ASTANA – The people of Hungary and Kazakhstan, who share a nomadic past, are almost like relatives, said Hungarian Cultural Centre Head Aleksandr Papp. In a recent interview with The Astana Times, he marked common roots and historical circumstances among the key factors explaining their similarity.
Uniting the small diaspora of 457 Hungarians in Kazakhstan, the centre has been working during the past 23 years to facilitate friendly ties between the nations.
“The Hungarian cultural centre was established in 1995. I was chosen as a chair,” said Papp.
The centre’s main objective is to revive and foster development of the Hungarian national culture, preserve national customs and traditions and boost bilateral cooperation in education, science and culture, as well as participate in the work of the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan (APK) at the local and national level.
Hungarians are among the 130 ethnic groups, although not the largest, who call Kazakhstan their home.
“I can say that there are 457 Hungarians in Kazakhstan according to the recent census. Twenty-seven Hungarians out of 50 living in Almaty are working in the centre,” he added.
The first Hungarians settled in the Kazakh steppes 300-400 years ago, according to historical data, while others were among the more than 1.5 million who came to the country during the extensive Virgin Lands campaign launched by Nikita Khrushchev in the 1950s to boost Soviet agricultural production.
“I believe that Hungarians and Kazakhs are like relatives because we came from the North Pole and lived in the Far East; then, Hungarians were dislodged from controlling the Hun state and relocated to South Ural and northern Kazakhstan,” said Papp.
“I think they (Kazakhs and Hungarians) were very close to each other. If there were not enough men in wars, even women fought both among Kazakhs and Hungarians. Part of the Magyars (Hungarian tribe) settled in Kazakhstan in Derzhavinsk, Karaganda, Akmolinsk and other regions and then they migrated to the Turan lowland between the Aral and Caspian seas and then to the Volga River living near the embankment of Dnepropetrovsk,” he added.
The two nations also share comparable words, said Papp, which makes the Hungarian alphabet a good example for the Kazakh alphabet currently in transition from Cyrillic to Latin script.
“Nearly 350 words are similar,” he noted.
Born in 1939 in the Trans-Carpathian Oblast in south-western Ukraine, Papp came to Kazakhstan in 1970 as a chief mechanical engineer to establish several machinery plants. By virtue of destiny, he and his family settled in the country and he has worked here for nearly 50 years.
“In Kazakhstan, I built three plants in the Soviet times and when it dissolved, I set up a small enterprise with my wife and son and called it Kelet, which means east in Hungarian. We are Hungarians in the East,” he said.
Papp received the Order of Kurmet from Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev given for distinguished merits across different fields, Unity Gold Medal from APK and Knight’s Cross Order of Merit from the Hungarian government for his contribution to strengthening ties between Kazakhstan and Hungary.
“I have been in friendly ties with all ambassadors (of Hungary to Kazakhstan). As a president of the cultural centre, I recommended Kazakh students for the embassy and nine have graduated. I keep in touch with them,” said Papp.
He noted he and his family visit Hungary almost every year.
“Many people ask me if I applied for Hungarian citizenship and I am telling them no. I did not seek Hungarian citizenship; I am a citizen of Kazakhstan. We are patriots,” he added.