Kyrgyzstan: Where Every Joke is on the Capital's Mayor

KVN – the Russian abbreviation for Club of the Funny and Inventive [Клуб весёлых и находчивых] – remains a national comedy institution in many states of the former Soviet Union. Kyrgyzstan, whose capital has recently hosted the Central Asian league of KVN, is no exception. But while most people in the country enjoy the humor, the Kyrgyz capital's mayor is looking on red-faced, emerging as the butt of every other joke.

Cody White on the Russia Beyond the Headlines blog explains what KVN means for post-Soviet countries:

KVN originated in Soviet Russia during the 1960s. Since then KVN has became one of [the former Soviet countries’] most popular competitions and longest running TV shows. There are many leagues, both on and off the air, with different teams competing in various parts of the world. From businesses to schools, from clubs to professional leagues: everyone in [former Soviet countries] seems to enjoy KVN! Although the game was banned for some years in the USSR for political reasons, its resurgence during Perestroika brought it to a level of popularity never experienced before. Currently, KVN has about five million spectators annually (an impressive feat, if you think about it!) and has become a cultural phenomenon that is present in almost every corner of [society in any post-Soviet country].

KVN is on the rise in Kyrgyzstan. Asia MIX, a team from Kyrgyzstan, recently reached the quarter-finals of the KVN Supreme League which is dominated by teams from Russia. Another Kyrgyz team, Tama-Show, has been doing well in a lower division. These successes led to the opening of the official Central Asian league of KVN, the Ala-Too League, in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital. The league is open to teams from Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, as well as local Kyrgyz teams.

Participants at the Ala-Too League KVN game in Bishkek. Image by Vecherniy Bishkek, used with permission.

KVN politics

But the game which is so popular with ordinary people is less popular with politicians, the favorite targets of jokes at KVN games. Isa Omurkulov, the mayor of Bishkek who is often criticized for the city's bad roads, was the central target of Kyrgyz teams during the latest game.

Triple, a team from the Kyrgyz-Russian Slavic University, laid into the mayor mercilessly:

Знаете, я если я был бы стоматологом, то я мэру города вместо пломбы брусчатку вставил!

 You know, if I were the mayor's dentist, he would get a paving stone instead of a filling!

Another local team, Bishkek, lampooned in a good manner about the country's president, Bishkek mayor, and ex-prime minister:

В Кыргызстане стало так много разных фильмов, что политики решили сняться в них. Фильм с участием Исы Омуркулова и Алмазбека Атамбаева: “1+1. неприкасаемые”.
Во втором фильме снялся некий экс-премьер министр КР, котрого когда-то попросили освободить место. Афиша- “Бабанго Освобожденный”

There are so many new movies in Kyrgyzstan that our politicians have decided to play in some of them. The movie starring Isa Omurkulov [Bishkek mayor] and Almazbek Atambaev [president] is “1+1. The Untouchables”.
The former prime-minister of Kyrgyz Republic [Omurbek Babanov] is starring in another film, “Babango Unchained” [orig. Django Unchained].

"1+1. Untouchables" with Isa Omurkulov and Almazbek Atambev

“1+1. Untouchables”, starring Isa Omurkulov and Almazbek Atambev. Bishkek team. Image by Vecherniy Bishkek, used with permission.

A team from the Kyrgyz National University, Handsome from IIEP, enacted a flashback of March 24, 2005, when the-then President Askar Akaev was forced from power, to a loud ovation from the audience.

Team Triple recalled all the presidents Kyrgyzstan has had over the last 22 years: Askar Akaev (ousted in 2005), Kurmanbek Bakiyev (who practiced clan system with his relatives), Roza Otunbaeva (provisional president), and the current leader Almazbek Atambaev.

Кыргызстан – как девушка. Сначала встречалась с парнем, психанула, и он в Москву улетел. Потом познакомилась со вторым, мажором, но он оказался альфонсом: обокрал ее и убежал за границу. Она теперь даже родственников видеть не хочет. Потом подружку в поддержки нашла, и та ей говорит “Я временно”. И вот теперь: вроде нормальный парень, айла жок! Но мысли то о первом парне,  как же с ним было хорошо. Первая любовь, тут ничего не поделаешь.

Kyrgyzstan is like a girl. She began by dating a guy, but then she got hysterical, so he had to escape to Moscow. The second boyfriend was rich, but later he turned out to be a gigolo: he stole her money and escaped abroad. She hates him now, and does not even want to see his relatives. Then a female friend came to support her, saying though that she was only “interim”. And finally, there is a seemingly nice guy! But she keeps thinking about the first guys, and how happy she was with him. Her first love, you can't do anything about that.

‘Isa, Go Away’

While socio-political humor shakes Bishkek's comedy halls, the country's Twitter users have caught the bug. That is bad news for the city's mayor.

Omurkulov, who became mayor in 2010, has been accused of ignoring necessities such as kindergartens and roads in favor of expensive steel buckets filled with flowers. A Facebook page “Isa, Go Away” (Иса Кетсин), which has almost 1,000 followers, recently shared a photo, stating that if it gets 10,000 likes, the mayor will leave his post.

Photo shared by Facebook page “Isa, Go Away!” The text reads: “If this photo gets 1,000 likes, Isa Omurkulov will leave his post”.

A recently opened Twitter account @omurkulov_i, purportedly belonging to the Bishkek mayor, has come under siege from local tweeps. Bishkek resident Jenni Evans (@zari6ka) wrote [ru] on March 22:

@zari6ka: Уважаемый @omurkulov_i, если вы в ближайшее время не займетесь дорогами Бишкека,я начну давить ваши любимые петунии на своей тачке,как в ГТА!

@zari6kaDear @omurkulov_i, if you do not address the problem with Bishkek roads soon, I will start riding over your lovely petunias in my car, like it is [Grand Theft Auto game]!

The reply was [ru] less than fully mayoral:

@omurkulov_i: @zari6ka уважаемая синьёра, если с моих светочков упадет хоть лепесток, тебя ждет шебеночный ад.

@omurkulov_i: Dear madam, if a single leaf falls off my flowers, get ready for a crushed stone hell.

(N.B. Crushed stone is a material used to fill holes on the roads in Bishkek).

Akyl Osmonov (@osmonov_i) posted [ru] on April 8:

@osmonov_i: Судя по состоянию столицы, Омуркулов готовит город к прибытию антихриста.

@osmonov_i: Judging by the condition of the capital, Omurkulov gets the city ready for the appearance of Antichrist.

He added [ru] a bit later:

@osmonov_i: И вообще, конец света обойдет наш город, со словами: “здесь уже Омуркулов поработал”

@osmonov_i: The end of the world will not occur in our city [Bishkek] because “Omurkulov has already been here”.

When team Asia Mix reached quarter-finals of KVN Supreme League, Kyrgyz Twitter users used the occasion as another opportunity to joke about the mayor. Akylai Moldokmatova (@KG_CB) wrote [ru] on March 3:

@KG_CB: Тот, кто не смотрит КВН и не болеет за наших, тот Иса Омуркулов!

@KG_CB: If you are not watching KBN now, you are Isa Omurkulov!

However, the account attributed to the Mayor also joined in the fun [ru]:

@omurkulov_i: Поздравлю наших квнщиков несмотря на глупые шутки про меня. Молодцы.

@omurkulov_i: I would like to congratulate our KVN team, despite their stupid jokes about me. Good job.

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