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Kyrgyzstan: Can a Blogger be the Fourth Branch of Government?

Ilya Karimdjanov is a pest. Armed with a camera, a question and the most popular blog on Kyrgyzstan's most popular blogging platform, Kloop.kg, he is a one-man citizen media machine, the nemesis of rule-breaking cops, corrupt university teachers and the Kyrgyz monetary system. Well, someone has to keep them all in check, don't they?

Kyrgyzstan's weakened executive, unruly legislature and compromised judiciary are not renowned for enforcing their own rules and regulations. Indeed, state officials' disregard for due process is a feature of life in the country that can charm or frustrate foreign visitors to the country in equal measure. For citizens of the country, it is simply the daily minefield  they must negotiate in order to get from home to work and back again.

Commissar Karimdjanov, as he has been referred to in the past, has made a habit of exposing these routine violations of law and protocol both on his blog and on the main news portal at Kloop.kg, where he works as a journalist. A recent example saw him “police” a female police officer who appeared to be drinking while in uniform at lunch time:

Karimdjanov: Look, she is drinking beer. Shall we go?

Colleague: Sure

Karimdjanov [to policewoman]: I hope you are not against us making a video. Why are you drinking beer in uniform? It is interesting for us, why is a police official drinking beer?

Policewoman: I have a praznik [celebratory day]

Karimdjanov: But you are on duty…

Policewoman: I understand that it is banned on duty but for one thing it is non-alcoholic…

Karimdjanov: It is not non-alcoholic, we asked the waitress….

Policewoman: It is non-alcoholic you can ask again, and secondly tomorrow is a praznik and [today is] my birthday. May I?

In the Facebook plugin beneath the posted video, Almaz Rakhimdinov noted [ru]:

Not for nothing Ilya Karimdjanov has the title of agent provocateur!

While Cholponbai Borubaeva said [ru]:

Interested to know what will happen to her - a warning or a sacking?

Rinat Shamstudinov argued:

The guys from Kloop [Karimdjanov and colleague, Zarema Sultanbekova] did good. But you should have taken a copy of the receipt because staff [of the police] may do anything possible to turn that Siberian Crown [alcoholic beer] into a Baltika '0′ [non-alcoholic].

This isn't the first time Karimdjanov's activities have earned him attention. Another recent video exposed on his blog posed the question [ru] ”Tiyini – Money No-one Needs?”

On that occasion Karimdjanov went around Bishkek with co-author Begimai Bolotbekova trying to spend tiyini, the much-loathed Kyrgyz equivalent of cents, pence and other smaller-than-small currency denominations. Refused by shopkeepers, stallholders and parking inspectors, he successfully exposed another law that doesn't work – that all denominations belonging to the national currency be accepted in cash transactions.*

Ilya's day-to-day blogging sees him defend the constitution [ru] (particularly article 33, allowing access to free information), expose corrupt university lecturers [ru] and make appeals [ru] for greater press responsibility. In this sense, he is like an onlime ombudsman, performing the functions the government, either through indifference or incompetence, doesn't.

But why does he bother? In response to a criticism by one commenter of his handling of the police-beer scandal, Karimdjanov replied [ru]:

I also thought to dismiss it at first. Just get up and leave, but my conscience would not allow me to. I know that nothing has fundamentally changed and it is unlikely to even be punished, but I have every right to approach such employees and to show them that they themselves are doing wrong.
All of us like to chew the fat and say that it is because of low salaries and all that. But fundamentally you don't even desire to do something useful. This is my country, the place my children will live ! And I will do everything possible so that before they arrive, I will make at least a few people, through examples like these, change the way they think about things and do what is correct! To sit back and criticize – is the easiest thing to do. But I respect your opinion, because my task was to convey information to you. I did this as a journalist, and how you perceive it – is up to you

* Fifty tiyin pieces, the eqivalent of 1 US cent, are accepted in the Kyrgyz supermarket chain ‘Narodni', an organization that fares pretty badly during coups in the country. Tourists in Bishkek may be forgiven for thinking that Narodni are entirely responsible for the circulation of this meloch, or small change, since only they seeem to dispense them, and only they seem to accept them….

Links to videos: 1, 2

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