We Are All the APK, Jewish Cultural Centre Founder Says

АлександрAlexander Baron was behind the creation of the ethnic cultural centres in Kazakhstan, so he can rightfully say that the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan (APK) is a significant part of his life. Baron continues to work actively in the APK through his chairmanship of the Mitzvah Association of Jewish national organisations of Kazakhstan.   Could you tell what brought you to the national cultural centres? As I understand it, your first career was medicine. It all started in the 1990s, when four ethnic cultural centres were registered in Almaty, including the Jewish centre, Shalom. I came into this movement in late 1991 and for the first 10 years worked as a volunteer, combining this work with my duties at the hospital, where I worked as a medical rescuer. On May 30, 1992, we registered the national Jewish organisation that took over the mission of building Jewish cultural centres in every major city of Kazakhstan. In 1993 – 1994 we achieved our goal and such centres were opened. I always emphasise the fact that our activities never met any opposition; no one came and asked, “What are you doing here?” It means that the state has given the greatest gift to these national centres: it gave them independence. However, the most important for us was 1995, when President Nursultan Nazarbayev gathered the leaders of all ethnic cultural centres. I remember those meetings very well; we gathered a few times and the President was with us. At that time, Nazarbayev put forward the idea of creating a special organisation, which would unite all the national and cultural centres in the country. It was a very emotional discussion. There were various suggestions of what the organisation should be like. With one voice, it was decided that it should be a representative of the people, but at the same time, the assembly should not be a legislative body like a parliament; rather, it should be the people’s voice. Not accidentally, Nazarbayev said, “The Assembly is all of us, citizens of Kazakhstan.” Truly, through interacting with each other, learning from each other, we are living the full life of our state. In addition, it is extremely important that the President himself became the head of the organisation, thus marking its high level and significance in the life of the country. By the way, it helped us greatly in our work. Today we hold meetings with the President once a year. Important issues are discussed there. For the past 20 years, we have done a lot. The President said to us, please, build our new country. We accepted his words with enthusiasm and joy, believe me. It is not a secret that there is some primitive view that ethnic centres are about songs and dances, although their purposes are much deeper and far more serious. Do the centres mean that different ethnic groups within Kazakhstan don’t want to be part of the larger state, but are trying to create a piece of their ethnic homeland in the country? No way! We have always understood that we all live in one state. We have the same interests, even though we pray in different places. State-building and Kazakhstan’s well-being are extremely important to us. In this regard, we have a lot of projects. For example, we launched a project called the Garland of Dance in Almaty. We invited all the ethnic cultural centres to take part in it. Each community represented not only their own culture, but other nationalities as well. It turned into a big celebration, which showed the youth that the only way to exist together is to love each other, understand and persevere. Also, we are planning to open a camp of interfaith tolerance for children who are brought up in families of different faiths. Basically, we are engaged in youth issues very seriously, paying particular attention to promoting patriotism. Yes, it is especially important now, when we see tragedies occurring through young people being manipulated. You are right, these are important ideological tasks, such as an education of love for the motherland. We are trying to withdraw from the shadow of formalism, so the kids understand why it is important. Especially we, Jews, like no one else, know how important it is to live in a state that does not offend you. A few years ago, we created special Young Family Clubs, where every summer we organise trips to Kapshagai. There, young families can get acquainted with each other, play games, et cetera. The effect of these trips is amazing! All the families begin to make friends – not only adults, but children as well. By the way, 21 babies were born to couples from our centre in Almaty in 2013 and 19 were born the year before. Four couples met in our centre. What do you consider your main achievement over the years? Our main achievementis our activities. For example, we have an enormous library in our centre. I suppose it is the best ethnic library not only in Kazakhstan, but in all of Central Asia. We have 15,000 books and other printed materials, a lot of digital information, music, films, a social library for the visually impaired, audio books. Who can use it? It is open to all visitors like any other library. In addition, we study the history of the Jewish community in Kazakhstan. We have already held six international conferences and published 13 books. Are those studies more about the fate of the Jewish people in Kazakhstan? Not only the Jewish people – we are studying the history of Kazakhstan during the periods of the deportation of peoples and evacuation of refugees, without emphasising nationality. This is our common history. And, of course, particularly, we trace the history of the emergence of the Jewish ethnic groups in Kazakhstan. You worked as deputy chairman of the APK. What were your main responsibilities? All the work of the APK aims to unite the people of Kazakhstan, make them monolithic, so there are no gaps of ignorance left. Think, what scares you in a stranger? Ignorance of what you can expect from him or her. Whereas when you know that you are surrounded by friendly-minded people, it destroys the wall of distrust. It is very important that such work is held among the people in the cities and small towns. Last summer, I had a chance to be a part of the delegation of the APK that paid an official visit to the United States. Besides me, there were also members of the Mazhilis of Parliament, such as Yegor Kappel, who represented the German Centre, and Yuri Timoshenko, head of the Ukrainian Centre. In Washington we held meetings at the White House and the State Department, where we explained that 2015 would be the Year of the Assembly of People of Kazakhstan. I told them that Kazakhstan is a country that allows each ethnic group to live its national life, and at the same time it is a single state, a leader in Central Asia and  beyond. Therefore, we try to do everything to make our Kazakhstan stronger from year to year.

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