Birth certificate (Kazakhstan)

Birth certificate (Kazakhstan)

A universal birth certificate was approved and introduced in the USSR from 1935. This was the first official document children received and was very important as a means of proving their identity until they reached the age of 16. They were then entitled to an ‘internal passport’, an identity document allowing travel within the Soviet Union, as opposed to the ‘international passport’ required for travel abroad. The birth certificate recorded the child’s date of birth, name and parents’ names. It had to be presented when attending a medical centre or enrolling at school or university and in a number of other contexts.

As a general rule, a child had to be registered no more than a month after birth. However, even in cases where parents came to register their child’s birth as much as a year late, the authorities accepted it without imposing sanctions, except to add a note saying ‘registered after deadline’. During Soviet times, many people living in rural areas, especially in southern Kazakhstan, did not record their child’s actual date of birth on the document but instead used the date of an official public holiday, often 8th March or 1st or 9th May. It is fascinating to explore this phenomenon and what these documents can tell us.

The birth of a child is always a major event for the whole family and parents try to complete the formalities of registration as soon as possible to ensure their child acquires official, legal status. However, on Soviet collective farms, where the workers were required to fulfil government plans, the situation was often rather different.Work was the most important thing in the life of a Soviet collective farm worker and the birth of a child was a less significant event than bringing in the harvest or tending to the cattle and other farm work, since failure to fulfil the plan could mean the worker being expelled from the collective farm and losing their own small plot of land. Most villages were a long way away from the regional centre and many women had to give birth at home or even at their place of work, in the fields. In some cases, the day after giving birth women went back to milk the cows or returned to stooking wheat in the fields, leaving the baby in the care of their older children or an elderly grandmother.

There were many reasons why parents didn’t rush to complete the official registration of their newborn son or daughter, including being busy with work, the distances involved, lack of transport or having no other imminent pressing business in the town. This situation might persist for months and then, when it was convenient, one of the parents, usually the father, would finally travel to the town and obtain a birth certificate for the child. By then, the parents had often forgotten the exact day and even the month when the baby was born, but it didn’t really matter.

In such situations when it came to filling in the date of birth column, they just entered the date of their preferred public holiday. Particularly popular was May Day, celebrated on 1st May and marked with a two-day holiday. It was frequently chosen as the date of birth for babies of both sexes, as it was associated with new life, spring awakening and the earth bringing forth new shoots. People celebrated May Day out in nature, enjoying the feeling that they had earned an opportunity to relax.

The second most popular date was 9th May, which symbolised courage, valour and triumph over adversity. Next came 8th March, International Women’s Day. Girls registered on this day were likened to spring flowers and they were often given flower names (Gulnara, Gulsara or Aigul). However, if a boy was born on 8th March, his parents would try to register him with a different date of birth. In contrast, 12th April (Cosmonautics Day) and 23rd February (Soviet Army and Navy Day) were less popular, as these were not public holidays so there were no large-scale public festivities.

To the casual observer it might seem that parents choosing a birthday for their child that coincided with an official public holiday indicated their loyalty to the Soviet regime. However, the truth was much simpler: the state ordained the dates for public holidays and people arranged their personal circumstances to fit the official calendar. Holidays and opportunities for recreation were few and far between in the lives of rural workers. In the villages it was not customary to celebrate the birthdays of either children or adults and the only time they had a full fortnight’s holiday was in the winter. In the USSR until 1969 working hours and holidays for collective farm workers were internal matters decided in accordance with the rules of the collective farm. As a rule, most collective farms imposed a six-day working week, but the demands of farming life meant that people had to work without a day off for several months between March and November.
Therefore, by tying a child’s birthday to a public holiday, parents wanted to make sure the day would be remembered and would be different from an ordinary day, giving the child a brief respite from the daily grind.

Another interesting fact is that all three of the most popular holidays – 8th March, 1st and 9th May – fall in the spring. For the people of Central Asia this was always a time of particular significance, because it heralded Nawruz, the new year, symbolising hope and the fertility of the earth. Thus these dates emphasised the link between a person’s birth and renewal in the natural world.

Zulfiya Imyarova, Department of Social Sciences, Educational Program of International Relations and Political Science, Narxoz University