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Kazakh Play Indirectly References Zhanaozen Violence

  • RFE/RL's Kazakh Service

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Kazakh authorities have permitted a dissident theater director to stage a play that indirectly addresses the problems in the western town of Zhanaozen, where at least 16 people were shot dead by police in mid-December.

Theater director Bolat Atabaev said all money raised by "Avalanche," which was staged on March 14 in Almaty, would be sent to families of victims of the Zhanaozen shootings.

The play was allowed to be performed, even as Kazakh authorities continue to prosecute activists who are calling for investigations into the Zhanaozen bloodshed.

Atabaev has himself recently been charged with "inciting social hatred" in connection with the Zhanaozen events.
Kazakh theater director Bolat Atabaev

Kazakh theater director Bolat Atabaev

“Avalanche” is about a remote village in the mountains, where locals live in constant fear of an avalanche.

Life in the village is portrayed as an unending effort to avoid any action that could provoke a deadly avalanche.

In a bid to live in safety, the villagers follow all instructions given by the community's elders, who control every aspect of life.

Nine months a year, the villagers must only whisper, avoiding any loud speaking or laughing in order not to trigger an avalanche.

They are allowed to laugh, marry and deliver children only during three months of the year, and only after receiving special permission from the elders.

A key element of the plot revolves around the date of December 16 -- the day last year of the deadly clashes in Zhanozen between striking oil workers and police.

In the play, news emerges that a woman became pregnant on December 16.

The elders decide she must be buried alive to prevent a possible avalanche, because their rules prohibited sex on that day.

Removing The Blanket Of Fear

In the end, however, due to the crisis caused by the pregnancy, the villagers come to realize that the avalanche fear constructed by the elders was false, and they dismantle the symbols of fear and control.

Atabaev told journalists that he wanted to show the importance of being able to overcome fear and speak freely.

"In order to be able to protest, one should first kill fear," he said. "Without killing fear, we will never be able to loudly say what we want. We will continue to live whispering, just enjoying our meals, sleeping under our blankets.

"If we are afraid, the blankets are our only protection. The only place we feel ourselves safe is under our blankets now."

Atabaev last month was awarded the Goethe Medal from Germany’s Goethe Institute.

The prize, an official German decoration honoring non-Germans, was given for Atabaev's contribution to cooperation between the German and Kazakh theaters.

The Goethe Institute announced in February that Atabaev is scheduled to be given the prize in Weimar, Germany, on August 28.

It is not clear, however, if Atabaev will be able to attend the ceremony, as the charges against him are still pending.