Journalist Sued for Comparing Tajik ‘Intelligentsia’ to Excrement

Tajikistan's state-approved ‘intelligentsia’ is showing itself to be more thin-skinned than intelligent. Members of pro-government intellectual circles are currently suing a journalist at an independent news agency for quoting and concurring with Lenin's disapproving view of public intellectuals in an opinion column.

People in Tajikistan have mixed feelings regarding their Soviet past, but these feelings, whether good or bad, rarely lead to court cases. Yet Olga Tutubalina, an editor and columnist of Asia-Plus, one of Tajikistan's few genuinely independent media outlets, is facing a rather serious lawsuit for quoting [ru] the first leader of the Soviet Union in a post titled «Неинтеллигентно об интеллигенции» (‘The Intelligentsia's Unintelligence’) [ru]:

«Интеллигенция – это не мозг нации, это ее говно». Так говорил вождь мирового пролетариата Владимир Ленин, так хочется сказать и мне, читая новости о возвращении на родину поэта Бозора Собира…

“The intelligentsia is not the ‘brain of nation’, it is its shit”. This is what the chief of the world proletariat Vladimir Lenin said, and this is what I want to say reading news about the return of poet Bozor Sobir to his homeland…

Bozor Sobir is a well-known Tajik poet who was among the founders of the country's pro-democracy movement in the early 1990s. In 1993, at the height of the civil war in the country, he moved to Russia and later received refugee status in the US, where he lived for nearly two decades.

In his rare interviews, Bozor Sobir criticized Tajikistan's intelligentsia for praising the authorities and offering no independent opinion about the problems confronting the nation. In a 2008 interview, the poet expressed [ru] his disappointment with modern Tajikistan:

Моей родиной был Советский Таджикистан. В нынешнем Таджикистане я не жил и не чувствую, что это моя родина…

My homeland was Soviet Tajikistan. I haven't lived in today's Tajikistan and I don't feel that it is my homeland…

Given the poet's previous views on the subject, his return to Tajikistan was surprising for many Tajiks. In an interview with state owned TV channels, Sobir said [ru] that he had accepted an invitation from Tajik President Emomali Rahmon to ‘stay forever’. He also added his bewilderment at why a country as small as Tajikistan needed so many political parties, and expressed his gratitude to Rahmon, with whom he said [ru] he had a ‘warm and sincere conversation’.

These statements were put into context when Asia-Plus reported [ru] that the poet was to receive an apartment and benefits from the state, news that has damaged the poet's reputation in the eyes of many Tajiks.

In her blog post Olga Tutubalina expressed [ru] her disappointment with the poet:

Вот так вот быстро и без особых церемоний «переобулся» некогда известный демократ и революционер, а ныне, по всей видимости, уже глашатай воли руководства страны.

In such a free and easy manner, the once famous democrat and revolutionary, now the apparent flag bearer of the government's will has “changed his shoes”.

Tutubalina then wrote [ru] that while Bozor Sobir is ‘the least expected’ representative of the intelligentsia type ‘so accurately described by Lenin’, he is far from alone in toadying to the country's autocratic president:

О чем только говорят эти постыдные встречи интеллигенции с главой государства, на которых говорит только Рахмон, а представители этой так называемой совести нации в лучшем случае молчат, смиренно потупив взор, в худшем – начинают попрошайничать.

What to say of these embaressing meetings the intelligentsia has with the head of state, wherein Rahmon does all the talking and the representatives of the so-called conscience of the nation maintain a silence, dropping their gaze submissively at best, and in the worst cases – start begging [the President] 

Some commentators on the Asia-Plus blog expressed solidarity with the author. A user named Али Бедаки [Ali Bedaki] wrote [ru]:

Ольга,нет слов…вы написали то что думаю я и не только я поверьте.спасибо!!!

Olga, I have no words to say… you wrote what I think and not just me, believe me. Thank you!!!

