I am standing with high heels on a wall, while a lot of men are squatting or standing next to me in two rows in a width of 20cm. I turn my head round and my eyes try to find a black, dead, headless goat in the middle of twenty of horses. The goat is hard to find since the men on the horsebacks try to cover it with their horses to prevent the other team from taking it away from them. The horses are being crashed into each other in a rather violent way. Sometimes the goat falls down. Sometimes they are crossing in high speed directly under my feet. Sometimes they score by throwing the goat in a round hole on the other side of the playing field. I am standing on that wall for a long time without understanding the rules.
This is Kok-Boru, the national sport of Kyrgyzstan (more about it in the last paragraph)!
I am standing in the middle of AlaToo Square surrounded by people, most of them with headscarves, lots of traditional hats. The sun is shining and approximately thousands of kids run around. The fountains are coloured today, there is music being played on a stage with different groups dancing to it. They represent the different ethnicities that live in Kyrgyzstan – it is a lot of them. One weird singer with a slight touch of Elvis Presley is replaced by the next dancing group of Tatars.
This is independence day!
The day started wonderfully — it was sunny and warm. As our group, made up of young students, workers, teachers and engineers moved towards the centre of the city, some residents of the capital watched us with wonder — and suspicion — but others joined us.
This quote is by Tyntchtykbek Tchoroev, a contemporary witness of the end of the Kyrgyz ASSR and participant at a demonstration in May 1990. To me the actual content sounds pretty much like any random demonstration you can ever attend. The special thing about it was, that it is said to be one of the first demonstrations against Soviet power in Kyrgyzstan. It happened on May 1 in Frunze as opposition groups joined the usual celebrations of the Labour Day. Instead of red Soviet flags they were carrying blue ones to represent ancient Kyrgyzstan. In October 1990 the Soviet government was voted out of power and replaced by a new party, formed out of those opposition groups. In February 1991 Frunze was renamed Bishkek.
On August, 31 1991 Kyrgyzstan became the first of the five Central Asian Republics to be declared independent from the Soviet Union*. In university I learned that during the 90s Kyrgyzstan was seen as a role model, often referred to as the “island of democracy” in Central Asia. Other than in other post-soviet countries the old elite was largely replaced by young and reformoriented actors and Akayev was perceived by the West as an open and intellectual leader of the country, who would be able to establish peace, stability and democracy in the new Republic of Kyrgyzstan.
20 years later the country was shaking under the turmoil of ethnic clashes and many people I spoke to are rather disappointed by how the concept of democracy worked out in Kyrgyzstan.
And 22 years after the Declaration of Independence I enjoy watching the musical statements for interethnic friendship.
Lots of Kyrgyz friends did not join the celebrations in Bishkek at this day though. Some because of the heat, some because of their disappointment about democracy or simply their disgust about headless goats. One of my friends was slightly surprised that there were actually events going on in the city:
“Of course we are independent. You don’t have to make a fuzz about it. It’s normal, right?”
Yeah, kinda normal. I usually don’t go out at our national holiday, do not listen to the Eagles’ Wind of Change or watch videos of the fall of the wall for the 10 000th time. We are the Post-Cold-War Generation. For us the issues of global insecurity and dependency have changed. The blue flags have failed, the reunion of GDR and FRG have brought about new problems. And it’s now our task to deal with them.
However before I am going to save Snowden, occupy wallstreet and take the Worldbank over I am going to watch the end of this horse race, get burned by the sun, and eat an icecream.
More sports, less politics – More about Kok-Boru
“They didn’t have a ball in the mountains, so they played with a goat”,
my friend told me. Although I think he was a bit too simplistic about that you can easily imagine the roots in livestock keeping nomadic traditions. Today there are two teams but originally I heard everyone was playing against each other which must have been far more violent than the game is today (it still is). The goat is of course killed before the game. Traditionally it is eaten by the winning team although I cannot imagine who would like to eat that punched, dusty meat after a game like that (I don’t know why they cut off the head by the way). I also noticed how incredibly heavy a dead goat even without the head must be – you can see it when they try to get it on the horse with an incredibly effective strategy wedging it under their legs.
*Don’t be confused – Independence Day was on August 31. I wrote this post far too late because I didn’t have the time. Didn’t want to drop the goat completely though.