|Are Kyrgyzstan’s glaciers under threat? This ecologist thinks so Cache Translate Page|
The Central Asian state’s Tian Shan mountain range isn’t just home to shrinking glaciers. It’s also the site of an international mining operation.
Kumtor is an open-cast gold mining site in Kyrgyzstan’s Central Tian Shan mountain system, situated in the mountains' central permafrost massif which reaches heights of 3800-4400 metres above sea level. Commercial exploitation at Kumtor began in 1997. The site is 100% owned by the Canadian gold-mining company Centerra Gold, which manages it through its subsidiaries, the Kumtor Gold Company (KGK) and the Kumtor Operating Company (KOK). Kyrgyzstan, in its turn holds roughly 33% of shares in the company through its OJSC Kyrgyzaltyn Joint Stock Company. The gold reserves at Kumtor are assessed as amounting to 716.21 tonnes, of which 316.57 are in open cast mines and 399.64 underground.
We asked Kyrgyz ecologist Kaliya Moldogaziyeva to tell us about the environmental threat to the area from the mining operations at Kumtor, the new amendments to Kyrgyzstan’s Water Code and the future of the region’s water resources. Moldogaziyeva worked with state commissions on issues concerning Kumtor in 2005 and 2012, and was deputy head of an interagency commission on the same subject in 2011.
Could you explain to us how activity at the Kumtor mine affects Kyrgyzstan’s water resources?
The Kumtor mine is situated at the sources of the Arabel and Kumtor river system, in an area at the centre of the glacier and river runoff of Central Asia’s most important waterway, the Naryn river, which flows into the Syr Darya.
The mining site includes a quarry, a gold-processing plant and other infrastructure elements. The mining is an open-cast operation, with 14-17 tonnes of explosives used daily, and the ore is processed using cyanides.
The mining is an open-cast operation, with 14-17 tonnes of explosives used daily
The construction of the mine workings contravened Kyrgyz law from the very beginning. At the first stage of the work, KOK management started dumping waste on the Davydov glacier, which was forbidden under Rule No.79 of the country’s Unified Safety Regulations and its law “On Water”. More than a billion tonnes of rock have been removed from the quarry and dumped, as well as 77 million cubic metres of glacial mass – the equivalent of 60 billion litres of glacial water.
The volume of dumped rock and cyano-containing tailings in the tailing storage areas will grow, and all this dumped material will remain forever in the headwaters of the Naryn river, requiring continual monitoring and technical maintenance, even after the closure of the mine, which is slated for 2026.
Why were amendments made to Kyrgyzstan’s water code at the end of 2017?
These amendments, and their connection to the Kumtor glaciers, was raised by the government as early as 2015. But the MPs didn’t manage to push it through as several members of the working party on additions to the code, of which I was one, resolutely opposed it. And thanks to this active opposition by experts and environmental activists, the amendments weren’t adopted. The question of more scheduled amendments to the code was raised again in September 2017 after the signing of a new agreement between the Kyrgyzstan government and Centerra, one paragraph of which talks about:
“The full and conclusive mutual release and settlement of all existing arbitration and environmental claims, disputes, investigations and court decisions, as well as the release of the Company and its daughter subsidiaries from future claims on the same grounds as the existing environmental claims resulting from approved activity”.
In other words, this agreement sidelines the whole question of compensation for the environmental damage caused by the company over the many years of mining at Kumtor, as well as the destruction of the Davydov and Lysy glaciers.
The adoption of amendments to the Water Code, for the benefit of a single company, became the next step towards Kyrgyzstan’s legal abandonment of any claims for environmental damage caused by Centerra earlier. The adoption of amendments permitting work on the glaciers because of the mine’s strategic importance is an indulgence that allows the entire Davydov and Lysy glaciers to be destroyed without a kopeck being paid in compensation. On 16 November 2017, the Jogorku Kenesh, the Kyrgyz parliament, ratified the amendments to the water codes, according to Article 62 of which:
Any activity affecting the speeding up of the glacial melting, using coal, ash, oils or other substances or materials that could affect the state of the glaciers or the quality of the water contained in them, as well as activity connected with ice harvesting, other than on the Davydov and Lysy glaciers, is forbidden. These exceptions do not apply to previous operations on these glaciers.
