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Kyrgyz Official Fired For Allowing U.S. Photographer's Exhibition

Sergei Melnikoff
Sergei Melnikoff
BISHKEK -- President Kurmanbek Bakiev fired the chief of Kyrgyzstan's Culture Agency today for permitting U.S. photographer Sergei Melnikoff to hold a photo exhibit in Bishkek, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports.

The opening of "The Kyrgyz Land" photo exhibit by Melnikoff -- who has been critical of Russia -- was scheduled for February 11.

Kubanychbek Isabekov, a Kyrgyz legislator from the ruling Ak Jol (Bright Path) party, said in parliament today that Melnikoff's exhibit cannot be held in Kyrgyzstan because he has criticized Russia and called it "the country of slaves."

Isabekov said, "Russia is our major strategic partner, how can we allow such a person to hold his exhibits here in this country [after he makes such statements]?"

Bakiev responded by firing Culture Agency head Sultan Raev immediately after the parliament session.

Kyrgyz legislator Begaly Nargozuev told RFE/RL that the decision to sack Raev was unusual. He said Melnikoff has been working in Kyrgyzstan for 10 years and has not made his critical comments about Russia while in Kyrgyzstan.

"This is about art, it has nothing to do with politics," Nargozuev said.

Melnikoff, 54, was born in Russia as the son of a Soviet military officer. He immigrated to the United States in the late 1980s.

He told RFE/RL that the parliament "behaved in a very strange way. When it discusses an American artist's exhibition about Kyrgyz nature, it means it is discussing the relations between the United States of America and Kyrgyzstan, not just [relations] between me and Russia."

Melnikoff added that his opinion about Russia is "my own personal business" and that "it sounds a bit strange that the Kyrgyz parliament is discussing relations between Melnikoff and the Russian Federation, doesn't it?"

Melnikoff has been particularly critical of Russian policies in the North Caucasus and the general human rights situation there.