Rushyldyq (Kazakhstan)

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Rushyldyq
Location: Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan map.png
Author: Dana Minbaeva and Maral Muratbekova-Touron
Affiliation: Copenhagen Business School and ESCP Europe, Paris

Original text by Dana Minbaeva and Maral Muratbekova-Touron

Rushyldyq (Cyrillic: рушылдық) is a strong feeling of sub-ethnic identity with and loyalty to one's ru in Kazakhstan. The word rushyldyk is derived from the Kazakh term ru, which denotes membership of a particular sub-ethnic group, or clan, united by actual or perceived kinship and descent and inhabiting a shared territory. Traditionally, the Kazakhs have been divided into three zhuz – Uly Zhuz (Great Zhuz), Orta Zhuz (Middle Zhuz) and Kishi Zhuz (Little Zhuz) – with each zhuz further subdivided into ru, the number of which varies. Western political scientists refer to the concepts of ru, zhuz and rushyldyq as ‘clan’, ‘umbrella clan’ and ‘clanism’ respectively (Schatz 2004[1]; Collins 2006[2]). Rushyldyq can also be defined as the use of ru ties. When discussing rushyldyq, the Russian-language press uses various terms such as tribalism (traibalizm), nepotism, patronage, or ‘economy of nephews and sons-in-law.’

The Kazakhs appeared as a distinct ethnic group in the sixteenth century, and were nomadic up to the twentieth century. During these nomadic times, genealogy was central to group identity. As Schatz explains: ‘After inquiring into the health of one another’s livestock, nomads meeting in the steppe would typically ask, “What clan do you come from?” (Qai rudan keldiniz?), or more generically, “What people do you come from?” (Qai eldensiz?). The answer was couched by recounting ancestry; genealogical knowledge was thus reiterated with every new interaction and comprised a dense discursive exchange that helped to establish the widely recognized contours of clan at various levels’ (Schatz 2004: 28[3]).

From nomadic times to the pre-Soviet era, ru divisions (Kazakh: руға бөліну/rugha bolinu) were not based on visible indicators that distinguished members from non-members, but rather defined by demonstrable knowledge of kin relations. To this day, every Kazakh is expected to be able to list his or her own genealogical background to the seventh generation (zheti ata), as well as his or her ru and zhuz.

The Soviet state stigmatised and criminalised rushyldyq, thus removing it from public domain. Yet the fact that the boundaries of ru were not catalogued or stored by the bureaucratic state as a statistical category meant that the Soviet authorities could not punish rushyldyq, due to the very informality of its institutions and practices. Being easily concealable, rushyldyq avoided state surveillance and continued to exist in the private domain. Schatz (2004[4]) has suggested that ru divisions in the Central Asian region persisted precisely because of the efforts of the Soviet state to eradicate them from political and social life, rather than in spite of them. The Soviet crusade to eliminate clan divisions had an opposite effect: Kazakhs hid their clan affiliations, which are based on exchanged genealogical information and therefore not visible from the outside. Consequently, the place of residence, kolkhoz or sovkhoz (collective farm) for rural Kazakhs, became a public marker of identity and subethnic background.

The institution of zheti ata, ru and zhuz genealogies has experienced a rehabilitation since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the independence of Kazakhstan. This revitalisation of genealogical knowledge is widely discussed privately and semi publically in internet forums, and in relatively independent newspapers and magazines. For some Kazakhs, rushyldyq only extends to actual kinship ties as well as kinship derived through marriage (kuda). However, many Kazakhs extend their clannish behaviour to fictive kin identities such as long-lasting friendships, school ties (synyptastar/odnoklassniki), and neighbourhood affiliations (zherlester/zemlyaki). This broader conception of rushyldyk has even extended to and is practiced by Kazakhstani citizens of all ethnicities, not only ethnic Kazakhs (Kazakhstan is populated by more than 120 ethnicities, including Kazakhs, Russians, Uzbeks, Ukrainians, Germans, Tatars, and Uyghurs).

Rushyldyq can help to secure access to various essential goods: economic, social, or political. Minbaeva and Muratbekova-Touron (2013[5]) give examples of the use of kin connections to find a job for a relative or a friend. These examples are especially observable in state-owned companies. A popular joke circulating in Kazakhstan goes: ‘There are no love affairs in state-owned companies. Why? Because they are all relatives.’ However, the influx of Western multinational companies has lessened the influence of clanism on managerial practices, especially in their subsidiaries.

