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Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyaev (file photo)

Uzbeks and their neighbors in post-Soviet Central Asia have a history of heaping musical praise on their autocratic leaders. But Uzbekistan's new administration wants us to believe it has had enough of such flattery.

Dedicating flattering songs, books, and movies to sitting presidents is generally the rule in post-Soviet Central Asia, where regimes have gone to great lengths to establish cults of presidential personality.

Uzbekistan wants us to believe it has become an exception.

Authorities there have announced a ban on such paeans and warned that singing the praises of a sitting head of state could cost singers and songwriters their licenses to perform.

The announcement followed a June 2 meeting of Uzbekkonsert, a state body that oversees the Uzbek entertainment industry.

"Dedicating clips to certain individuals, to the activities of heads of state...is unethical," Uzbekkonsert interim director Azamat Haidarov was shown telling the attendees, in a video posted online.

The move comes weeks after an Uzbek singer came under criticism over a music clip she dedicated to President Shavkat Mirziyaev, who took over following the announcement in September of the death of longtime President Islam Karimov.

Forty-nine-year-old singer and actress Dilfuza Ismoilova's official music video, May The Sultan Of This Beautiful Land Prosper, was first released on YouTube on May 21 but has since been removed from the video-sharing site.

Uzbek singer Dilfuza Ismoilova (file photo)
Uzbek singer Dilfuza Ismoilova (file photo)

The lyrics praise Mirziyaev as the "handsome sultan" of the land, "the shadow of god on Earth," and "beloved human being." The video clip depicts Mirziyaev -- who spent 13 years under Karimov as prime minister of Uzbekistan's rubberstamp cabinet -- at various official functions, business trips, and meetings.

In an interview with RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service shortly after the release of the clip, Ismoilova said the song was driven by her "heart and conscience."

The clip sparked criticism among Uzbek social media users, some of whom argued that such songs risked turning the country into neighboring Turkmenistan, where each of the past two presidents has used state-dominated media sectors to promote themselves, their families, and their purported accomplishments in service to the "nation."

Turkmen state television recently aired a song paying tribute to the mother of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, honoring her for giving "the world the great man."

In Kazakhstan, a three-part biopic, The Way Of The Leader, celebrated President Nursultan Nazarbaev, who has ruled since 1989.

Tajikistan President Emomali Rahmon has gradually ramped up efforts to institutionalize his contributions to the country, earning official "Leader of the Nation" status in 2015 and rolling out books on Tajik language and history.

Written by Farangis Najibullah based on reporting by RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova

John Kerry, who served as secretary of state under the first black president of the United States, lamented the state of relations between Moscow and Washington this week, as he encouraged Harvard University students to go learn Russian.

John Kerry, who served as secretary of state under the first black president of the United States, lamented the state of relations between Moscow and Washington this week, as he encouraged Harvard University students to go learn Russian.

The sharp-tongued spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry offered up this eyebrow-raising recommendation in response:

Go read a 90-year-old Russian poem about an "elderly negro."

During his May 24 commencement speech to Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Kerry was harshly partisan and often scathing in his criticism of President Donald Trump’s administration.

He also quipped that one of the best ways to succeed in a Trump administration would be to learn Russian, using Rosetta Stone, a widely used commercial tool for learning foreign languages.

"I’m often asked what is the secret to having real impact on government," Kerry said. "Well, it’s recently changed. I used to say either run for office or get a degree from Harvard Kennedy School. With this White House I’d say, buy Rosetta Stone and learn Russian."



Kerry’s comments reflected the growing furor in Washington about ties between Trump associates and Russian officials, and U.S. intelligence conclusions that Moscow meddled in last year’s presidential election. Several congressional committees are investigating those ties, and the FBI is conducting a criminal probe as well.

In Moscow, Maria Zakharova, whose undiplomatic barbs have targeted Jewish voters and Washington’s former ambassador to Moscow, appeared defensive at Kerry’s comments.

In a post she wrote to her Facebook page, Zakharova echoed the Kremlin’s assertions that the administration of former U.S. President Barack Obama was to blame for the state of bilateral relations and suggested that poems by the Soviet futurist poet Vladimir Mayakovsky would have been useful.

She then quoted a verse from Mayakovsky's 1927 poem called To Our Youth:

"Even if I
were an elderly negro
and then
without being despondent or lazy
I would learn Russian
only because it
was spoken by Lenin."

Zakharova’s choice of poem, the language it contained, and the fact she directed it at Obama caught the attention of more than a handful of commentators on her Facebook page, some of whom parsed Kerry’s speech but many more who debated the choice of word.

For many, particularly older, Russians, “negro” is a commonly used word to describe African-Americans, and is not considered offensive. The use of “black-skinned” or "black" – as in “black American”-- is sometimes heard, though the word "black" is also used as an epithet to describe people from the southern Caucasus region.

"With the word 'negro' then, it's not all so straightforward," wrote one man, identified as Roman Cochinsky.

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About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at transmission+rferl.org

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