But perhaps the glaciers are melting because of global warming, and not the mining operations?
Experts engaged by the Kyrgyzstan government are indeed arguing that glaciers are melting all over the world and that the Kumtor glaciers would have melted by themselves. No one, however, has mentioned the fact that the rocks overlying the gold-containing ores were stored on the glaciers to a height of 90 and 120 metres and mixed with them, so the meltwaters already contained sulphates, heavy metals and other toxic substances that got into the waterways. This was confirmed by the conclusions of the Kumtor State Commission (2012-2013) on which I worked: the concentration of toxic substances in sediments had indeed increased.
Environmental protection laws, and in particular the “Law on Water” and the “Unified Safety Regulations” have been being infringed since the start of the construction of the Kumtor mine. Glacier No. 359 in the Catalogue of Glaciers of the USSR was completely destroyed, while most of the Davydov Glacier was ruined when the mine was already in operation. The situation is now under control, but by the end of operations there, there will be 1.7 billion tonnes of waste, mixed with glacial masses, and all the problems will lie at the door of Kyrgyzstan’s government and population.
Looking ten years ahead, we will see a reduction in water resources because of global warming, and theses resources will, in addition, be irreversibly polluted, and no injection of government funds will be adequate to the task of removing the polluting substances.
What is the Kyrgyz government doing to conserve the water resources at Kumtor for the future?
Government ministers have been insisting that without the legal amendments, Kumtor will turn into a catastrophe. But it was the systematic infringement of environmental protection legislation during mining operations that has caused the present state of affairs. And instead of demanding that the company clean up its act, our highest government officials and heads of key national agencies propose legitimising these irregularities.
Jeopardising Kyrgyzstan’s water resources for the sake of extracting mineral deposits is short-sighted. Meanwhile, according to the law “On Strategic Objects of the Kyrgyzstan Republic”, structures pertaining to water management and waterworks, including glaciers, natural lakes, river, hydro engineering structures, reservoirs, dams and pumping stations are all considered Strategic Objects of the country. In the case in question, the Kyrgyzstan Republic’s government and parliament are ignoring this law. Centerra’s environmental report for 2016 includes a statement to the effect that the company and its subsidiary KGK don’t consider that the water code applies to the Kumtor project. The corporation, in other words, is laying down the law to the Kyrgyzstan government and parliament.
Government ministers have been insisting that without the legal amendments, Kumtor will turn into a catastrophe
This same government has created and promulgated a National Strategy for Sustainable Development (NSUD). Section 4.3 of this project for 2018-2040 (Environmental Safety and Adaptation to Climate Change) states, among other things, that “Kyrgyzstan’s natural resources and biosphere are the rare and unique property of its people; sustainability should therefore be the main criterion for all developmental measures and policies.”
This same strategy plan quotes World Bank data stating that the countries of Central Asia will be the second most affected world region in terms of glacier loss, including the loss of the Tian-Shan glaciers in Kyrgyzstan. The effect of the economic activity in mineral management and agriculture, as well as hunting and poaching, environmental pollution and lack of ecological accountability could all add up to an irreversible state of affairs. The new legal framework has created a basis for environmental protection and the conservation of the glaciers. But while mouthing the national strategy for sustainable development and the importance of environmental safety and compliance and the conservation of the glaciers, our government is changing the law and, among other things, introducing amendments in the water code which will allow the destruction of the glaciers at the Kumtor mine.
Even the Kyrgyzstan national anthem talks about the mountain glaciers bequeathed to us by our forebears:
“The high peaks blanketed in snow-white glaciers,
What is Kyrgyz civil society doing to stop the amendments going through?
