Uzbek cultural expansion in Kyrgyzstan: what are the authorities going to do about it?
Observers comment on undeniable expansion of the Uzbek culture into the southern regions of Kyrgyzstan where more than half of the population of the country resides. The process is facilitated by closeness of Uzbekistan (whose cultural influence with the region is rooted in ages past) and ethnic factors. After all, between 700,000 and 1,000,000 Uzbeks (estimates vary) live in the southern Kyrgyzstan.
Cinematograph as the principal art?
Vladimir Ulianov (Lenin), leader of the world proletariat, was definitely correct to regard cinematograph as the principal art. Cinema art in the Soviet Union was a major tool of indoctrination applied to whole generations. Ideological role of cinematograph is recognized in Kyrgyzstan these days - but only in words. Unfortunately, a couple of more or less successful movies is all Kyrgyz cinematograph accomplished in all years of sovereignty.
Nature abhors a vacuum, however, and the principle fully applies: movie-vacuum in Kyrgyzstan is filled with foreign products. It means Uzbek cinematograph for the southern regions of the country, the cinematograph that is on the rise.
Posters of Uzbek pop performers who star in movies in between concerts are available at every newspaper stall and stationery store in the southern regions of Kyrgyzstan. Posters of Kyrgyz pop stars in the meantime are not that readily available - and even they are of poor quality. Besides, Uzbek performers are somewhat more popular then their Kyrgyz counterparts. The Kyrgyzes made several films for festivals but they are mostly unknown to general public. Copyright laws are tight, and DVDs with these films are extremely rare. The films therefore are only run in movie theaters and it is a rare Kyrgyz who goes to movies nowadays.
TV is not going to drive theater out. There is nothing to drive out in the first place
Kyrgyzkino (Kyrgyz Cinema) is working on several TV series for the youth these days. No wonder. Three major TV networks in the nearby Uzbekistan broadcast several soap operas at once, each of them translated into Uzbek. As a matter of fact, Korean and Turkish soap operas are greatly appreciated both in Uzbekistan and in the southern part of Kyrgyzstan (even by ethnic Kyrgyzes, that is). They are extremely popular - judging by snatches of conversations in the street and at parties.
Several Uzbek regional TV networks (Andijan, Namangan, Ferghana TV) are easily received in the southern part of Kyrgyzstan. Channel One of Kyrgyz television (one whose transformation into public TV is the talk of the day) is trying to do something about this TV-expansion. Unfortunately, it lacks the programs capable of attracting the audience. Foreign soap operas are too expensive. Channel One is running a Chinese TV series with Kyrgyz translation but the audience is upset by the inadequate dubbing. As for regional TV networks and private studios broadcasting in the Kyrgyz language, they only go on the air several hours a week and specialize in official chronicles and news (regional TV networks) or rebroadcast Russian TV channels (private studios).
The situation with radio is not much better. Regardless of their ethnic roots, most residents of the southern part of Kyrgyzstan know Uzbek radios (Echo of Valley, Zamin, Diidor, and others) better than Kyrgyz radio stations usually broadcasting in Russian. Kyrgyzstan Obondory (Kyrgyz Melodies) is the only nationwide broadcaster.
Equality in development as a guarantee of prosperity
It is because of all these processes that the Uzbek language is used in the southern part of Kyrgyzstan as widely and routinely as Kyrgyz. Ethnic Kyrgyzes speak Uzbek more often nowadays than they did five or ten years ago when they demanded from other ethnic groups to speak Kyrgyz. The Uzbeks in their turn speak a more fluent Kyrgyz. It is particularly noticeable at bazaars, this mirror of life in the East. Kyrgyz vendors talk to Uzbek customers in their native tongue and vice versa. Competition dictates its own rules, after all, and customers are valued much more than patriotic considerations. Moreover, the authorities claim that it is mostly Kyrgyzes from the southern regions who become labor immigrants. It has an effect on ethnic composition of the population because the traditionally domiciled Uzbeks prefer work on cotton fields or menial labor for the Uzbeks who make enough in Russia or Kazakhstan to afford construction of a house of their own in Kyrgyzstan.
Not a single Kyrgyz wedding in the southern part of the country does without dancing to Uzbek ethnic music, and no Uzbek wedding without Kyrgyz folk songs. Intermarriages become frequent again. Kyrgyzes attend performances of Uzbek pop stars and vice versa. As a matter of fact, Uzbek pop stars also perform in the capital of Kyrgyzstan where ethnic Uzbeks are rarer than in the southern part of the country. All these positive trends allow for ethnic rapprochement.
The state ought to take measures aimed at development of the Kyrgyz culture and language and stop using the problem in promotion of purely political interests. Expansion of Uzbek culture may result in ethnic tension otherwise. Residents of the northern part of Kyrgyzstan already call those from the south "Sarts" precisely because of the influence exerted on the latter by the Uzbek culture and language. On the other hand, population of the northern part of Kyrgyzstan is quite friendly with Uzbeks.
Domination of Uzbek culture in the region may return society to the condition it was in back in the Soviet era when Kyrgyz culture in the Kyrgyz Soviet Socialist Republic was always in the background (in the shadow of Russian culture in the north and Uzbek in the south). To some extent, it resulted in the ethnic confrontation in the region typical of all post-Soviet countries.
Better developed cultures of larger peoples always absorbs cultures of smaller ethnic groups. Chinghiz Aitmatov, the great Kyrgyz writer, once said that influence of Uzbek culture in Central Asia was comparable with the effect the Byzantine culture had had on European culture.
Will the Kyrgyz leadership find financial resources for development of the Kyrgyz national culture and political will to do so without encroachment on other ethnic groups? History teaches us that prosperity of a country requires equal rights and opportunities for all strata of society and ethnic groups.