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Uzbekistan Tells Its Pop Stars: Stay at Home

Uzbekistan’s unfortunate pop stars have been landed in hot water once again. This time it is for what they are getting up to outside the motherland. Namely, giving concerts. 

State run arts association Uzbeknavo has in recent times suspended a slew of pop artists for supposedly violating national mores. On July 20, it announced it had revoked performing licenses from another three artists.

Sitora Farmonova, Sarvara Azimova and Komila Fazylova earned the sanction for performing overseas in violation of the terms of their license, according to an Uzbeknavo statement cited by news website uz24.uz.

What is unclear is whether the pop artists are being banned from performing overseas outright or whether what is bothering the authorities is that the singers are plying their trade in a way that somehow embarrasses their home country.

And what is it that is so shaming for Uzbekistan?

Uzbeknavo license department chief Olizhon Abukhakharov claimed that punished singers had been unable to gather crowds of 200-250 people at their performances, which he said “greatly harms the reputation of Uzbek pop art.”

“As a result of repeated recurrence of such cases, it was decided to deprive them of their licenses,” Abukhakharov was cited as saying by uz24.uz.

And yet none of this likely applies to Sitora Farmonova, who recently won gold at the popular KVN comedy tournament in Russia’s Kaliningrad region as part of a team representing Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. 

According to organizers, the tournament drew crowds of several thousand over a few days. A report by RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz service suggested it may have been Farmonova’s successes with the Kyrgyz team, rather than her failures, that piqued Uzbeknavo’s interest.

“It is said that users of Uzbek segments of social networks considered that her words on stage ridiculed Uzbekistanis. Some citizens of Uzbekistan are also irritated that she is performing in a Kyrgyz KVN team,” the report noted

The last point is moot as Uzbekistan does not even field a team at KVN, a comedy competition with roots in the former Soviet Union that is shown at prime time on Russia’s first channel. 

Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan both have teams in the contest, but Tashkent is loath to get involved in Russia-led jamborees. Uzbekistan is, in any event, generally more restrictive than either of those two authoritarian countries when it comes to the arts.

The success of Kyrgyz KVN team Asia Mix in the Supreme League of the competition has in turn been a good advertisement for Kyrgyzstan’s relatively more permissive approach to freedom of speech.

Among other things, the team’s jokes play on perceptions of Central Asian migrants in Russia — a topic that Uzbek President Islam Karimov appears to find a source of great humiliation for his economically hamstrung country. 

A singer and actress in Uzbekistan, Farmonava shot to fame in Kyrgyzstan by playing the lead role in Obshaga (“Dormitory”), a partly US government-sponsored television series about life in a dormitory. The show tackled difficult themes such as inter-ethnic relations — Farmonava’s on-screen boyfriend was Kyrgyz. 

Farmonova is now claiming implausibly that Uzbeknavo’s announcement is a misunderstanding and that her license is merely in need of extension.

It remains to be seen whether being censured in her homeland will blitz the career she has established in Kyrgyzstan.

Uzbekistan Tells Its Pop Stars: Stay at Home

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