The Kazakh city of Semey is refusing to take part in a Moscow-backed initiative that some say glorifies the Soviet Army's victory in World War II after it was condemned as Russian propaganda and inappropriate with a war raging in Ukraine.
“We are likely to cancel the [Essay Of Victory] due to the reactions on social media to this event,” a coordinator of the annual competition in Semey told RFE/RL.
Several other Kazakh cities were still expected to take part in the event on September 3 despite criticism and calls for it to be scrapped.
Launched by the Russian government in 2019, Essay Of Victory is not a regular essay. The participants in the contest -- which lasts around 45 minutes -- are quizzed about their knowledge of the “heroic history” of the Soviet Union during World War II.
The event takes place in most Russian cities and regions as well as Russian-friendly nations, including the five Central Asian countries. The essay is open to people of all ages, according to its official website.
Some 1.5 million people reportedly took part in the initiative in 2021, but this year many Kazakhs condemned the competition as blatant Russian state propaganda amid the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine.
Lawyer Ruslan Tusupbekov was one of the first Kazakhs to call on the country’s Education Ministry to cancel what he called “a warmongering” affair that “has nothing to do with independent Kazakhstan.”
“I believe that our schools should be completely free of foreign state propaganda, especially by a state that has attacked a peaceful neighboring country,” Tusupbekov wrote on Facebook.
He urged Kazakh social media users to tag their local authorities and other state bodies to help get officials to cancel the event in Kazakhstan.
Speaking to RFE/RL, Tusupbekov also said he would not mind “if it was a purely cultural or language-related event.” But the essay is all about politics and “the Russian ideology,” he added.
“They will say ‘our victory,’ ‘our grandfathers fought,’ ‘we can do the same,’ and so on,” Tusupbekov said.
Essays are set to take place in several Kazakh cities including, Almaty, Aqtobe, Zhambyl, Qaraghandy, Oskemen, and the capital, Nur-Sultan.
According to the official website, similar events are also planned in six locations in Uzbekistan, three each in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, and one in Turkmenistan.
The essay events outside of Russia are organized by Russian cultural centers called Russkiy Dom, which represents Russia’s Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States Affairs (CIS), Compatriots Living Abroad, and International Humanitarian Cooperation.
The agency known as Rossotrudnichestvo oversees Moscow’s civilian foreign aid and cultural exchange programs and promotes Russia’s political and economic interests abroad, mostly in the CIS. The agency is said to be behind the widely condemned pro-Russian rallies staged in some European countries in April to support Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
'Cause For Serious Concern'
Kazakh political expert Dimash Alzhanov says Russia is using the Soviet victory in World War II to enhance its “propaganda of war and hatred.”
Alzhanov says it should be a “cause for serious concern” for Kazakhstan as the Central Asian country has a significant number of “consumers” of Russian propaganda.
Russian is an official language in Kazakhstan, where pro-Russian sentiment remains strong among most decision-makers. And Russian television channels are easily accessible in almost all parts of Kazakhstan.
A May opinion poll conducted in Kazakhstan showed that nearly 40 percent of some 1,350 respondents supported Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Only about 13 percent of the respondents supported Ukraine on the issue. About 36 percent described the war as a special operation against "Nazis" in Ukraine.
Kazakhstan and Russia experienced behind the scenes tension in recent months over the war, with Nur-Sultan refusing to recognize the Russia-backed Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine as independent states.
Meanwhile, Moscow halted Kazakh oil exports through key pipelines in southern Russia several times this year, a move seen as an attempt to punish Kazakhstan.
Russian officials also renewed threats about Kazakhstan’s territorial integrity, with President Vladimir Putin saying the entire territory of Kazakhstan was historically part of Russia.