The World Today for June 16, 2023


Pride and Pressure


D Billions is a quartet of Kyrgyz singers whose performances for kids on YouTube have received 31 billion viewings, more than pop star Taylor Swift or South Korean sensation, BTS. As Global Voices explained, D Billions could be Kyrgyzstan’s biggest cultural export. Officials have been using the group to market the former Soviet republic in Central Asia as a budding center of creativity and innovation.

In a sign of the ecosystem that Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov wants to foster, Radio Free Europe wrote about a local coding group called Birtops that recently won a national prize for We Are Kyrgyzstan, a new web plugin that automatically rewrites the Russian colonial and Soviet-era term for the country, “Kirghizia,” with the native spelling of the country’s name.

At the same time as D Billions were garnering likes and shares and Birtops was appealing to Kyrgyz national pride, however, Human Rights Watch was issuing a clarion call to the international community to condemn a new proposal in Kyrgyzstan that would require advocacy and humanitarian groups to register and disclose their foreign funding if they were engaged in political activity. The law threatened the civic space, Human Rights Watch argued, hardly a proper atmosphere for creative inspiration.

Critics have said Japarov has also been cracking down on the opposition and media, including instituting so-called “digital authoritarianism” over the Internet, telecommunications, and other information systems. He recently ordered the arrest of 30 members of an obscure political party who were allegedly plotting to overthrow his government in a coup, Euronews wrote. Japarov, incidentally, came to power in 2020 after a popular uprising toppled the government of his predecessor, Sooronbay Jeenbekov.

These events occurred as the capital of Bishkek was suffering one of the worst droughts and water crises in memory, Eurasianet reported. The city’s Soviet-era water system was built to accommodate around 650,000 people, but the city’s population is 1.2 million today. Water storage facilities built more recently are now full. Food insecurity is also on the rise due to inflation and higher fuel prices, added ReliefWeb.

The country also faces challenges balancing the demands of the US, EU, and especially Russia, which has an air base in the country and whose leader, President Vladimir Putin, has also spooked Kyrgyz officials with the invasion of Ukraine last year. Illicit weapons shipments to Russia and drug trafficking play roles that complicate that balancing act.

It’s a remote nation that arguably is at the center of the world.

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