In November 2017, then president Almazbek Atambayev signed off the “Law on Amendments to the Kyrgyzstan Republic’s Water Code”, passed by the Jogorku Kenesh after three readings, although members of the public sent him an open letter asking him not to sign that particular draft. Independent experts and civil society campaigners are still engaged in trying to have the amendment revoked. The “Democracy and Civil Society Coalition” NGO even brought legal action against the Jogorku Kenesh, on the grounds that parliamentary regulations were breached when the amendments were passed; there was no quorum and MPs voted for one another, which is forbidden when a law is being adopted. Its case was however thrown out by the courts.
A group of rights campaigners and environmental specialists is supporting the Coalition. After a consultation with me and ecologist Oleg Pechenyuk , the NGO sent a request to the Jogorku Kenesh to have an analysis of all the requisites of the draft law and its regulatory implications carried out. They received a reply: there has been an expert appraisal of its legal implications, but nothing about appraisals in terms of the ecological, civil and human rights, gender, anti-corruption implications which are required when laws are being passed. The amendments have obviously contained numerous irregularities. The Coalition is continuing to work on its legal case.
Ecologist Gulnura Beleyeva and I are intending to work with the environmental protection community to raise awareness of the work being carried out by the campaigning group and to develop an action plan for the future. It is essential to have the previous version of the water code reinstated, without the exceptions allowing the destruction of the glaciers that are an important source of water not only for Kyrgyzstan but for the whole of Central Asia.
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|Transforming Tajikistan: how the Rahmon regime turned religion into a site of struggle Cache Translate Page|
This new book focuses on Tajik society’s turn to Islam as a means of coping with disorder.
A review of Transforming Tajikistan: State-building and Islam in Post-Soviet Central Asia by Helene Thibault.
Back in 2011, I met Mahmadali, a 38-year-old truck driver, on the outskirts of Dushanbe. He sported a clean-shaven face. Shortly after returning from Russia to his dingy Soviet-era apartment in Tajikistan’s capital city a few days earlier, Mahmadali had been stopped by police, taken to the local station, accused of being a “Wahhabi” (read: extremist) and threatened with repercussions if he did not shave off his beard. He duly went to the barber the next day. At that time, these were some of the first reports of such behaviour by Tajik police in the name of countering extremism. But in the years since, the practice has become more widespread. In 2016, for example, the chief of police in Khatlon region claimed to have “encouraged” 13,000 men to shave. Religion, for the government, is an essential part of national identity.
Over 98% of Tajiks are nominally Muslim, in other words not of Slavic origin. The government regularly invokes the country’s Islamic heritage and contribution to Islamic civilisation through the work of Bukharan-born polymath Avicenna (also known as Ibn Sina) and ninth century Islamic scholar Imam al-Bukhari. According to President Emomali Rahmon, state-sanctioned Islam is “the religion of justice, peace, security, and morality, and condemns any kind of destructive acts and violence.” But it is also a potentially dangerous force that threatens the regime. While certain forms of state-sanctioned Islam are promoted by the government, the regime has taken measures to curtail “foreign” forms of worship, such as growing beards or wearing hijabs.
These policies form part of a broader crackdown on independent voices within the country over the past decade, which culminated in the banning of the country’s leading opposition group, the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT) in 2015. Hundreds of academics, journalists, opposition activists and religious believers have been arrested or fled the country. At the same time, President Rahmon, who has ruled the country since 1992, has strengthened his family’s dominance over the economy and politics, being declared “Leader of the Nation” and cementing his position for life in 2016. This process of state management of religion and authoritarian consolidation forms the backdrop to Helene Thibault’s Transforming Tajikistan: State-building and Islam in Post-Soviet Central Asia.
As the Rahmon regime consolidated its power, the president gradually removed, arrested and exiled those who were incorporated into the government after the war
Tajikistan has always been considered the poor cousin of its neighbours in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan when it comes to academic studies. But recent years have seen the publication of excellent works on Tajikistan’s formation in the 1920s (Bergne, Kassymbekova), its post-war development (Kalinovsky), the late Soviet period (Bleuer and Nourzhanov), civil war (Epkenhans) and establishment of peace (Heathershaw, Driscoll, Markowitz). Thibault’s book builds on these other works and examines developments in the country up to the banning of the IRPT in 2015.
