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Kyrgyzstan: Videos Abound of ‘Patriotic’ Attacks on Migrant Women in Russia

In recent months, the Kyrgyz Internet space has been awash with discussions about the plight of female labour migrants working abroad in Russia. In particular, the issue of ‘patriotic’ videos, whereby male Kyrgyz labour migrants interrogate and even beat their female compatriots for associating with nationals of other countries has sparked outrage across domestic and international networks. The catalysts for discussions on the subject have been a series of articles published via the Russian, Kyrgyz and English language services of the website Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).

Screenshot from a video showing a Kyrgyz woman being beaten by a male compatriot. From video ‘Moskvada kalgan yi', uploaded May 28, 2012, by Youtube user AzattykUnalgysy.

In March 2012, a video clip appeared on the Kyrgyz video host Blive.kg, wherein a group of Kyrgyz men interrogated a girl of Kyrgyz ethnicity, accusing her of acting amorally by talking to young men of other national groups. Blive.kg subsequently removed the video. Between the months of March and June, RFE/RL's bloggers and journalists, in particular the Kyrgyz journalist Eleanora Beishenbek kyzy, covered the topic exhaustively. Their efforts culminated in an article titled ‘Kyrgyz Migrant Women Brutally Assaulted in ‘Patriotic’ Videos', which was one of the site's most frequently read articles in May.

According to one RFE/RL blogger Amar Alibaev, other web sites contain numerous similar videos where men hiding their faces insult Kyrgyz women.

As Alibaev notes [ru]:

После волны бурных реакций со стороны общественности на этот видеоролик, я с неприятным удивлением обнаружил,что в интернете есть достаточно видеороликов,где молодые люди из Кыргызстана в агрессивной форме издеваются над нашими девушками-мигрантками в России в силу наличия у них отношений с мужчинами других национальностей

After a wave of stormy reactions by the public to this video, I have the unpleasant surprise of finding out that the Internet is full of clips where young men from Kyrgyzstan are mocking our female migrants in an aggressive way, all because they have relations with men of other nationalities

According to another article, one video sees [ru] a group of men force a girl to say her name out loud and inform viewers of her place of residence in both Kyrgyzstan and Russia. Others are more vicious still: girls are beaten up and threatened with knives and electric shockers.

Under the article ‘Nationalists Discuss Kyrgyz Girls”, one anonymous poster from Kyrgyzstan said [ru]:

Позор  этих ублюдков,как они воспитали своих отморозков!?Патриотизм заключается не в насилии людей,тем более женщин,девушек.Итак жизнь девушки искалечена,вдобавок еще одно.Таких “патриотов надо”жестоко наказывать.А что если на месте этой бедняги оказалась бы сестра этих “патриотов”? Почему наши девушки не имеют права на свободу выбора? Кто эти “патриоты”,чтобы совершать правосудие?Это просто напросто невоспитанные,отсталые и падшие люди!!!Позор и еще раз позор!Изверги.

“Shame on those “patriots”! Patriotism is not violence, especially against girls and women. This girl’s life is ruined anyways and such thing is in addition. These “patriots” should be punished severely. What if in place of those poor victims, there were their sisters? Why do our girls not have the right to freedom of choice? Who are these “patriots” to carry out justice? Those men are just monsters. Shame on them!”

The horrifying actions of the “patriots” have earned them attention abroad as well as at home. The article about this situation was posted on Radio Free Europe and many readers have posted their discontent about the actions of the “patriots”. George from the United States said:

If this was done to my sister or daughter, there would be blood spilt. This is the 21st century, time for the 13th century mentality to go. The actions of these men is criminal, and needs to be delt with as such. They have dishonored themselves and their country with their actions. Have proven themselves to be cowards.

While an anonymous commenter reflected:

“poor, insignificant, powerless fellows whose only purported illusion of power is humiliating a defenseless and helpless woman. Shame!”

In Kyrgyzstan, the term ‘patriot’ has broad connotations, being associated variously with someone who is prepared to promote the Kyrgyz language, fight to protect the country's ecology or defend national honour in some other way. Thus, while most Kyrgyz netizens agreed that the behaviour of the  'patriots' was far from ‘patriotic', others stepped in to defend their actions, claiming that the videotaped victims were purveyors of immoral lifestyles, often involving prostitution and thus constituted a ‘shame’ to the nation.

