Media and Internet
In my last post, I talked about the political potential of Turkmen Hip Hop. What I meant by that wasn’t that the music is going to mobilize the young generation to rise up against their government — maybe it could, if the çyraçy ideal (fast cars, fast money, fast women) flounders against the hard realities of our country’s daily life – but that the authorities should listen to it, to understand the desires of the youth. Unfortunately, that’s probably not going to happen, but not just because our leaders seem too afraid to listen to anyone else. Hip Hop will probably continue to be rejected also because of the huge negative reaction from the general public to Hip Hop, and the fact that the çyraçy ideal challenges the very nature of our state at the moment. In fact, the two things — the negativity of the general public and the threat to our sense of nationalism — are connected.
The outside world makes fun of how our media is so censored, but they don’t completely understand. It’s no longer a top-down Stalinist system in which officials meet everyday to plan the propaganda machine; increasingly, people outside of the government can submit their own content to the media for broadcast. However, their content must meet very strict regulations set by the officials: you cannot criticize the government or be political in any way in your lyrics, and if you film a video clip to go with your song, you must wear decent, formal clothing, and girls especially cannot wear anything explicit. Restrictions like these are why you will not find Hip Hop on the official media outlets; the çyraçy ideal is not compatible with the “traditions” and “good morals” the authorities want to promote. The thing is, the older generations — the parents and grandparents of the rappers’ audiences — agree with the authorities.
Editor’s note: NewEurasia’s Khan returns to talk more about Turkmenistan’s Hip Hop scene, and with a novel interpretation: with all the intense boredom of the Turkmen youth, could Hip Hop provide not only an emotional release, but a way for the government to get a sense of what the rising generation wants? [Read our entire series, “Turkmen on the turntables”, by clicking here.
When I last posted on NewEurasia, I introduced readers to the brief history of Turkmenistan’s Hip Hop scene. I now want to talk more about the political potential of the music, which is really there.
But first, I gotta say that I don’t mean revolution. I can’t think of any Hip Hop singer in history who’s ever had either the balls or the actual power to overthrow a government. Yeah, there’s a lot of talk of political violence in Western Hip Hop lyrics, especially the “underground” stuff in America and France, but it’s just bluster, guys beating their chests and acting tough. Actually, in Yemen Hip Hop’s a force against political violence.
Besides, most of us Turkmens — including the rappers — don’t want to destroy our government. The older generation went through that already in 1991, and all we young guys have to do is look over at Kyrgyzstan or Syria to see how messy it can get. That doesn’t mean we aren’t angry or things couldn’t blow up one day, because they could. Here’s why:
Tashkent hosted the first_ever Central Asian Independent Film Festival (CAFIF). The festival provided a unique opportunity to filmmakers and video artists from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to show their movies on the big screen, bring them to the audience and communicate with each other.
The festival was held at the legendary Tashkent theater “Ilkhom” from 8-10 June, former home of the dramatist Mark Weil who was murdered in 2007. Art-director Oleg Karpov, himself a well-known enthusiast of non-commercial cinema and the husband of the infamous director Umida Akhmedova — who was convicted in Uzbekistan for the film “The Burden of Virginity” — served as the main organizer of the festival.
A lot has been happening in media and telecommunications – Internet, libel, translation, TV, social networks, mass media, blogging, songs and cell phones – in Central Asia these past few months, for the good and for the bad. Let’s take a look at two stories from each country, regarding media advancements and setbacks that have taken-shape in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan so far in 2012.
Press Freedom in CENTRAL ASIA
The 2012 Freedom of the Press Report, published by human rights group Freedom House, was released in May. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) informs on the role Eurasia/Central Asia plays in the report:
“As a region, Eurasia remained mired in severe press freedom problems, with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan also rated “not free.” Ukraine barely hung onto a rating of “partly free,” just one point away from being downgraded.”
War; triumph; love; romance; empire; defeat; power; loneliness; togetherness; sacrifice; friendship; honour; homeland; youth; freedom; perseverance; legend.
Move over “Borat”! A new – epic, patriotic, heroic, non-offensive, cultural stimulating and historically perfected – film about Kazakhstan has been shot and put up on screen for the world to learn from and enjoy.
Released in Kazakhstan on May 3rd, the state administered Kazakhfilm Studio introduced “Myn Bala: Warriors of the Steppe“, a movie about Kazakhs overthrowing their Mongolian oppressors. The film was made by well-known Kazakh Director Akan Satayev, at an estimated $12 million, and the film brought in $1 million on its first weekend at the box office. The film’s team includes “Central Asia’s leading DoP Khassan Kydyraliyev (“The Light Thief”), script doctor Claire Downs, editors Nicolas Trembasiewicz (“Transporter”) and Christopher Bell (“The Bourne Ultimatum”) and action consultant Teddy Chen (“Bodyguards And Assassins”).” Moreover, the “Myn Bala” Facebook page (supported by 216 ‘Likes’) informs that the film’s leading roles are played by teenage actors of Kazakhstan, who were chosen from 40,000 hopefuls that showed up to auditions spread through out the country.
