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Citizens Battle Government for the Right to Decorate Kyrgyzstan's Main Festive Tree

Kyrgyzstan's 2015 New Year Tree. Photo by Aki Press, used with permission.

Kyrgyzstan's 2015 New Year Tree. Photo by Aki Press, used with permission.

Creating a festive mood ahead of the New Year holiday is one of the most important annual tasks the municipal government of a post-Soviet city faces. The mayor's office in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, has been judged in the court of public opinion, and has come up short.

So short, in fact, that citizens have started a campaign to do a better job themselves, in spite of threats of administrative fines from the state.

Bishkek, like other post-Soviet countries with Orthodox Christian populations, celebrates Christmas in January, but the most universally-celebrated holiday in the majority Muslim country, as per-communist tradition, is New Year.

The New Year tree, or yolka, is the centre piece of those celebrations and was lit up in the capital's central square December 22. 

But while this year's yolka looks impressive by night, many citizens are complaining it is an eyesore by day.

New Year's tree decorations

New Year's tree decorations. Photo from vb.kg, used with permission.

One commenter on the popular news website vb. kg, claimed the government was “laughing at citizens” with the flat, flashing plastic and acrylic decorations — supposed to resemble toys — it had adorned the tree with. The government claims that each decoration was worth at least 50 USD, while decorating the central square as a whole cost close to 50,000 USD. 

Commenting on the Facebook page of one of the country's leading news websites, Bishkek resident Gulzada said the tree had ruined her holiday mood: 

Позор…Сама вчера увидела эту “елку” и была в шоке,..Испоганили предновогоднее настроение!(((Разве такой должна выглядеть главная елка страны?!

It’s shameful! I saw this “New Year tree” yesterday, and I was shocked…They spoilt my New Year’s mood! Should the country's main New Year tree look like that?!

While citizens made unflattering comparisons with the New Year trees in other post-Soviet countries — noticeably Russia — this is perhaps unfair. After all, along with Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan was the poorest country to emerge from the ruins of the U.S.S.R.

Yet many of the yolka's detractors say hopeless government corruption has shortchanged citizens of a real festive experience.

а потом если спросят почему такая ужасная елка вы наверно скажете что мол денег мало выделили…так,я вам скажу,вы их у себя в карманах поищите,лодыри…учитывая то что она охарактеризует нашу страну можно было и постараться.,коллективом собрать денюжки и нарядить…

If we ask them they will probably say they did not have enough money. I would advise them to look in their pockets! The main square [with the tree on it] represents our country…

Embarrassingly for the cash-poor municipality, some members of the public have even suggested collecting money to decorate the tree better, while more active citizens of Bishkek proposed a flash mob, where residents of the capital will decorate the New Year’s tree independently of the government. An anonymous user issued the call on a popular forum:

Многие не довольны главной елкой страны, и мы решили организовать акцию. Любой желающий может принести красивую игрушку для елки, и мы украсим лесную красавицу сами!

Many people are not satisfied with the main New Year tree of Kyrgyzstan, and we decided to organize this event. Any resident can bring a nice decoration for the tree, and we will embellish it independently!

The flash mob earned an immediate response from a city police official, who claimed the tree as municipal property and threatened administrative fines for any unauthorised embellishing. The police will protect the tree, added the official.

The last time a New Year’s tree provoked such discussion in Kyrgyz society was in 2012, when the main tree fell down, an event people attributed to wind and poor structural supports at the time. 

Bishkek's Ala-Too square, where the festive tree is located has already witnessed revolutions in 2005 and 2010. While it seems unlikely that the December 27 flash mob will come to that, it will be interesting to see how the police handle any freelance tree-decorators.

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