Kyrgyzstan has become the latest country in Central Asia to cancel a concert by popular Russian singer Grigory Leps over his vocal support of the invasion of Ukraine.
The veteran performer had been due to perform at a venue at the popular tourist destination of Lake Issyk-Kul in August, but those plans met vocal opposition from local activists.
Similar cancellations have already occurred in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
Among those leading the front against Leps in Kyrgyzstan was political analyst Almaz Tajibayev, who tweeted on July 4 that the singer’s presence in the country was in violation of the government’s stated neutrality on the Russia-Ukraine war.
“The authorities of Kyrgyz Republic must prohibit his performances on the sacred lake of the Kyrgyz people, Issyk-Kul, and on the territory of our country!” Tajibayev wrote. “With the money earned from his concerts, he is offering rewards for the killing of Ukrainians.”
This remark was an allusion to an initiative that Leps and another well-known Russian performer, Nikolai Baskov, announced in mid-June, to pay 1 million rubles to any soldier who could prove that they had destroyed a Ukrainian tank. Earlier this month, Leps claimed he had already paid one such bounty.
These statements sparked a flutter of indignation in countries where Leps was due to perform.
Last month, authorities in the southern Kazakhstan region of Almaty announced that they had called off a concert in the city of Konayev that was to feature Leps. Officials cited “popular demand” as the reason for their decision.
In the wake of that development, similar demands were heard in Uzbekistan, where a concert had been scheduled for October 23. There, Telegram user Mirzo Zomini initiated a campaign with the hashtag #LepsKerakmas (#WeDontNeedLeps).
That effort too appears to have had the requisite effect. On July 7, the Uzbek Culture and Tourism Ministry announced that the performance had been "postponed due to some technical reasons.”
This signals an about-face on previous remarks made by officials. When quizzed on whether Leps would be permitted to perform in Uzbekistan, Deputy Culture and Tourism Minister Bakhodir Akhmedov reportedly said artists were free to come to the country.
"They come, present their art, and leave," he said.
In Kyrgyzstan, though, it is not only acts known for their support for Russia’s invasion that have faced headwinds. Bishkek has despite its nominally neutral stance on the war generally remained loyal to Moscow.
On June 10, the Russian rock band Pornofilmy, whose performances have reportedly been designated “undesirable” in their home country over their public anti-war stance, announced they were compelled to cancel a concert in Kyrgyzstan after local security forces allegedly threatened the venue owner.
Russian rapper Morgenshtern, who has incurred the irritation of authorities in Moscow for similar reasons, had a planned June 23 performance in Kyrgyzstan shelved at the behest of the Culture Ministry, which claimed his act was inappropriate.
Ayzirek Imanaliyeva is a journalist based in Bishkek.