Cumpulsory Anthem Law Hits Wrong Note in Kyrgyzstan

By Anara Yusupova in Bishkek (RCA No. 592, 16-Oct-09)

New legislation initiative making it compulsory for Kyrgyz citizens to stand and sing the national anthem whenever it is played has received an unenthusiastic response from the public.

While the legislators who drafted the bill insist that the measure will increase patriotic feeling within the Central Asian republic, civil society leaders have dismissed it as a ridiculous gesture and a waste of parliamentary time.

On October 1, parliament passed amendments to the law on national symbols, making it compulsory for all citizens to sing along to the anthem. Failure to comply will lead to as yet unspecified penalties, which could fines, official warnings or even short periods of detention.

The law has also been changed so that private broadcasters are obliged to play the anthem when they come on air and at closedown, as is already the case for state-run TV and radio.

This is just the latest in a series of changes to the law on state symbols; previous ones made it compulsory to stand when the national anthem is played, stipulated floodlighting for the flag when flown above government buildings, and banned drivers from drilling through the Kyrgyz flag depicted on their number plate to attach it to the car.

“Our parliamentarians are real characters – they won’t allow holes in the flag on car number plates, and they make people put their hands on their hearts and sing the anthem,” political analyst Mars Sariyev told IWPR. “I believe that patriotism begins with other things, and that this is a cosmetic measure that won’t produce patriotism…. These laws show that our MPs are out of touch with reality or else that they’re incompetent.”

However, the Ak Jol party which dominates the Kyrgyz parliament was united on the benefits of singing the anthem.

“The national anthem was created to be sung,” said Ziyaidin Jamaldinov, the Ak Jol parliamentarian who came up with the idea. “This amendment is a demonstration of respect towards a national symbol. Every citizen should know the anthem off by heart. If the law is ignored, then there will be a penalty.”

Avtandil Arabayev, another Ak Jol member and deputy head of the parliamentary committee for constitutional law, legal compliance and human rights, told IWPR that the idea was to get people into the way of respecting their national symbols.

“In the long run, citizens will sing the anthem voluntarily, out of patriotic feeling. But right now, when that hasn’t yet become a tradition, we are trying to revive patriotism by introducing this legal standard.”

During the debate on the bill, a note of dissent was sounded by Social Democratic Party member Irina Karamushkina, who said people should be encouraged to sing the anthem out of genuine feeling, rather than fear of punishment.

“Citizens of Kyrgyzstan undoubtedly love and work for their country,” she said. “A sense of patriotism must be nurtured from childhood and imbibed with your mother’s milk. But forcing adults to display their patriotism is naïve and is to an extent a sign of authoritarianism.”

This drew an angry response from Ak Jol member Beyshenbek Abdyrasakov, and he told Karamushkina, who is of Russian origin, “I want to say officially and publicly that you are an enemy of the Kyrgyz people.”

It now only remains for the draft amendment to be signed into law by President Kurmanbek Bakiev.

Many ordinary people feel the new law will not have much effect, and that parliament should instead be focusing on the economic and social challenges that directly impact on their lives.

Bishkek resident Yevgenia Loginova, 35, said, “I regard it as coercion. For me, love of the motherland is a personal thing, and I do not want to put it on show by singing the anthem in the company of others…. Nobody can force anyone to sing it or not sing it, or to put my hand on my heart or not.”

Maksat Amanov, 30, said he saw some logic in the new rules as “I don’t know the words of the anthem myself, and I’ll never learn it unless I’m forced to.”

At the same time, he said, “Children need to be taught to sing the anthem at school, whereas it’s pointless forcing adults, since the USSR anthem was their national anthem for many decades.”

Dinara Oshurakhunova, who heads the non-government Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society said nobody could be forced to acquire patriotic fervour.

“People won’t love their motherland any more if they’re made to sing the anthem,” she said. “Patriotism is not displayed through singing the anthem –that’s a ridiculous idea. You cannot make people love their motherland by this method when the majority of the population lives below the poverty line.”

Oshurakhunova pointed to previous attempts by parliament to patent Kyrgyz national cuisine, and ban the wearing of shorts bearing the image of the Kyrgyz flag.

“It seems that parliamentarians have nothing better to do,” she said. “They ought show more concern about things like whether there’s electricity in the house of every Kyrgyz citizen. Then everyone would love and cherish the motherland.”

Anara Yusupova is a pseudonym for a journalist in Kyrgyzstan.