Between 30 November and 11 December this year, the leaders of the world are meeting in Paris for 21st session of the COP (Conference of Parties) to the UNFCCC, which is the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Together with Small Island Developing States (SIDS), Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDCs) have a special status and interest in negotiations about climate change. While SIDS are mostly threatened by a rise of water-levels due to climate change, LLDCs experience serious threats due to the melting of glaciers, their only water source. Obviously, the whole crowd of ‘stans’ is part of the latter category and Uzbekistan is together with Liechtenstein the only doubly landlocked country in the world.
While in Paris, the country representatives pledge to provide more money, commit to measurable goals etc. to manage the human-made catastrophe of climate change, there are of course also human forces that, mostly for the sake of profit, continue to work in favor of climate change, such as the Goldmining industry in Kyrgyzstan, which contaminates water resources and, together with already melting glaciers poses a threat of a flood for the country. In this post, I will address another water-related issues in Central Asia and its human origins: the Aral Sea catastrophe in Uzbekistan.
Some time ago, I left Bishkek for a weekend and visisted Talas, where the family of a friend of mine lives. Talas region is a beautiful place in a valley in between very high mountains. It is surrounded by mountain ranges which make it hard to enter (over a pass-road from the East) but make its nature all the more remarkable:
Except for the nature there were some things that were new to me or that I had heard about but never really experienced with my own eyes and ears. It was pretty interesting so I wanna share three facts that Talas taught me:
Bureaucracy illustration with Max Weber and Franz Kafka by: Harald Groven (flickr)
I enter the building for the fifth time in two weeks. I know now where to head. I carry my passport in my hand, passing by the queue of people sitting at the table and filling out documents. The woman in line before me is almost crying: “… but he is studying here. He has all the documents to study, he already started!” Woman behind the counter: “The permit is only for a month. I cannot extend it”. The first woman: “But you cannot finish studying in a month. He will miss the exams. He will fail the exams”. Woman behind the counter: “The permit is only for a month.” The woman turns around and addresses the person she’s been arguing for. He shruggs, she sighs and both of them have to leave the room. I’m next. I’m nervous. I will ask for the director, I will try to find clear answers. I know I won’t get them from only-one-month-permit-lady but she is my starting point into a lot of trouble. I hand over my passport – and wait for the trouble to start.Visit visa-free Kyrgyzstan!
Lenin on a square in the centre of Bishkek
November 7 was a national holiday in Kyrgyzstan celebrating – the Bolshevik Revolution. Well, every post-soviet country has a different way of dealing with its past. While in most of them every single Lenin statue has been torn down, this is not the case in lovely Kyrgyzstan, where my Latvian flatmate is still shocked and disgusted whenever she sees Lenin on a street corner, friendly standing opposite the national hero Manas. Neither in Latvia nor Uzbekistan or Georgia could bronze Lenin survive his empire.
But for somewhat more contemporary reasons I want to talk today about Russia. Although Lenin can also be found in Russia, apparently the country has developed another way of dealing with its memory.
Nationalist demonstration in Russia under the old flags, pic by valya v. (flickr.com)
On November 4, Russia celebrated “Unity Day”, a holiday established in 2005 to commemorate the unification of Russia against a Polish-Lithuanian occupation force in the beginning of the 17th century. It is also said that the day was mainly installed to replace November 7.
However, “Unity Day” somewhat seems to be the opposite of unifying today. In several marches all over the country it showed to be mainly anti-gay, anti-muslim, anti-migrant, xenophobic and racist (“Russia for Russians”, “White Russia”).
Just coming back from Uzbekistan might be the best time to give you an update about my personal impressions, highlights and disappointments in my time abroad, since right now I have another external view on the country (contrasting it with its neighbour) and at the same time just realized how I already felt like coming back home when crossing the border on foot and seeing the red national flag…
Independence Day: No tearing wall down but watching Kok Boru games
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!