The World Today for December 22, 2023

NEED TO KNOW

Flower Power

KYRGYZSTAN

The flag of Kyrgyzstan features a yellow sun on a red field. The sun evokes the “Tunduk,” a symbol for the circular opening in the center of the roof of a yurt, a traditional Central Asian tent. The problem is that the Tunduk on the flag, adopted after the former Soviet republic became independent in 1992, also looks like a sunflower.

“The sunflower has a peculiar meaning in the Kyrgyz culture equivalent to that of a weathercock in some European languages – it is used to describe a fickle and servile person willing to switch allegiance for personal benefit,” wrote Reuters.

As a result, reported National Public Radio, Kyrgyz lawmakers voted Dec. 20 to straighten out the sun’s rays on the flag.

Hopefully, this cosmetic change helps the country’s leaders address their more fundamental problems, observers say. Proponents, meanwhile, insist that it will help the country become more independent, Eurasia.net reported.

Others are less charitable regarding the change, however. Besides small protests and anger on social media, one common complaint by critics is that proposals like changing the flag show that officials and parliamentarians “have nothing better to do,” despite a multitude of pressing problems in Kyrgyzstan, wrote RFERL.

For example, journalist and legal expert Semetei Amanbekov warned on Facebook on Oct. 25 that “the flag and other nonsense initiatives” are a useful way of deflecting attention from a controversial law on “foreign representatives” that has drawn widespread international criticism. “The first step has been taken towards the complete destruction of independent media and progressive NGOs (on) the road to the country’s isolation,” Amanbekov said.

Washington-based advocacy group Freedom House recently downgraded Kyrgyzstan in its latest “Nations in Transit” annual survey, Eurasia.net noted.

“At one time, Kyrgyzstan had stood out among its authoritarian neighbors for its strong civil society, independent media, and active political opposition. But an upturn in repression, through criminal prosecutions and detentions, reached a new level in 2022 under the joint rule of Japarov and (Tashiyev),” Freedom House said, referring to President Sadyr Japarov, who was sprung from prison in 2020 during post-election unrest that turned into a revolution and catapulted him to the country’s top post soon after, and the head of the security services, Kamchybek Tashiyev.

Some analysts say the government trots out such initiatives when the economic situation declines or social rumblings begin, especially in a country known for its regular revolutions and political volatility over the past three decades, France 24 said.

Suicides have recently spiked, for instance, in Kyrgyzstan in border regions where violence and unrest periodically break out with neighboring Tajikistan, reported Eurasia.net. Communities in the region have too little housing for folks caught in border disputes between the two sides. Many cases involve women who live in crowded houses with their extended family while their husbands go to Russia to find work.

Domestic violence against women is a major problem in the country, too, added the Guardian, relating horrific stories of abusive husbands who maim their wives after receiving minor punishments for past abuse. Human Rights Watch also released a report on the epidemic of abuse of women and girls with disabilities in the country.

Economic privation is likely worsening these social ills. Kyrgyzstan faces energy challenges, corruption is rampant, and climate change is hurting its vital agricultural sector. Kyrgyz migrants in Russia and elsewhere remit $2 billion to the country, making them a crucial economic lifeline, reported AKIpress, an independent news agency based in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek.

Those ties come with a cost, too, however. According to human rights activists who spoke to the Moscow Times, Russian agents abducted Russian left-wing activist and anarchist Lev Skoryakin from a prison in Kyrgyzstan in October and put him on trial. Skoryakin was in prison because he faced charges for allegedly fomenting violence at an anti-Russian demonstration in Kyrgyzstan.

The government has made some progress. In October, security forces killed crime kingpin Kamchy Kolbaev, Radio Free Europe reported. President Japarov is still pushing hard to modernize the country’s economy, too, the Diplomat noted.

Sometimes cosmetic changes are necessary to bring about substantive solutions.

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