ALMATY -- Kazakhstan is redesigning its national currency to exclude the Russian language, a move that reflects Central Asian states' continuing shift toward greater independence from Russia.
The new design of the Kazakh tenge includes Kazakh ornamentation, portraits of prominent figures who contributed to the country's history and development, unique historical, geographical and architectural landmarks, images of native flora and fauna as well as important symbols associated with the country.
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev approved the currency revamp by decree last December 12. The country has not yet announced a date for the appearance of the new banknotes.
Tenge notes now in circulation are denominated in both Kazakh and Russian.
Russia did not fail to notice the removal of its language from all future Kazakh currency, except for commemorative and numismatic coins.
"This topic has our constant attention, given that this is one of the tasks and functions of the Russian Foreign Ministry, not only in connection with Kazakhstan, but in principle regarding the entire space inhabited by native speakers of Russian," Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said February 22, as quoted by the radio station Moscow Speaking.
At a news conference the same day, she called the currency redesign by Kazakhstan -- which is moving to Latinise its presently Cyrillic alphabet -- an "internal affair".
Russian nationalist zealots were less restrained.
In a Facebook post dated February 25, members of the 17Vagon nationalist movement are shown picketing the Kazakh Embassy in Moscow.
One member holds up a handwritten poster reminding Nazarbayev that in 2014, Ukraine lost Crimea and the Donbas, territory populated mostly by Russian speakers -- allegedly because the country had humiliated them.
The poster warns that Kazakhstan might lose its northern regions, where the majority of residents speak Russian as a native language.
"Nazarbayev, remember -- Russophobia is dangerous! Bring back Cyrillic," the poster reads. "Bring back the Russian language to the tenge. When Russians are humiliated, they can leave -- and take their lands with them."
The protest outraged some in Kazakhstan, who called it an incitement that deserved attention from law enforcement.
Russia is sensitive to events in Central Asia that run counter to its interests, said Astana businessman Ruslan Bekeyev.
"However, one should respect the choice made by sovereign countries, because each of them has its own values and its own path of development," he told Caravanserai.
Matching other Central Asian currencies
The Kazakh banknote design of today has drawn criticism from some Kazakh activists, who point out that none of the other Central Asian states has Russian notations on their currencies.
In fact, of all the 15 post-Soviet states, only Kazakhstan and Russia have Russian-language inscriptions on their currency. Even Ukraine and Belarus, which speak Slavic languages similar to Russian, have no Russian on their currencies.
Other Central Asian currencies reflect national and cultural values, as well as perpetuating the memory of heroes and notable individuals.
Kyrgyzstan celebrated the 25th anniversary of its national currency, the som, last year. In 1993, the country became the first post-Soviet state to shed rubles and to put its own banknotes into circulation. They bore exclusively Kyrgyz inscriptions from the start.
The 10-KGS (14 US cents) bills of 1994 to 1997 bore the portrait of Kasym Tynystanov, who was executed in 1938 during Stalin's Great Terror, said Marlen Karybayev of Bishkek, a schoolteacher of history. Tynystanov helped create a Latin alphabet for the Kyrgyz language in the 1920s.
"Kyrgyzstan thus demonstrates its commitment to the restoration of historical justice, even though the Russian government is trying to avoid discussions of the repressions" directed by Joseph Stalin, he told Caravanserai.
At an international conference last May in Bishkek celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Kyrgyz national currency, President Sooronbay Jeenbekov stressed that the som "became not only the main instrument of independent monetary and credit policy but also a symbol of the independence of a sovereign state".
Meanwhile, the Uzbekistan has been using Latin designations in the design of its currency, also called the som, since 2013.
The fronts of the Uzbek banknotes shows the denomination, the national coat of arms, and the Arch of Good and Noble Aspirations in Tashkent, as well as a statue of Mirzo Ulugbek, a ruler of the Timurid dynasty and grandson of Tamerlane.
The banknotes' reverse sides show the parliament and senate buildings, the Palace of Forums and the Ulugh Beg Observatory.
Tajik banknotes have inscriptions in two languages: Tajik on the front and English on the back.
It is important for Tajikistan to emphasise the attributes of its nationhood, Jasur Abdulloyev, a spokesman for the Dushanbe-based Centre for Journalistic Investigations of Tajikistan, told Caravanserai.
That is why the recent design of the somoni depicts scholars and statesmen from Tajikistan who have made significant contributions to the country's development, as well as its top historical and cultural attractions, he said.