Despite budget shortfalls and social unrest, Kyrgyz leaders are forging ahead with the most expensive film in Kyrgyzstan’s history, apparently in the hope that a tale of a 19th century heroine can promote a sense of cultural unity. Critics worry that the epic’s nation-building aim is overly ambitious, and it will end up flopping.
Since the country gained independence in 1991, Kyrgyz leaders have wrestled with the dilemma of how to bring the culturally and socially distinctive northern and southern regions together. Attempts to foster a common national identity in Kyrgyzstan have routinely fallen short. The only universally recognized national hero is the mythical Manas. But Manas has proven prone to reinterpretation and manipulation by nationalists, who grew in power following ethnic violence in 2010. Since then, the government has come under repeated fire for lavishing scarce funds on state symbols, and toying with expensive yet impractical projects, such as changing the color of the national flag.
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Chris Rickleton is a Bishkek-based journalist.