Kyrgyzstan Topples Freedom
Furthering an ideological shift from national liberation to nationalism, authorities in Bishkek have removed a prominent statue called “Freedom” and will soon replace it with a statue of the mythical hero Manas. Manas, of the eponymous Kyrgyz-language epic poem, has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years as Kyrgyzstan struggles to define an identity.That task has taken on renewed urgency since ethnic pogroms against minorities --- who make up 30 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s population -- last year. But in this multiethnic state, Manas – unlike Freedom – is unmistakably Kyrgyz. Freedom, in place since 2004 in Bishkek’s main square, the scene of uprisings in 2005 and 2010, had been represented by a winged woman hoisting a tunduk – the crisscrossed top of a yurt, a symbol of Kyrgyz national identity. Some Kyrgyz have been upset with the 12-meter statue in recent months, claiming a woman should not be lifting a tunduk, for that is a man’s job. Previously, a monument to Soviet founding father Vladimir Lenin had stood on her plinth; he has now been relegated to a spot behind the history museum, facing the building where the government sits. The new Manas statue, currently being cast in Moscow and set to be in place before Kyrgyzstan celebrates its 20th anniversary of independence on August 31, is being funded privately by businessmen including Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev, who is expected to make a run for the presidency this fall. As his advisor Farid Niyazov told the KyrTAG news agency earlier this week: “Atambayev has allocated one million soms of his personal money for the erection of monuments. However, we didn’t want to spotlight this issue. It wasn’t done for the sake of PR.” Freedom didn’t go quietly: Her toppling was accompanied by protests, both for and against.
David Trilling is Eurasianet’s managing editor.