Thibault conducted fieldwork for the book between 2010 and 2011. This was arguably the time at which Tajikistan’s post-civil war consensus was starting to unravel. Following the peace accord signed between the government and opposition in 1997, the opposition was allocated 30% of government posts. But as the Rahmon regime consolidated its power, the president gradually removed, arrested and exiled those who were incorporated into the government after the war. Although the IRPT kept its two seats in Tajikistan’s lower house until 2015, the party came under increasing pressure, having its offices raided by police in October 2010 and its women’s centre destroyed by an arson attack.
At the same time, the government took steps to tighten its control of religion. In 2009, it passed a new “Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organisations”, which placed restrictions over which religious organisations could register to operate in the country. Rahmon called on the estimated 2,500 Tajik citizens studying Islam abroad to return home in October 2010, arguing they were becoming “terrorists.” And the 2011 “Law on Parental Responsibility” banned under 18s from praying in mosques with the exception of funerals. Within this context of creeping authoritarianism, Thibault examines the “place of religion in society in contemporary Tajikistan”, blending analyses of these political developments with rich ethnographic vignettes illustrating how they are affecting citizens living in the country’s second largest city, Khujand.
Following a brief introduction, in Chapter One Thibault expounds on her approach, which she terms “neo-institutional ethnography,” and which combines a recognition of the continued “legacy of Soviet secularization” in the way the state approaches Islam with an examination of how Islam is lived and experienced by citizens. Chapter Two takes the reader through 70 years of Soviet secularisation, as Thibault explores debates within the Communist Party around the nature of scientific atheism and how the Soviet Union tried to manage religion in Central Asia. She examines how the Soviet authorities, having failed to eradicate religion, increasingly institutionalised it following World War II, rendering it subordinate to the state and making it an integral part of national identity, a topic discussed at greater length in a recent book by Eren Tasar.
Chapter Three takes the reader through the political history of post-independence Tajikistan from the civil war to the proclamation of Rahmon as “Leader of the Nation” in 2016. Thibault pays particular attention to the demise of the IRPT, illustrating its value to the local population through examples from her numerous visits to the party’s office in Khujand. The following chapter covers the various laws and institutions governing Islam in Tajikistan, as well as the government’s struggle to regulate the visual signs of piety in the country: beards and hijabs. The final chapter examines the impact this is having on the local population through examples from the lives of what the author calls “born-again” Muslims, individuals who have rediscovered their faith having been brought up in “secular” families. Through these examples, Thibault illustrates how Islam offers believers a moral guideline and way to cope with post-Soviet disorder characterised by a repressive regime, corruption and limited economic opportunities.
Rather than just looking at state policy or the way in which people have come to understand the world through Islam, Thibault’s book’s chief strength is its innovative approach – “institutional ethnography” – which draws attention to the interaction between the state and the population. She emphasises the way state secular policies are translated into local contexts, as well as how they are unevenly enforced and resisted by local people.
It is the state that usually politicises Islam, framing everyday expressions of piety as signs of radicalisation and transforming Islam into something in need of management
By understanding religion as a way to cope with post-Soviet disorder, Thibault’s book is a welcome riposte to alarmist accounts that view rising levels of religiosity as dangerous and potentially destabilising to the region. As the author notes: “Islamic values are sometimes seen as a way to find justice in the absence of a legitimate channel for expressing discontent.” Societal Islamisation is not the same as (violent) political radicalisation. For many, religion is part of daily life but lacks “any strong connection to political aspirations”. Instead it is the state that usually politicises Islam, framing everyday expressions of piety as signs of radicalisation and transforming Islam into something in need of management.
Transforming Tajikistan offers a snapshot of the period when the country was still transitioning to a more authoritarian regime, with repercussions on the space and possibility to conduct research on sensitive topics. The arrest of PhD student Alexander Sodiqov, from the University of Toronto, in June 2014 in Khorog on espionage charges sent out a clear warning signal to academics. Although some researchers have managed to continue to conduct research on everyday Islam in Tajikistan, replicating Thibault’s research with IRPT activists is now no longer a possibility.