However, not everyone agreed with this harsh critique of the ‘conscience of the nation’ and Bozor Sobir in particular. Алкос Шарифзода [Alkos Sharifzoda] defended [ru] the poet:

Каждому человеку хочется жить у себя на родине. Я рада тому что Эмомали Рахмон вернул нашего Великого писателя Бозор Собира на родину. Он высказал своё мнение по поводу партий и как бы там не было я его поддерживаю. Не вам Ольга решать кому возвращаться а кому нет. Мы народ хотим чтобы Он жил среди Нас. Мы любим Его…

Every person wants to live in his homeland. I am glad that Emomali Rahmon has brought back our Great writer Bozor Sobir. He [Bozor Sobir] expressed his opinion about parties and whatever he says, I support him. It's not for you to decide who is to come back and who is not, Olga. We, the people, want Him to live among Us. We love Him…

But things started to take a much more serious turn when Mekhmon Bakhti, the chairman of the Tajik writers union said [ru] in an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Tajik service that more than ten creative associations plan to file a law suit against Olga Tutubalina. He also added that she could have avoided this if she had addressed the quote only to Bozor Sobir rather than the ‘intellligentsia’ at large. In a probable reference to Tatubalina's Russian ethnicity he added: “To live in a country and feel hatred towards its people is deplorable.” The chair of the writers union also advised Olga to be grateful that she lives in such a democratic country:

за такие слова в таких странах, как Грузия, Армения, Казахстан или Россия, с такого журналиста «содрали бы кожу»

In countries like Georgia, Armenia, Kazakhstan or Russia, a journalist like this would be “scalped” for such words

Barzu Aburazzokov, a Tajik stage director, thinks [ru] that the case launched by the various creative associations represents a political order from above. Interviewed by RFE/RL's Tajik service he noted that this same ‘intelligentsia’ said nothing “for the last 20 years in the face of electricity and water shortages…dead labour migrants, arrests of successful entrepreneurs, and thousands of other problems for the population.”

This demotivator shared on the public facebook group Platforma by the user Умный Бизнес (clever business) posits that society is "for" Tutubalina and "against" the state-endorsed intelligentsia.

This demotivator shared on the public facebook group Platforma by the user Умный Бизнес (Clever Business) posits that society is ‘for’ Tutubalina and ‘against’ the state-puppeteered intelligentsia.

The lawsuit could cost Tutubalina and the Asia-Plus news agency up to 50,000 US dollars plus confiscation of property if one of Tajikistan's judges – not known for their independence – sides with the creative associations initiating the case.

The face-off between Tutubalina and the ‘intelligentsia’ has already generated plenty of discussion on ПЛАТФОРМА [platforma] the largest public facebook group dedicated to discussions of political and social issues in Tajikistan. Bakhtiyor Sattori, who was stabbed in February of this year – supposedly for his criticism of the government – commented [ru]:

Лучше бы отозвали свой иск – позор будет громкий и все их прошлые дела затмит вот этот позорный иск. Неужели они не могут просчитать на 2 хода вперёд, интеллигенты?

They should withdraw the suit – the shame will be loud and anything they have done in the past will be overshadowed by this shameful suit. Why can't these representatives of intelligentsia look 2 moves ahead?

Ораш [Orash], however, was surprised [ru] by the support of Tutubalina:

Удивляюсь сторонникам Тутубалиной для которых неизвестны такие понятия как национальная гордость. … Ольга если вы оскорбили интеллигенцию то вы оскорбили всю нацию и это не клевета…

I am surprised by supporters of Tutubalina, who have no concept of national dignity… Olga, insulting intelligentsia means to insult the whole nation and that is more than libel.

Tutubalina, meanwhile is considering [ru] counter-suing for libel in relation to the accusations of ‘hostility towards Tajik nation’ brought up by Mekhmon Bakhti in his interview. Nevertheless, the odds seem stacked against Tutubalina and Asia-Plus, a very different ‘conscience’ in a nation enduring a prolonged period of political repression [see GV Tajikistan archive].

N.B An amusing side note in this tense confrontation between Tutubalina and the creative associations is the fact that the lawsuit's initiators went to the pains of finding [ru] a definition of ‘shit’ in order to prove the defamatory character of the word. This was the definition they found:

Согласно толковому словарю значение слова говно в совокупности со словосочетанием интеллигенция имеет следующее значение и восприятие читателей, как

Говно: (неисчисляемое существительное) разные вещи, особенно ненужные, глупые, нехорошие вещи или принадлежащие неприятному человеку. Например: Забирай свое говно из моего гаража!

According to the glossary, the meaning of the word ‘shit’ in connection with ‘intelligentsia’ has the following meaning for [the average] reader.

Shit: (uncountable noun) different things, especially unwanted, stupid, bad things or the belongings of an unpleasant man. For example: Take your shit our of my garage!

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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