In the early 1990s, the independent Kazakhstan inherited the legacy of the militant soviet atheism, marked by the discrimination and regulation of religious groups outside the legislative field. Consequently, freedom of consciousness and religious self-definition did not exist.
In the post-soviet era, the official approach to religious unions and people has radically changed. For the first time in Kazakhstan’s history, religious duties and rights were recognized and became the subjects of social and legal interaction. In 1992, the law “On the freedom of religion and religious unions” was adopted, providing many opportunities for the fulfillment of religious needs. Drafted according to international acts, principles and norms, this law established a liberal policy of the State in the field of religion.
In Kazakhstan, the state power contributes to the development of interconfessional dialogue and to the creation of the climate of mutual understanding and tolerance between the representatives of different religions. For this purpose the Government’s Council was established to conference with religious unions and the Ministry of culture. Existing various connections between the state and religion allow the latter to influence the decisions of state institutions.
The Assembly of People of Kazakhstan
Ethnic cultural centers, including three that have international status, have been established in all areas of Kazakhstan, to support ethnic identity, with their highest forum the Assembly of Peoples of Kazakhstan. Established in 1995, the Assembly of People of Kazakhstan is a so-called “infrastructure of friendship.” The Assembly is an umbrella structure that unites under its aegis 23 national and more than 470 regional ethnic/cultural organizations from almost every region of Kazakhstan.
In 12 years of its existence, the Assembly has undergone significant evolutionary changes, transforming from an advisory-consultative body into a constitutional one. Under the constitutional reform of 2007, the status and authority of the Assembly have been considerably strengthened. The Assembly is composed of 27 republican and regional unions and more than 300 district ethnic cultural unions. The Assembly deals with 16 small, regional Assemblies of peoples of Kazakhstan, called Akims, which act as consultative bodies by the regional administrations and are comprised of representatives from local ethnic-cultural and social unions. Today, 9 Assembly members have permanent seats in the lower chamber of Parliament.
This powerful social force has become an organic part of the civil society and expresses its views in the chambers of the Parliament, political parties, mass-media, and state and non-government organizations. It has forged the interests of all ethnicities and ensures the rights and freedoms of all citizens, further demonstrating that interethnic consent is a necessary component of democratic constitutionalism.
This idea of spiritual accord and inter-confessional cooperation was chosen as a basis of state policy in this sphere. This dialogue was not only important in the past, but remains a vital conversation due to the prevalence of religious extremism and religious conflicts throughout the world. The civil society and government of Kazakhstan have consistently been taking every possible measure to prevent any form of ethnic or religious radicalism.
Kazakhstan's Constitution reads that, "any actions aimed at violating interethnic consent should be treated as anti-constitutional.” Furthermore, President Nazarbayev declared in his latest address to the people of Kazakhstan that, "Kazakhstan intends to strengthen further its role of an active participant of the international coalition against international terrorism and religious extremism."
Kazakhstan is constantly improving its model of interethnic and interreligious consent. In 2007, the Program on Guaranteeing Religious Freedom and Improving State-Religion Relations in Kazakhstan on 2007-2009 was adopted. Within the framework of this program, many international scientific conferences have been held, including those on religious legislation, interreligious consent, and religious extremism.
Kazakhstan is one of the first countries to convert the idea of spiritual accord into reality. In spite of Kazakhstan’s new independence, the 1992 congress of spiritual accord was held within its borders. As a reminder of that occasion, the 18th of October is celebrated as the Day of spiritual accord in Kazakhstan.
On May 1, Kazakhstan celebrates the Day of People's Unity. This holiday is very similar to American Thanksgiving Day. Every year on May 1, representatives of various ethnic groups living in Kazakhstan dress in their national clothes and display artwork, culture, food and traditions to large crowds gathering in the main squares of all cities and villages of Kazakhstan.
The Constitution of the Republic identifies the main principles of interaction between church and state:
- The State and its bodies do not have the right to control the attitude of its citizens towards religion and to consider its citizens on this criterion.
- The State does not interfere with the activities of religious organizations, unless laws are violated.
- The State provides no material or any other support, including financial aid, to religious organizations.
- Religious organizations do not exercise any state functions.
- Religious organizations do not interfere with the matters of the State.
- The State undertakes the duty to guard lawful activities of religious unions. It does not evade the legal regulation of their status and takes care of the legislative frames of their activities.
- The State considers religious people as equal citizens of Kazakhstan and religious unions as an integral part of the social structure of the country. The State supports and encourages religious unions that provide useful activities, solutions to social problems, favorable spiritual and moral climates in the society, and beneficial discussions of draft laws concerning the questions of religion.