Due to the prioritisation of depth over breadth inherent to the use of ethnography, a number of further questions for future research emerge from Thibault’s book. The author’s ethnography focuses on “strict believers,” individuals who pray five times a day, have been on the hajj, fast during the Holy Month of Ramadan and keep halal. Such individuals remain in a minority in Tajikistan, where most people claim to be Muslim but do not actively practice the religion on a daily basis. Survey data from the time of Thibault’s study indicated that 39% of Tajiks prayed five times a day, which is likely an overestimation.
What do these less religious individuals think of state policies to manage religion? How successful has the state campaign to shape secular citizens through education and the state media been? Why are certain individuals targeted with repressive measures and others allowed to live visibly pious lives? Such questions address how the authoritarian state operates and how effectively it exercises power. Unfortunately, research on such topics has become increasingly difficult in authoritarian Tajikistan and researchers have come under greater scrutiny from the authorities. Researched at a time when such data collection was easier, Thibault’s book is accessible, concise and offers a fantastic entry-point for those interested in knowing more about what is happening in this oft-misunderstood Central Asian republic.
|India Has Yet to Commit to Attending Afghan Peace Talks in Moscow - Source Cache Translate Page||If India decides to attend the meet, it would be the first time it will have shared a table with Afghan Taliban representatives in a multilateral forum. Russia has sent invitations to the talks to Afghanistan, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, the United States and the Afghan Taliban.|
|#london - philipp_schaf_ Cache Translate Page||🇨🇺✨ Huuuurrraaaay... the dresses 💃 are ready... don't show it clearly now 😉 got there some accessories for @emmapohl_apl as well ✨... so stay tuned for being first in place for all the news 📰 Thank you so much @brautabendmodenkostuemverleih #Mainz for a stunning job and service 👌
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|Magnitude 5.1, Kyrgyzstan-Xinjiang Border Reg. Cache Translate Page||2018-11-03T21:36:23.246Z(UTC)|
|Минфин Кыргызстана занизил сумму внешнего долга из-за отсутствия регламента Cache Translate Page|
Минфин Кыргызстана занизил сумму внешнего долга страны за 2017 год из-за отсутствия официально утвержденной методологии по подсчету этого показателя. Об этом 7 ноября сообщило издание Economist.Kg со ссылкой на отчет Счетной палаты.
Здание Минфина Кыргызстана. Фото с сайта 2gis.com
Ранее, в середине октября, выявленный Счетной палатой факт занижения внешнего долга почти на 637 миллионов сомов ($9,1 млн) обсуждался на заседании Жогорку Кенеша (парламента Киргизии). Тогда депутат Алмамбет Шыкмаматов заявил, что причина этой ошибки — «разгильдяйство министров».
Теперь в распоряжение журналистов попал сам отчет. В нем говорится, что Минфин не имеет единой методологии. Ведомство производит расчеты в произвольной форме, процедура составления документации и конечного утверждения результатов также не регламентирована. Долговые обязательства своевременно не регистрируются в единой учетной книге.
В ходе проверки выяснилось, что Минфин не учел довольно крупные долги перед Эксимбанком Китая, немецким банком KFW, Кувейтским фондом арабского экономического развития, Саудовским фондом развития, Исламским банком развития, Всемирным банком, Европейским банком реконструкции и развития, а также небольшие долги перед рядом других кредиторов. По подсчетам экспертов Счетной палаты, с учетом всех этих кредиторов сумма долга возрастает с 280,9 миллиарда сомов ($4,03 млрд) до 281,5 миллиарда сомов ($4,04 млрд).
