The Tajikistan edition of Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda has been shuttered following publication of an article that officials say cast aspersions on the country.
The offending piece, written by Russian journalist Sergei Ponomaryov, was indeed an exercise in crude stereotypes and drew on characters popularized by sketch show “Nasha Russia.”
The opening paragraph sets the tone for the rest of the article: “On the plane from Moscow to the ancient city of Khujand, the capital of northern Tajikistan and the second city in the country, mine was the only Slavic countenance. The rest was straight-up Ravshan and Jamshuds.”
The premise of the sketches featuring those migrant laborer characters was to show Tajiks as primitive and dimwitted, although nonetheless sometimes besting their exasperated Russian taskmasters. The 2011 film made from the TV show was banned in Tajikistan.
Sharif Hamdampur, editor of the Tajikistan edition of the tabloid, was quick to agree about the offensiveness of the article.
“When I read the article I understood that it respected neither journalistic nor professional ethical standards. In the article there are statements that insult Tajiks and the country as a whole,” Hamdampur said on July 21.
The editor said he appealed in vain with the newspaper’s top management to have the article spiked.
“Within two days, I took the decision to halt the activities of this newspaper in Tajikistan,” he said.”This is because this newspaper, with which I cooperate, has offended my nation and my government. He [the journalist] even says: ‘I went to the country of Ravshan and Jamshud’ and not to Tajikistan.”
Hamdampur might be slightly overstating his position, not least since news of the shuttering of the local edition of Komsomolskaya Pravda, which had a circulation of 5,000, was announced several days after the delinquent article was published. In fact, the article also reserved some ribald observations about President Emomali Rahmon, raising suspicions that was where the real trouble lay.
Russian media have had a troubled history in Tajikistan. Authorities have to date refused to grant accreditation to a local bureau of Russian state propaganda organ Rossiya Segodnya, the holding company behind the notorious Sputnik website.
And in 2009, the government blocked rebroadcasting of several Russian television station such as RTR-Planeta, Pervy Kanal, NTV and TNT. The channels are still regularly viewed in households with satellite dishes, however.
Although Russia and Tajikistan are ostensibly close allies, Dushanbe all the same views Moscow with deep suspicion and likely recalls well how Russian state television ran a systematic smear campaign against Kyrgyzstan’s President Kurmanbek Bakiyev before his overthrow in 2010.