Di­as­pora in Kaza­khstan

The Korea Times - - OPINION - By Eu­gene Lee Eu­gene Lee ([email protected]) is an ad­junct pro­fes­sor of in­ter­na­tional stud­ies at Sungkyunkw­an Univer­sity in Seoul.

The Korean di­as­pora in Kaza­khstan is the sec­ond most pop­u­lous group of eth­nic Kore­ans in Cen­tral Asia to this day. This di­as­pora is the most ad­vanced in terms of de­mo­graphic and so­cial mo­bil­ity, with its mem­bers well pro­moted in the high­est po­lit­i­cal and aca­demic cir­cles.

To­day the di­as­pora is a mix that even in­cludes North Kore­ans who in the 1980-90s were granted an op­por­tu­nity to work, and some were en­ti­tled to Kaza­khstani cit­i­zen­ship. After gain­ing in­de­pen­dence in 1991, Kaza­khstan es­tab­lished proper diplo­matic re­la­tions with South Korea and opened its doors to var­i­ous projects and fields of co­op­er­a­tion.

The city of Al­maty, then-cap­i­tal of Kaza­khstan, by the mid1990s had be­come a bat­tle­ground be­tween the two Koreas. Sym­bol­i­cally, the em­bassies of the two coun­tries were placed in north­ern and the south­ern ar­eas of the cap­i­tal re­spec­tively. In that pe­riod Al­maty had had an in­flux of South Korean busi­ness­men, traders and mis­sion­ar­ies. Dur­ing the fol­low­ing 15 years, the over­all per­cep­tion of North Korea in the eyes of lo­cal Kore­ans be­gan to change in fa­vor of South Korea, as it meant more op­por­tu­ni­ties to net­work, learn and ex­pand. In the 1990s some South Korean mis­sion­ar­ies helped an un­de­clared num­ber of es­capees from North Korea make it to Seoul.

In the 1990s Kaza­khstan de­nu­cle­arized and had be­gun con­struct­ing an im­age as a peace­maker. Its re­la­tion­ships with Py­ongyang be­gan to de­te­ri­o­rate dras­ti­cally after North Korea’s first nu­clear test in 2006, which led to an even­tual clo­sure of the North’s em­bassy in Al­maty.

The Korean di­as­pora in Kaza­khstan un­doubt­edly has all gen­eral traits of other Korean eth­nic di­as­po­ras in Cen­tral Asia — for ex­am­ple, their roots are pri­mar­ily in the north­ern and south­ern provinces, they carry the ex­pe­ri­ence of the so­cial­ist past, they have had mas­sive in­put into the con­struc­tion of the so­cial­ist regime in the DPRK, and they main­tained re­la­tions with both Koreas. Nev­er­the­less, the di­as­pora in Kaza­khstan bears some dif­fer­ences, if not ad­van­tages, over the di­as­po­ras in other Cen­tral Asian states. First, it is their sta­tus and the level of the coun­try of res­i­dence — Kaza­khstan, which took a lead­ing po­si­tion in in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions, as in the CIS.

The Korean di­as­pora of Kaza­khstan dif­fers in the higher level of ed­u­ca­tion, so­phis­ti­cated cul­ture, a broader per­cep­tion of the world, be­cause it was here to where the big­gest num­ber of Korean stu­dents were de­ported from the Far East, and not Uzbek­istan.

It is here that the key el­e­ments of Korean cul­ture were sus­tained and pro­moted, such as Korean the­ater, the edi­to­rial board of a Soviet Union-wide news­pa­per in Korean, as well as ra­dio broad­casts in Korean.

Kaza­khstan can be­come a spring­board for South Korean busi­nesses for fur­ther ex­pan­sion to the West.

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