По итогам проверки Счетная палата обратилась в Генпрокуратуру. Ведомство должно будет дать юридическую оценку ошибкам, допущенным чиновниками.
|Karachays in Russia’s North Caucasus Mark 75th Anniversary of Mass Deportations Cache Translate Page||Last Friday, November 2, mosques throughout the northern Caucasus commemorated the 75th anniversary of the mass deportation of the Karachays to Central Asia by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Between November 2 and 5, 1943, some 70,000 Karachays, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group in the North Caucasus, were deported in cattle train cars to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, […]|
|Blog Post: New publications added to Lexis Advance news content Cache Translate Page|| Several new publications have been added to Lexis Advance news content, including: * High Net Worth Insights Journal Retirement Market Insights Journal Millionaire Corner Newsletter Lianhe Wanbao Shin Min Daily News Accord Fintech BSE Bizcommunity Caravan Alive Daily News (Tanzania) HT Ranchi Edition Manila Bulletin Nuffoods Spectrum Paper VC The Conversation—Australia The Conversation—United States The Conversation—Africa The Conversation—United Kingdom The Conversation—Canada The Conversation—France The Conversation—Spanish Intellinews—Armenia Today Intellinews—Azerbaijan Today Intellinews—Belarus Today Intellinews—Georgia Today Intellinews—Iran Today Intellinews—Kosovo Today Intellinews—Kyrgyzstan Today Intellinews—Moldova Today Intellinews—Mongolia Today Intellinews—Slovenia Today Intellinews—Tajikistan Today Intellinews—Turkmenistan Today Intellinews—Uzbekistan Today Publisher, Content Engine LLC: Ambito Financiero Andina Agencia Noticiera Diario Meridiano, Venezuela Clarin El Cronista Comercial Infobae Revista Fairway REIT Magazine—coming soon * Some news sources listed may or may not be available depending on your current LexisNexis® subscription. |
|Канадские золотодобытчики снова отказались платить дивиденды властям Киргизии Cache Translate Page|
Канадская компания Centerra Gold отказалась возобновить выплату властям Киргизии дивидендов, сославшись на отсрочку вступления в силу нового соглашения о партнерстве. Как сообщает Радио «Азаттык», об этом было объявлено на заседании отраслевого комитета Жогорку Кенеша (парламента Киргизии).
Месторождение Кумтор. Фото с сайта Azattyk.org
В ходе заседания член совета директоров Centerra Gold от Кыргызстана Бектур Сагынов пояснил, что компания прекратила выплату дивидендов два года назад, когда на счета совместной компании «Кумтор голд» был наложен арест, а канадская компания, в свою очередь, обратилась в международный арбитраж. Ранее СМИ сообщали со ссылкой на данные фондовой биржи Торонто, что дивиденды не выплачивались еще дольше — три года.
Глава госпредприятия «Кыргызалтын» Алмаз Алимбеков в ходе заседания заявил, что в сентябре правительство Киргизии подписало новое соглашение с Centerra Gold по охране окружающей среды и развитию инвестиций. Этот документ предусматривает не только новые условия выплат, но и отказ от всех судебных разбирательств, снятие всех ограничений с «Кумтора» и сохранение силы за изначальным соглашением 2009 года. Но вступление нового соглашения в силу все время откладывается. По последним данным, его планируют признать действующим с 31 января 2019 года. По словам Алимбекова, теперь Centerra Gold объясняет невыплату дивидендов именно тем, что соглашение пока не вступило в силу.
Депутат Акылбек Жапаров в ответ на эти разъяснения выразил удивление. «Для чего в мире на фондовых рынках покупают акции? Чтобы получать дивиденды, зарабатывать. «Центерра Голд» получает же дивиденды на таких же основаниях», — заявил он. В свою очередь, член Ассоциации горнопромышленников и геологов Дуйшенбек Камчыбеков выразил мнение, что судебные разбирательства не должны никак влиять на выплату дивидендов. «Как я понимаю, такая ситуация возникла из-за слабости наших представителей в совете директоров», — предположил эксперт.