Shatz (2004[6]) describes in detail how ru or zhuz attachment can be a principal consideration in political patronage. Political appointments among Kazakhs often follow the logic of rushyldyq. For example, when a new mayor (akim) is appointed, he may replace the majority of the office staff with his kin relations. According to one unpublished study regarding attitudes towards clanism, around 45 per cent of respondents believed that kin connections were also important for the recruitment of deputies for maslikhat – local representative bodies (Mustafaev 2010[7]). Incidentally, the concealability of rushyldyq helps to avoid the visible nepotism, since kin relations from the same ru are typically not public knowledge.

Attitudes towards rushyldyq are ambiguous even among Kazakhs. Some Kazakhs encourage mutual assistance among kin, maintaining that rushyldyq defines Kazakhness (qazaqshylyq) – that which distinguishes ethnic Kazakhs from other non-titular citizens of Kazakhstan (Russians, Uzbeks, Ukrainians, etc.). Other Kazakhs consider rushyldyq to be a ‘disease’, and a threat to the unity of Kazakhs as an ethnic group. Non-titular citizens of Kazakhstan and some outsiders typically regard it as abuse of power for the benefit of kin groups.

To study rushyldyq (and clanism in Kazakhstan and Central Asia in general), Western political scientists have used intensive and extensive ethnographic methods, interviews and focus group methods (Schatz 2004[8]; Collins 2006[9]). Minbaeva and Muratbekova-Touron (2013[10]) have developed ‘clanism’ as a management concept and studied its implications for human resource management practices in Kazakhstan. They undertook a qualitative case research method based on several sources: formal interviews with HR managers; informal conversations with Kazakhstani people; and the authors’ own personal experiences as Kazakhstani citizens. Hotho et al. (2013[11]) used a vignette experiment to study the effects of clan ties on the recruitment and selection decisions made by managers in Kazakhstan. The scholars asked participants to impersonate a decision maker during a recruitment and selection process based on realistic situational descriptions (the vignettes), which contained the variables of interest.

Ironically, the use of rushyldyq is crucial for field researchers to gain the required trust from respondents and access to companies for research cases. Kazakhstani people are often apprehensive about participating in management research, particularly when a study touches upon sensitive issues, such as the influence of clan relations. However, they tend to be more comfortable participating if they trust the party conducting the study; in particular if an interviewer is perceived as bizdiki or svoi (‘one of ours’ in Kazakh and Russian, respectively). The following quotation from a respondent illustrates the general attitude of Kazakhstani people to interviews:

‘If your friend had not asked me to meet you, I would never have spoken to you. I know that the director of the company values her a lot and trusts her. That’s why I said “yes” [to the interview].’

References and Bibliography

  1. Edgar, A. 2004. Tribal nation: The making of Soviet Turkmenistan. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press
  2. Masanov, N. 1996. ‘Kazakhskaia politicheskaia i intellektual’naia elita: klanovaia prinadlezhnost’ i vnutriethnicheskoe sopernichestvo’, Vestnik Evrazii, 1(2): 46–61
  3. Umbetalieva, T. B. 2001. ‘Yavlenie traibalisma v Kazakhstane’, Kazakhstan-Spektr, 3: 35–46

Notes

  1. Schatz, E. 2004. Modern clan politics: The power of “blood” in Kazakhstan and beyond. Seattle and London: University of Washington Press.
  2. Collins, K. 2006. Clan politics and regime transition in Central Asia. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  3. Schatz, E. 2004. Modern clan politics: The power of “blood” in Kazakhstan and beyond. Seattle and London: University of Washington Press.
  4. Schatz, E. 2004. Modern clan politics: The power of “blood” in Kazakhstan and beyond. Seattle and London: University of Washington Press.
  5. Minbaeva, D. B. and Muratbekova-Touron, M. 2013. ‘Clanism: Definition and Implications for Human Resource Management’, Management International Review, 53: 109 – 139.
  6. Schatz, E. 2004. Modern clan politics: The power of “blood” in Kazakhstan and beyond. Seattle and London: University of Washington Press.
  7. Mustafaev, N. 2010. ‘Litso tribalisma’, Pravila igri, January. http://www.zonakz.net/articles/28222?mode=reply.
  8. Schatz, E. 2004. Modern clan politics: The power of “blood” in Kazakhstan and beyond. Seattle and London: University of Washington Press.
  9. Collins, K. 2006. Clan politics and regime transition in Central Asia. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  10. Minbaeva, D. B. and Muratbekova-Touron, M. 2013. ‘Clanism: Definition and Implications for Human Resource Management’, Management International Review, 53: 109 – 139.
  11. Hotho, J., Minbaeva, D., Muratbekova-Touron, M., Rabbiosi, L. 2013. ‘Handling Pressures of Community Logic: The Impact of Clan Ties on Recruitment and Selection in Kazakhstan’, conference paper delivered at The Academy of International Business, Istanbul, Turkey, 3-6 July.