Shirin Aitmatova: “I cheer for every politician we have.”
Editor’s note: Shirin Aitmatova is a Deputy Member of Parliament and the daughter of the renowned author Chingiz Aitmatov. She’s also an active online social media activist. neweurasia’s Sabina sits down with her to discuss about poetry and politics. “I used to think that I would only care for working on [certain issues],” she says. “Now I understand that to make changes on the social level, I need to be involved in big politics and in more oppositionary processes.” Translated from our Russian site (RUS).
I have known Shirin Aitmatova since 2008. That summer I was lucky enough to attend summer school for young writers — “Debut 2008″ — organized by the International Chingiz Aitmatov Foundation. Back then, Shirin was running the Foundation, organizing the school, and working on the publication of the Almanac with writings from the seminar’s most creative participants, as well as translating them.
Then in 2010, Shirin enterred politics, campaigning for Parliament as a member of the Ata Meken party and soon becoming an MP at the Jogorku Kenesh.
In this podcast, we talk about how it actually works to be a woman in politics. After all, Kyrgyzstan’s mentality still reflects certain stereotypes of a traditional woman who must be a symbol of a family to keep unity and comfort in the house, or in other words, no politics. We also discuss her creative work, particularly her collection of poems written and published in English, entitled, “Sleep mask”.
Listen to the podcast now (RUS) or read the transcript below.
neweurasia: Good afternoon Shirin. Thank you for making time to meet with us and record the podcast. So, how does it feel being a woman in politics within a traditional society as ours?
Shirin: I think it is not so difficult compared to what it is the case in some other states; after all our society is quite progressive. Yet, sometimes there are situations when your opinion is not taken seriously enough.
neweurasia: Did you have specific situations when your opinion was ignored?
Shirin: Well, I have two main disadvantages for politics: first, the fact that I am a woman; second, the fact that I am a little younger than others. Younger deputies have more democratic attitude towards women, whereby older deputies are not that open towards women and young people in general. Since I am relatively new in politics, I have tried not to get involved in large political scandals, in politics for politics, so to say. But I can now notice a certain process of transformation within me, when now if I see something is wrong, I try to defend my point of view.
neweurasia: How do you manage to do that if other politicians disregard your views?
Shirin: In that case I can say that I work independently. The field that I have chosen and that has chosen me — children’s rights, women’s rights — is not that interesting for male politicians. That’s why there are no real conflicts at this point. However, disagreements may rise in future.
neweurasia: Before enterring politics, you used to be into teaching and literature. Now, as I understand it, you had to quit?
Shirin: I usually have so little time and effectivity to do something else than my parliamentary work. At present I think I would like to focus all my energy and time on my current work, because I may probably not have another chance to bring changes into, say, the system of children’s institutions. I have no regrets so far.
neweurasia: What changes would you like to make in the system of children’s institutions?
Shirin: Of course I have both maximalist and realistic thoughts. A realistic step, first of all, could be to abolish the ban on international adoption in Kyrgyzstan. I would also want to introduce a board of trustees in every orphanage, because most orphanages lack transparency in their work. Besides there is a need for resuming the work of the Department for Violence Against Children. I asked the acting Prosecutor General Aida Salyanova about this, well she never replied. I would like to conduct research on what’s inside closed religious schools, what educational programs are taught. I would also support a decision to ban local adoption; it would be great to increase public spending on sustaining orphanages [and] on children’s meals, for instance. A lot of work has to be done on improving and securing the social and professional status of children who were brought up in the orphanages. They have to get more support than average teenagers. The government has to provide special work quotas for those kids because they don’t have parents or connections to make sure they get employed.
neweurasia: Do you mean creating special positions that would be vacant specifically for orphan children?
Shirin: Not necessarily. The government should at least support them by encouraging local businessmen to hire graduates of the orphanage schools and not to segregate them as less capable. Many orphans complain that they are not treated equally; employers do not want to deal with them because of a certain prejudice about such children’s behavior, the biased idea that they may steal things or have no moral values as others do. We have to work on making our society accept them more willingly and openly.
neweurasia: At the moment the parliamentary coalition is extremely unstable. What can you say about its possible breakup?
Shirin: I think a breakup is necesary; I think we need more professional cadres. I think it is unacceptable to allow those factors that are left from Kyrgyzstan’s negative past, the Soviet legacy, etc. [to continue to] work in the same format. I wish that pro-coalition forces did not use same corruption schemes and mechanisms. Now there is huge political pressure through security forces upon the deputies who want to leave the coalition. Some politicians get bribed to have their votes in support of certain pro-coalition decisions. These are the indicators that a big political fight is going on here.
neweurasia: Was there political pressure of any kind placed upon you, too?
Shirin: Not yet. Up to now I have tried just do my job, but now I think it is time to be more participative. My work program has stopped because the government is in crisis. That’s why there is a need for action. I am not against anyone personally, but I am against the fact that there is no progress.
neweurasia: So the actual work has stopped and there are only bare discussions and arguments?
Shirin: Yes. This fact demonstrates that the coalition we have now is basically not efficient, that there is a need for a new more efficient work format so that we have some kind of progress, so that people in power finally come to understand each other and cooperate.
neweurasia: Before getting involved in politics you worked at the Chingiz Aitmatov Foundation, helping young talents get a chance to express themselves and show what they can do. Is it only temporary that you don’t have time for that?
Shirin: Of course, it’s temporary. The Foundation is looking for international grants right now to open a summer school. If we have success this year, I will be glad to contribute to teaching and organizational activities.
neweurasia: You have had a collection of poems published in New York entitled, “Sleep Mask”. Can you tell us about it?
Shirin: I write experimental poetry [but it's] so far not likely to be received in our country, which is why I do not have them published here. In my work I subscribe to ideas of confessionalism, post-modernism. I personally think that every individual has to express his or her own truth or idea of the truth in art. My theme is closely related to concepts of “a body,” “feelings,” etc. I think the roots of my creative work go beyond the Islamic history of the Kyrgyz people.
neweurasia: You describe your poetry as “experimental”. What does that mean?
Shirin: First of all, I don’t use a rhyme. Secondly, a long time ago the Kyrgyz people had shamans who used to tell stories and people used to see those stories by drawing pictures in their imagination. [Considering this] I had thoughts about cinematography, what role does cinematography play in forming our lives, how do we [construct] our lives through the prism of movies. This particular theme attracts me. I used to create images of characters that were not part of a certain famous movie and used to insert them into a movie trying to track how its scenario would change. [These considerations] work in the format of poetry.
Although I have much work and social projects going on at the moment, I still try to leave some time for my creative work. I have a column on www.taboo.kg, where I try to invest a lot of emotions and energy to be positive, yet sincere. I cheer for every politician we have, because at least in the very start all of them come to politics with real desire to change something and to make a difference, [although ultimately] politics changes people.
neweurasia: Do you think politics will transform you too?
Shirin: Yes, it will and it already did, but not in a way that I have become worse, but has it made me change goals, principles. I realize that some things perhaps need to be done in a different way. I used to think that I would only care for working on women’s issues, children’s issues, culture. Now I understand that to make changes on the social level, I need to be involved in big politics and in more oppositionary processes.