Золоторудное месторождение Кумтор было открыто в 1978 году, но его разработка не велась, потому что существующие на тот момент технологии не позволяли реализовать проект эффективно. В 1992-1994 годах власти независимой Киргизии заключили соглашение о разработке месторождения с канадской корпорацией «Камеко». В 2004 году проект был передан только что созданной компании Centerra Gold, а точнее — подконтрольному ей совместному предприятию «Кумтор голд». В 2009 году «Камеко» избавилась от всех акций Centerra Gold. Доля правительства Кыргызстана при этом выросла до 33%, а остальные акции были свободно проданы на бирже. Позднее доля Кыргызстана снизилась до 26,5%.
Centerra Gold владеет девятью активами в Киргизии, США, Канаде, Монголии и Турции, причем «Кумтор голд» — важнейший из них. Одновременно «Кумтор голд» является крупнейшим предприятием Киргизии. Разработка месторождения обеспечивает 10% ВВП страны и 20% промышленного производства. По информации самой компании, за 1994-2017 годы власти Киргизии получили от нее $3,5 млрд. Из них $93,3 млн — дивиденды, а остальная сумма складывается из налогов, платежей за электроэнергию, закупок товаров и иных поступлений.
|Kyrgyzstan’s First Satellite Built By Young Women Cache Translate Page|
Reaching for the stars will no longer be impossible for girls and young women in Kyrgyzstan, who aim to build and launch the country’s first satellite before 2020. A dozen budding female scientists have been tinkering with computers, 3-D printers and soldering irons since March to build a CubeSat, which U.S. space agency NASA describes [...]
|A new tale of migrant struggles in Moscow puts poverty, motherhood and hope on screen Cache Translate Page|
This Russian-Kazakh film explores how people who migrate to Russia are often subject to forces far greater than themselves.
opening scene of Sergey Dvortsevoy’s film Ayka sets the scene for a tough, realistic tale. A flickering image of newborn babies awakens Ayka, a Kyrgyz woman, from her hospital bed in Moscow. As she goes to the restroom to get changed, her plan is clear: abandon the baby she just gave birth to. Her dreams of success, of emancipation from an unwelcoming world, ride roughshod over her own health and her newborn child. The warmth of motherhood transitions to the agony and frost that make up Moscow’s winter season as the viewer runs and stumbles with Ayka, who picks up some icicles from the street to numb the pain in her abdomen as she gets to work in a dodgy chicken packing shop.The
This, then, is the life of an undocumented migrant in Moscow, one whose registration card has expired and is thus at the mercy of both rogue bosses and violent police officers. Studies show that between 8 and 10 million foreign workers live in Russia, most of them hailing from Central Asia. While specific sectors attract certain types of migrants, men and women from the post-Soviet south interchangeably take up jobs in cleaning, hospitality and other services. Increasingly stringent residence rules have made it easier for foreign workers in Russia to become illegal. And the recent economic crunch in Russia has not halted the arrival of labourers from Central Asia. Money transfers from migrant labourers in Russia sustain the economies of the poorest Central Asian countries; Kyrgyzstan remains one of the most remittance-dependent countries in the world.
Playing out this premise, Ayka depicts real-life repercussions of this migration wave. Migration-related hardships – scarce salaries, irregular jobs, harsh border regulation – pit mothers against their own children in what Dvortsevoy describes as an “anti-life” scenario. In 2010, after reading that hundreds of children were being abandoned in maternity wards in Moscow, Dvortsevoy decided to tell the story of a migrant from Kyrgyzstan who feels she has to pick between taking care of her baby and pursuing a career. Kazakh actress Samal Yeslyamova, who plays Ayka, won the highest prize for best female role at this year’s Cannes Festival – the first from the former Soviet Union to win the award. Speaking to Open Democracy on the sidelines of this autumn’s Almaty Film Festival premiere, Yeslyamova described Ayka as constantly struggling for emancipation. “She’s very ambitious and has a very strong character. She walks away from her own child because she wants to be independent. She tells her sister that she doesn’t want to go back to Kyrgyzstan because she doesn’t want that kind of life,” Yeslyamova says, hinting that this attitude is not uncommon among migrant workers.
