A group of men wearing felt kalpak hats raced into a karaoke club late one December night and lined up local women before a video camera. They accused them of prostitution while blaming Chinese men for abetting vice in Kyrgyzstan. Their video was meant to inflame public indignation.
American taxpayers spent hundreds of thousands of dollars refurbishing a women’s shelter outside Kyrgyzstan’s capital less than five years ago. Though the Central Asian country is desperately short of such crisis centers, the shelter never functioned and, a member of parliament now says, was improperly privatized instead.
Nights are quiet now on Pravda Street. Only a few older women are to be found in Bishkek’s notorious red-light district. They are the mamochki – elsewhere known as “madams,” female pimps. The girls are hidden away, often in taxis parked next to the road.
Authorities at Kyrgyzstan’s Ministry of Culture want to ban a play that discusses domestic abuse and sexual violence because it “promotes scenes that destroy moral and ethical standards and national traditions of the peoples of Kyrgyzstan.” The effort points to creeping conservatism in the thinking of Kyrgyzstan’s leaders.
In a small room with two desks and three chairs it is surprisingly easy to lose Ismayil Kadyrov. But he’s there, behind a tall pile of papers, correcting another document translated from Russian to Kyrgyz. “At every step I come across incorrectly translated documents,” he says. “We don’t have enough time, we work days and nights!” Pointing at a paper covered in red ink marks, he sighs.
Amid a lingering climate of fear hanging over southern Kyrgyzstan, journalists there are embracing a Soviet-style survival tactic: rather than run the risk of reprisals for writing freely, they are self-censoring and reporting only on what are considered safe topics.
Issues of Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) rights have been much in the news in the former Soviet Union over the past year. In Russia and Ukraine, proposed legislation criminalizing "homosexual propaganda," or just about any discussion of homosexuality in front of minors, threatens to roll back the boundaries of tolerance for the LGBT community.
Lawmakers in Kyrgyzstan are again trying to force Toronto-based Centerra Gold, the country’s largest foreign investor, to renegotiate the terms of a mining deal that generates up to 12 percent of GDP. Any new operating contract would be the third for the country’s flagship Kumtor Gold Mine in less than a decade.
When Osh’s Uzbek Music and Drama Theater opened its 94th season last month, the actors looked nervously into the audience. They had not celebrated an opening night for three years, since before the theater was partially burned amid 2010’s ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan.