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Revealing Photo Of Ethnic Tajik Singer Manizha Causes Strong Online Reaction

A New York City billboard featuring a picture of singer Manizha has caused a stir in the land of her birth. (file photo)

DUSHANBE -- The image of famous Tajik-Russian singer Manizha wearing a low-cut, traditional dress on a billboard high above Times Square in New York City has caused a storm of responses on social media -- both supportive and critical.

"She considers herself a Tajik, has a Tajik name, and at the same time exposes her breasts," Zavqibeki Sayedamini told RFE/RL's Tajik Service on January 20. "It is not a reason for pride, this causes shame and disgrace."

Such a comment was typical of many on social media that sharply criticized Manizha's candid photo, suggesting she not forget about "Tajik morality." Some insulted or ridiculed her.

"Is it really so difficult to find enough fabric to sew further down and cover her naked body?" Yusuf Yusufov wrote sarcastically.

For others, Manizha's appearance at a world-renowned site promoting native Tajik dress made them proud of their famous countrywoman.

"The world learned not only about [Tajik dress], but also about the singer, about her talent, and about the Tajiks," Shanozai Badriddin wrote of Manizha's photo.

"Well done, Manizha!" wrote Miri Habizadeeh on Facebook. "Some consider Tajikistan and being Tajik to be their personal property. If they...have different values, they will try to take away your right to be Tajik. Thank God the world is not monochromatic. One person likes to wear a tent, another wants to be naked. And they can both do what they want."

Tajik journalist Odil Nozir posted a photo of Manizha on his Facebook page on January 19 with the following comment: "Manizha is a free person. We have no right to condemn her -- discussing how she dresses is stupid. Look at the video clips of our pop stars on YouTube and Instagram and see for yourself: their outfits are even more revealing."

Manizha represented Russia at last year's Eurovision Song Contest.
Manizha represented Russia at last year's Eurovision Song Contest.

Manizha, 31, gained fame after a well-received performance at the Eurovision 2021 song contest, where she finished in the top 10 while representing Russia.

The singer/songwriter is well-known in both her adopted country and native Tajikistan for supporting women's rights and the LGBT community while taking a strong stand against domestic violence.

She was named a goodwill ambassador by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in 2020.

For her part, Manizha has had her own response to the insulting comments about her, posting a video on her Instagram page on January 20 accompanied by Bon Jovi's famous rock song It's My Life.

She also posed in front of the picture causing the controversy, saying that "the only way to get rid of haters" is to "do nothing."

Manizha's family left Tajikistan during the country's civil war in the 1990s when she was just 3 years old. She has said she feels both Tajik and Russian.

Her appearance at Eurovision for Russia caused quite a stir in both countries.

There are frequent discussions on Tajik-language social media about how pop stars dress. It is a popular issue in a relatively progressive Islamic country, which wrestles with parts of society that hold more conservative views.

The societal division in Tajikistan can perhaps best be seen in the contrast of some people saying about Manizha: "May Allah guide [her]" -- while others reply with an old Tajik saying, "Everyone's grave is separate," meaning that every person is responsible for his/her actions and will answer to God personally.

Written by Pete Baumgartner in Prague based on reporting by Alisher Zarifi and Barot Yusufi in Dushanbe