Reacting to Alibaev's blog, Shumkar said [ru]:

Хочется отметить, что подержка этих джигитов диктуется вовсе не национализмом а пониманием мотивов действий этих людей. Давайте обратимся к истории древнего мира возмем древний Рим там упадок моральных принципов повлек за собой разрушение государства, Веками народы сохранялись храня целомудрие ограждая от растления своих единоплемеников так что те кто осуждает тех кто переживает и борется за моральное здоровье народа не думают о будушем народа и о мнении окружаюших народов которые видят позорные моменты создают мнение о кыргызах как о людях не имеюших стыда и чести

“It should be noted that support for these men is dictated not by nationalism but by an understanding of their motives. Let’s turn to the history of the ancient world – let’s take Rome, where the decline of moral principles led to the destruction of the state. For centuries people remained chaste protecting their kinsmen…those who judge these [labour migrants] who are struggling and fighting for the moral health of the people are not thinking about the future of the people and the opinion of surrounding peoples who see shameful moments and form an opinion of the Kyrgyz as anation that has no shame and honor”

After the first wave of shocking videos, the parliament began discussing a law banning girls under 22 years old from leaving the country alone. Nevertheless, many found such law unnecessarily prohibitive, and the initiative remains frozen. Meanwhile, many migrants living abroad in Russia support the patriots and think that this way of punishing Kyrgyz girls is a fair way of teaching them how to act appropriately.

One commenter, Nurbek (a Kyrgyz name) from Sahalin, Russia, wrote [ru]:

Я бы говорил, правильно делают эти парни! Дело в том, что виноваты наши девушки…далее… гуляет со всеми и делает вид, что она мусульманка! Не которые ищут работу и как обычно переспят хозяином и другими! А не котором вообще слов нет! Уважайте наших жигитов и они будут, уважат вас и за вами… я тоже поймал пару девушки наших! и подхожу этим парням (не киргиз) и допрашиваю, они говорят что мы предложили а она без отказ!!! После этого вы вините наших жигитов?! Да есть хорошие девушки который уважают своих кыргызов, но, этого мало и очень очень …

“I’d say that these guys are doing right! Indeed, the girls themselves are guilty of everything…they go out with everybody and then pretend that they are muslims! Some girls are looking for  jobs, but they simply sleep with their employers and others. Respect our men and they respect you back. I have also seen such girls. I asked non-Kyrgyz guys about these girls and they said that when they asked them out, these girls did not refuse. So why are you blaming our men? Yes, there are some good Kyrgyz girls that respect Kyrgyz men but very few.”

The Patriots exploit the fact that the young girls are unlikely to press charges against them, for fear their relatives find out about their predicament and are ashamed. While it is not known whether the movement, which is thought [ru] to have cells in Moscow, Saint-Petersburg, Novosibirsk and other Russian cities, enjoys political support inside Kyrgyzstan, ‘patriot’ politician Kamchibek Tashiev did not hesitate to criticize the male migrants fiercely when interviewed by RFE/RL's  Russian language service. Urging the Russian authorities to bring the perpetrators of the videoed attacks to justice, he said [ru]:

Никто не имеет права ограничивать свободу личности, запугивать и издеваться над кыргызскими девушками, что является не защитой чести, а позором. По этому поводу трудно что-то сказать об их действиях. Но в любом случае это является преступлением. К сожалению, среди мигрантов встречаются граждане, которые ведут неподобающий образ жизни. Но это не значит, что по отношению к ним можно проявлять насилие. Эту проблему можно разрешить объяснениями, поддержкой, а также путем защиты

“Nobody has the right to limit individual’s liberty, intimidate Kyrgyz women. In fact is it not the protection of honor but shame. In this regard, it is difficult to say something about their actions. But in any case, it is a crime. Unfortunately, among the migrants, there are citizens who follow inappropriate lifestyles. But this does not mean that they should be insulted. This problem can be solved through support and protection”.

Hundreds of thousands of Kyrgyz leave their home country annually to work abroad, mainly in Russia. Between 30-40 percent of them are women. Screenshot from video ‘Moskvada kalgan yi', uploaded May 28, 2012, by Youtube user AzattykUnalgysy.

Even if the “patriots” are caught and brought to justice, Kyrgyz women in Russia will remain a vulnerable group. According to one RFE/RL report, statistics show [ru] that between 30-40% of Kyrgyz migrants in Russia are women, compared to 16% of Uzbek migrants and 12% of Tajik migrants. Moreover, many of these women are young, unmarried and travel to the country alone. Of all the Central Asian migrant populations in Russia, the Kyrgyz migrant population has the youngest average age.

This post is part of the GV Central Asia Interns Project at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

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