The language reality
Everybody speaks Russian and most Kazakhs also speak some level of Kazakh. In this the most russified country in Central Asia the lingua franca is Russian.
The South in more ethnic Kazakh and the Kazakh language is used more than in the North. In the North, which was majority Russian in the time of the USSR, most Kazakhs prefer Russian. The North being defined unofficially starting somewhere around Karaganda.
Russian is often perceived as the language of “culture” with the implication that without Russian the people would still be nomads. Many Kazakhs are better in Russian as they were educated in this language and even the younger generation flocks to Russian as it gives easy access to such things as movies (both in Russian and dubbed), video games and the internet.
The cities are more Russian speaking that the countryside as the remaining non-Kazakhs make up a proportionately higher percentage in cities than outside larger centres. Like in most parts of the world where people have the freedom of mobility people are flocking to the cities.
To illustrate the issue lets look at Almaty and Astana.
Almaty is the undisputed business capital of Central Asia and the former capital. It is cosmopolitan with a centre that often makes you feel like you are somewhere in Europe rather than in Central Asia. The undisputed language of work and of play is Russian. I do not hear a lot of Kazakh spoken on the streets even though this city is majority ethnic Kazakh. Many Kazakhs, particularly those originally from Almaty, prefer Russian. Many foreign companies operating here reinforce this by working in Russian and English.
Astana the new capital that is being built almost from scratch it the centerpiece of the government’s language policy that makes Kazakh the only official language of Kazakhstan. One is required to speak Kazakh for many government jobs. Here Kazakh is widely spoken and a language of communication as in many smaller cities and towns. However, one can always speak Russian without a problem. As the city is so new and most embassies have yet to even transfer to Astana it’s still early to make a judgement on how the city will evolve.
Regardless of the inevitable conflict language rights/promotion brings, there is linguistic peace in Kazakhstan. What price can one put on peace?