Kyrgyz Lawmakers Mull Forcing Officials to Wear Kalpaks

If a proposed bill is adopted, the kalpak would be adopted as a state symbol alongside the country’s flag.

A dog at a show in Bishkek in December demonstrating improper use of a kalpak.

A pair of lawmakers in Kyrgyzstan have drafted a legislative bill that would make the much-loved felt ak kalpak hat a national symbol and require officials to wear them while on trips overseas.

If the legislation were adopted, the kalpak would be adopted as a state symbol alongside the country’s flag and emblem and national anthem.

The members of parliament who proposed the bill, Ekmat Baybakpayev and Bakirdin Subanbekov, have said the president, members of the government and deputies should wear the hat without fail when traveling overseas as part of official delegations.

Just as importantly, Baybakpayev and Subanbekov wish to see an end to what they perceive as the misuse of the kalpak and to ensure that it is produced to high standards. The government should be keeping tabs on stores stocking the hat to ascertain that it is always made of wool and felt, they say. Ersatz imports made from synthetic fibers may be banned altogether.

As to proper use, the lawmakers are evidently alluding to the recent furor that broke out when a contestant in a dog show at a shopping center in the capital, Bishkek, put a kalpak on her Shiba Inu breed.

“Tomorrow they’ll be putting a kalpak on a bear in the circus. They’ll say: ‘Oh what a lovely pattern” and stick it on a ball. We need to be wary of this. We talk and talk, but then we’ll abandon all caution and it is possible that in future once again somebody will subject it [the kalpak] to some indignity,” Baybakpayev was cited as saying by RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz service.

The proposed bill envisions fines for misuse of the kalpak in line with what people can now incur for disrespecting existing national symbols — anywhere between 5,000 and 10,000 som ($75-150). The same offense is also punishable by up to one year in jail.

Journalist Bektour Iskender has criticized the bill, describing it as itself being a form of disrespect to the kalpak.

“People wore the kalpak not because the government told them to do so. On the contrary, the kalpak became a popular symbol of a culture that had long been colonized. And now these MPs, Subanbekov and Baibakpayev, have decided themselves to insult this headdress by entombing it within the framework of state bureaucracy, making it a crown for officials, thereby transforming a cultural symbol into a symbol of the nomenklatura,” he wrote on Kloop.kg news website.

It is expected that the culture minister may imminently present the bill to parliament following a period of public consultation.

Kyrgyz Lawmakers Mull Forcing Officials to Wear Kalpaks

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