Studies show that between 8 and 10 million foreign workers live in Russia, most of them hailing from Central Asia
Back at her occasional job, the pool of blood from the butchered chickens is soon accompanied by the drippings of blood from Ayka’s womb. These crude parallels keep viewers uncomfortable throughout the length of the movie. The thumping of closing doors and stomping of feet and punches are the most vivid part of the soundtrack, together with the perpetual melody of her phone’s ringtone, which she leaves unanswered for long stretches because she knows that to pick up would only bring more trouble.
The red of the blood contrasts the white of the ubiquitous snow and the milk that soon starts to drip from Ayka’s breasts, keeping her in constant pain. Her squalid conditions leave her life hanging from a thread, until she is finally helped by a fellow Kyrgyz migrant, a cleaner at a dog shelter. She finally eats and drinks some warm tea. Turning on the radio, the notes of “Cry, Baby!” by comedic pop-star Artur Pirozhkov finally break her grimace of pain into a relieved smile. For Ayka, the first, brief moment of happiness arrives an hour into the movie.
Yeslyamova says she essentially broke character during this scene, but that doing so brought her performance closer to reality. “Even though she was confined to a small room, she could finally have a moment of happiness because she had found some work to do. When the song came on, I found it funny and I really started to laugh and dance.”
The contrast between the abandonment of a child and the meticulous care for the dogs’ health starkly makes the point that Ayka and her son’s lives are, quite literally, worse than that of an animal. As Dvortsevoy said in Cannes in May, the unnatural act of leaving a child behind is “what happens when relationships between people and their environment break down to the point that the individuals themselves become morally damaged.” This premonition of inhumanity and moral degradation runs throughout the film. Ayka knows that her precarious life is in danger due to a debt with some Kyrgyz mobsters, who pursue her through wintry Moscow and back home in Kyrgyzstan’s Chuy Valley alike. Violence and rape caused her pregnancy, and she is consciously leaving her unnamed child to a life of further strain.
Ayka will not show it until the final scene, but she is crushed by having to choose between raising a child and pursuing her dreams of escaping poverty through business (she sleeps with a textbook on how to start a business besides her rugged pillow). The parallel narratives of financial and personal ruin are brought together in the closing scenes, as Ayka carries her five-days-old baby out of the hospital towards the mobsters, who will accept the infant in lieu of cash to pardon her debt. In a last escapade, Ayka makes a sharp turn into a building hallway, letting her tears flow as she breastfeeds her son. The final cut to black leaves the viewer suspended in the sourness of the preceding 90 minutes.
Yeslyamova explains that the film’s intimacy and its succession of harsh contrasts are supposed to show the power of nature over free will
The full sensorial participation in Ayka’s life is an uncomfortable as it is vivid. Yeslyamova explains that the film’s intimacy and its succession of harsh contrasts are supposed to show the power of nature over free will. “We always tried to portray Ayka’s dream of success as her driving purpose. But the idea of the movie is that nature is stronger than your dreams, your efforts, your plans. You cannot resist nature. This is also why we waited for a harsh snowfall to shoot. Even the weather rebelled against the choice of a mother who abandons her child. With the fading of the snowstorm we wanted to show that Ayka was also changing.”
Ayka’s unflinching depiction of migrant life in Russia is a fresh example of Dvortsevoy’s attempts to show Central Asians’ true experiences with poverty, bureaucracy and racism. The style may be different, but the director draws on his achievements with 2009’s Tulpan, a love story narrated through the lens of life in the steppe – also presented at Cannes, where it won the Un Certain Regard prize. Perhaps the most consistent note in the film is its critique of the myth of personal success. Ayka is the story of those who struggle in vain in the rat race towards personal wealth. At one point Ayka attends a talk by a motivational speaker, whose scripted liberal refrains echo the bluster of pyramid schemes. Dvortsevoy and Yeslyamova show us a world in which the consequences of these failed platitudes extend even to the primal bonds of motherhood.
Prior to the Almaty screening, the Shymkent-born director said he hoped his film touched the souls of the viewers. He got his wish: the Kazakh upper-middle-class audience was taken back to harder times, if only for 90 minutes.
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