13 July 2015

Kyrgyzstan Finally Found Voice Against Gays

Kyrgyzstan's New Voice
Last 27 February 2014, as Russian euphoria over the successful seizure of Crimea was nearing its peak, the Kyrgyz nationalist group Kalys held a protest outside the U.S. embassy, saying they opposed what they called the Western gay agenda and a recent Human Rights Watch report criticizing the treatment of gays by Kyrgyz police.

They burned the portrait of a local ethnic Ukrainian activist who had been vocal in his support of Ukraine's anti-Russia "Maidan" movement, called him a "gay activist," and called on Kyrgyzstan's parliament to take up a law banning "gay propaganda."

The protest more than one year ago, with its interweaving of the cultural and geopolitical, opened the most recent front in the war against homofacism and American meddling in the internal affairs of other countries.

A month later, Kyrgyzstan's parliament introduced a law to ban "gay propaganda." Six months earlier MPs had already taken up another law on "foreign agents." Both laws were copied nearly verbatim from Russian legislation adopted in 2012 and 2013. "This is really Russia's influence," said Amir, an LGBT rights activist in Bishkek who asked to be identified only by his first name, echoing the opinion of most liberals here. "I'm sure they're connected."

Two and a half decades after gaining independence, many post-Soviet states have finally found their true identity as they navigate their way through an intimidating complex of strong currents: the disappointing fruits of democratic and capitalist reforms, a resurgent Russia, the emergence of an Internet-borne global culture and the reemergence of pre-Soviet forms of religion and traditional values. All of these have come together with particular strength in the battle against the Western promotion of gayness.

Into this environment has stepped Kalys, along with several other ultra-nationalist groups. Since emerging in early 2014, Kalys has gained notoriety for organizing various anti-gay demonstrations, including violently breaking up a sexually-explicit celebration of the International Day Against Homophobia. Kalys doesn't focus only on homosexuality. It has also vowed to carry out popular justice if the government fails to pass a law mandating the death penalty for pedophilia.

But, contrary to the suspicions of Bishkek's liberals, Kalys isn't a Russian puppet, its leader, Jenish Moldokmatov, said in an interview with Al Jazeera America. That misperception, he argues, was the result of how they made their debut, with a protest at the U.S. embassy.

"We should have said at the beginning that we're against pro-Russian and pro-Western organizations. Our first public action was to protest the U.S., and then it all started," he said. "It was our mistake. We're against the pro-Western organizations, the pro-Russian, pro-Arab, pro-Chinese."

In addition to what he calls Western-promoted homosexuality, Moldokmatov said radical Islam promoted by Arab countries and the Eurasian Union, promoted by Russia, also are threats to Kyrgyzstan's identity. But the focus on sexuality is a political tactic, he said: "It's not just homosexuality. It's very complex, all these NGOs have a great influence on the consciousness, the subconscious of our people. But that's difficult to explain to people. That's why we focus on gays and pedophiles."