In Central Asia, the concerts of pro-war Russian celebrities are canceled in solidarity with Ukraine

Ukrainian and Kazakh flags hung inside a Kazakh yurt in Bucha, Ukraine. Screenshot from CurrentTimeAsia YouTube channel. Fair use.

On September 14, a Kazakstani event agency, Vi Project announced the cancellation of concerts of the Russian comedy group called Kamyzyaki. They were scheduled to take place in the capital Astana and Kazakhstan’s largest city Almaty in the beginning of October. The organizers made this decision after a wave of “negative public feedback on the sensational public actions of the artists of the Kamyzyaki group.”

What this statement referred to was the online public petition to cancel the concerts. It came after the news emerged that several members of the group, including its leaders Azamat Musagaliev and Denis Dorokhov, took part in a state organized concert in the Ukrainian region of Donetsk, which is currently occupied by Russia. After the concert, Musugaliev and Dorokhov gave an interview in which they shared learning “a lot of history” and wished local people “good health, peaceful sky, and smiles.”

Here is a YouTube video with the group members’ interview in Donetsk.

This was not the first time that concerts of Russian celebrities, who endorsed the war against Ukraine, were canceled in Kazakhstan and other Central Asian countries since February 2022. Nevertheless, it was noteworthy, since several members of the group, including its frontman Musagaliev, are ethnic Kazakhs from Russia and received a warm welcome during their previous visits there.

In contrast to the governments in Central Asia, which maintain an ambiguous position, ordinary people in the region have expressed their political stance more clearly by expressing solidarity with Ukraine. One of the ways for it has been the calls to cancel concerts of Russian Z-celebrities, a name given to those who supported the invasion of Ukraine.

A very first sign of this trend was the decision to indefinitely postpone the Zhara music festival scheduled to take place in the summer of 2022 in Kazakhstan, after Azerbaijan refused to host it following the start of the war. In Kazakhstan, this music festival came to be called “Z-battalion,” since many of its participants endorsed the Kremlin's war efforts and the letter Z is associated with the war supporters in Russia.

In February of 2023, the festival organizers announced that “due to the political situation in the country and the world,” the event will take place elsewhere. Uzbekistan’s capital Tashkent was chosen as a substitute location, but the organizers had to cancel it there as well after a public backlash.

Similarly, concerts of the Russian singer Grigory Leps, scheduled for summer and fall of 2023, were canceled in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. People called to cancel them after videos emerged of Leps promising Russian soldiers RUB 1 million (USD 10,385) for each Western tank they destroy in Ukraine.

Here is a YouTube video with Leps explaining the initiative to pay money to Russian soldiers for destroyed tanks in Ukraine.

Additionally, concerts of two other Russian singers, Polina Gagarina and Larisa Dolina were canceled in Kazakhstan in 2022. Both of them took part in the Kremlin organized concert on the anniversary of Crimea’s annexation in 2022.

Such a level of public activism has left the local authorities in an awkward position in front of the Kremlin, with which they have strong political, economic, and security ties. Relevant state agencies have stated they had nothing to do with decisions of private companies organizing concerts every time they have been canceled. The Kyrgyz government went further and canceled the concerts of Russian rapper Morgeshtern, labeled a foreign agent in Russia, and music band Bi-2, who are known for their anti-war stance, to make it appear that not just pro-war celebrities are being censored by the public.

The war in Ukraine has further widened the gap between the political leadership and ordinary citizens in Central Asia, exposing divergences in their perceptions of and reactions to the war. As the war drags on, these differences only grow more apparent.

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