Yet another one of British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen’s characters has been banned in parts of Central Asia, based on what one might consider being merits of cultural and political disrespect. First, it was the comical and offensive Kazakh journalist Borat, and now it’s the comical and repressive dictator Admiral General Aladeen of the fictional African country the Republic of Wadiya.
“The heroic story of a dictator who risks his life to ensure that democracy would never come to the country he so lovingly oppressed.”
“The Dictator,” featuring a “Middle Eastern-style camel-riding tyrant,” is a satirical take on the culture of African governments. But, the film is supposed to be based on former Libyan leader, oppressor and indeed “Dictator”, the late Colonel Muammar Qaddafi. “The Dictator” himself, Admiral General Aladeen, appears clad in a military uniform and is overloaded with award badges. Overbearing sunglasses in place, white gloves assembled and posture perfected – Cohen’s character looks exactly the part and the images and practices of the “Dictatorial” culture of Republic of Wadiya follow suit, too.
By Nicholas Alan Clayton
Dictatorships do not like the spotlight.
For all the state media bombast and extravagant events that autocratic regimes love to feed their own people, the last thing they are interested in is having hundreds of prying foreign eyes digging into the realities that their propaganda glosses over.
Even if only a small portion of their population sees foreign news reports, despots would prefer the international press ignore their countries altogether. They keep visa restrictions high, make foreign press accreditation hard to get and saddle visiting reporters with minders to steer them away from the story and scare the bejesus out of the journalists’ local sources.
It is for this reason that I respectfully disagree with European leaders who are increasingly calling for boycotts and venue changes for international events like the Euro 2012 in Ukraine and the 2014 Ice Hockey World Cup in Belarus due to the hosts’ human rights abuses and democratic deficiencies. Counter-intuitively, hosting international events brings these regimes exactly what they both need and hate: scrutiny, responsibility and sunlight. Read the full story »
A Tajik singer has summed up his support for Russia’s pro-Putin political culture via music.
Tolinjon Kurbanhanov has mixed music, politics and religion in a melodious melting pot, void of separation and flourishing with his own expression. The singer’s music is openly, politically expressive and far from traditionally, culturally Tajik. Kurbanhanov’s two videos, that though are a few months old – are still, to this day, being viewed by thousands.
Kurbanhanov has made a name for himself by praising Russian political figurehead Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin through song. Singer Kurbanhanov’s first song/video about Putin was released on the eve of the presidential elections in Russia, with aims to encourage folks to – say the least – vote for Putin! The song, titled “GDP”, quickly became an Internet sensation after hitting the Web on February 4th. In less than one month, “GDP” was viewed 1.5 million times. And on May 21st, the video clocked in at 1,310,373 views.
The Open Society Documentary Photography Project (http://www.soros.org/initiatives/photography) and Arts and Culture Program (http://www.soros.org/initiatives/arts) announce a grant and training opportunity for documentary photographers from Central Asia, the South Caucasus, Afghanistan, Mongolia, and Pakistan.
The grant is being offered to:
* visually document issues of importance in the region; and
* provide training and support to photographers from the region.
Approximately 10 cash stipends in the amount of $3,500 each will be awarded to photographers to produce a photo essay on a current human rights or social issue in the region. Grantees will participate in two master-level workshops on visual storytelling through photography and multimedia. These workshops are led by internationally-recognized photographers and industry professionals who will then provide ongoing mentorship and support throughout the six-month grant term.
The Open Society Foundations will pay travel and hotel expenses and provide a per diem to cover meals and incidentals for the workshops.
The deadline for proposals is May 10, 2012.
For more information on the grant, please visit:
Marking its 30th year of fostering the development of local media in more than 70 countries, Internews has launched InternewsNext, a year-long celebration of young new voices emerging in media and information around the world. Throughout the year, Internews will feature “30 Under 30,” highlighting media initiatives in communities around the world, working with journalists, bloggers, developers and others under the age of 30 to address the information needs of their communities.
To kick off the celebration, Internews hosted a reception and panel discussion in Washington, DC on May 2 in advance of World Press Freedom Day. The event explored the exciting future of media with young leaders in Central Asia, Afghanistan and the United States who are engaging the next generation using digital media and technology. Internews also introduced its new Internews Center for Innovation & Learning, designed to fuel inquiry, experimentation and learning across the organization’s programs and among its partners.