Turkish Gambit, a Russian-made epic in Hollywood style filmed by an expatriate Uzbek, could have been expected to be one of the hits of the year in Uzbekistan. But the film never made it to Uzbek cinemas. Why is not clear. No official reason has been given. But, according to reports in the independent media, once again a “recommendation” by officials was enough to stop any showings.
What authorities find troubling in a film about the 19th-century wars between the Russian and Ottoman empires is, then, just a matter of speculation. The talk on the street, though, is that the authorities fear war films could stimulate the population out of its passivity. The effects of the revolution in Kyrgyzstan work in mysterious ways. A far-fetched explanation? Just possibly – but when the authorities have also said that they will not show any war films to mark Victory Day on 9 May, it is clear to ordinary Uzbeks that the regime of President Islam Karimov is anxious to ensure their adrenalin levels are kept low.
Karimov’s fear of a copy-cat revolt might seem overstated. The only official coverage of the Kyrgyz revolution was the briefest of notifications that President Askar Akaev had left the country and that a new government was in place. What state-owned television is now willing to divulge is that the president is happy with the new leadership in Kyrgyzstan. It also proudly shows a trainload of aid sent to Kyrgyzstan.
But Uzbeks know about the revolution. However tight Karimov’s control of the media, Uzbeks have other sources of information. Russian television is widely viewed – and its state-appointed managers followed a very different policy from their Uzbek counterparts, by giving the revolution prominent coverage and lingering on scenes of looting. Those with access to the Internet – around 800,000 people in a country of 25.5 million – managed to find out what was going on (though most connections are from state-run organizations). In the bazaars, some feel comfortable enough to state quite openly that a change would be good for Uzbekistan.
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