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Uzbeks angry with Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny over Pushkin comment

Uzbeks angry with Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny over Pushkin comment
Russian poet Alexander Pushkin on a Soviet postage stamp from 1956, with the inscription "The Great Russian Poet". Image: Post of USSR under a CC licence

29 June 2017

Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny has caused a social media storm and wider debate about Russian influence in Uzbekistan, after he claimed during a TV interview that Uzbeks were ignorant of Romantic poet Alexander Pushkin.

The prominent anti-corruption campaigner made the misstep during a broadcast on independent Russian channel TV Rain, when he and presenter Ksenia Sobchak posited that Pushkin is largely unknown outside of Russia, with the population of Uzbekistan particularly unschooled on the poet’s life and works.

As a result of the broadcast, Pushkin has become the unlikely star of online debate in Uzbekistan — some social media users denounced the statement as untrue, while others took aim at their compatriots for bowing to Russian pressure.

A comment by one member of Facebook group Uzbek MDK that “We speak Russian better than people in some Russian-speaking regions!” was echoed in numerous videos of children reading reciting Pushkin poems in response to the Russian opposition leader’s comments. Others pointed out that the poet’s works are not only well known in Uzbekistan, but he also has a metro station, squares and parks named after him.

On the other hand, numerous other Uzbek users argued against their compatriots’ apparent preoccupation with knowing Russian language and culture and suggested that they should instead appreciate and invest in local culture.

“Your knowledge of the Russian language does not develop Uzbekistan and Pushkin’s poems do not bring well-being to your families. You should educate your children properly and teach them their own history,” contended a member of Uzbek MDK. “We do not have to know what they want us to know!” asserted another.

Uzbek is the official language of Uzbekistan, but Russian is still widely used. This is particularly true of the capital, Tashkent, where speaking Russian is seen as an indicator of high social standing.

Source: BBC News