because since childhood we are taught to work hard and are after a very good education that would give us better chances at getting high-paid jobs, growing intellectually and professionally, no surprises here.”
“I always say this at roundtables and during public speeches – it’s great that we have become one nation of Kazakhstan, not separate nationalities, not like it used be during the Genghis Khan’s rule, where nations were split in clans,” Kim explained. “But as our President said, we share one destiny and have one country and one future and I believe we should unite under this credo. Of course, each ethnic group has their own unique cultural traits and people come to realise that at some point in their lives sooner or later, but some don’t ever realise that. In general, I firmly oppose any idea of the type of nationalism that could threaten our unity.”