“when do I get my own Jeep”: a migrant’s ode

This is the question in my mind today. I have two and a half university diplomas (the other half will be added when I finish my thesis), eight years of NGO experience, good language skills, research and journalism experience, publications, travel, living abroad . Yet I do not see purchasing a Jeep as ever something realistic unless I start a successful business in Kyrgyzstan.

This thought crossed my mind after a quarrel with my apartment owner over water and electricity bills which he promised to pay but then declined. He owns a Jeep and a car plus works for Kumtor which means that he has a high salary. He is about 35-40 years old. The apartment rent was 200 dollars per month which is reasonable these days for Bishkek (with an average income of 180-200$ per month). I pay about half of my income for renting an apartment. Labrys shelter is full of migrants coming from Naryn and Talas looking for safer places for LGBT. They cannot afford to rent an apartment for 200$, they cannot afford renting it for 50$. There are migrants in Bishkek who earn 100$ for 12-hour working days. The cheapest lunch costs about 1,5 dollars even if you cook yourself especially in meat-eating culture. Speaking about poverty.

So when will I be able to purchase a Jeep? An average woman in Bishkek earns about 100-200$ at a regular job. An average man earns more and usually has an ‘irregular’ [read: illegal] job. Men somehow manage to buy cars which cost 4000$ and up. Men manage to rent 200-400$ apartments. The more I live in Bishkek, the more I question the system of how society is organized. Apartment owners would not rent for anything less than 180$.  Who rents these apartments?

Sometimes I think its cheaper to live in Europe. When I lived in Sweden, my friend and I rented one room apartment in suburbs for 400$ and this was considered to be expensive. You need at least 200$ to rent a one-room apartment in Bishkek. Isn’t this scary?

Where do migrants live? What’s waiting for an average migrant in the future?  One option is to rent with four-five friends, then you only pay some 40-50$ and hardly have breathing space. This is a reality for many young women and men who came to Bishkek looking for better fortunes.  Will the state ever consider people who live in horrible conditions and sometimes do not eat meat or butter or even a warm meal for weeks? 

I earn more than an average woman in Bishkek but I am very worried about apartment rent prices in this city and I will not have a man with a Jeep to support me. I doubt that I will have a legal job that would help me invest in purchasing an apartment (at least 30000$) or a Jeep (sometimes costs the same).  

23 February – Kyrgyzstan celebrates Soviet Fatherland Defender Day

23 February card

Somehow today is a the men’s day because it’s only men who are supposed to be convictedscripted. The celebration originates from Soviet times and the day commemorates the initiating of Soviet Army. Somehow it’s always been a holiday to value men for their protection and defense powers.  Men get ‘manly’ stuff for the holiday – socks and handkerchiefs, lighters and beer, and cards saying that they are ‘real men’ or ‘defenders’ with swords, naked women and axes. Would be really strange to see a card with ‘real woman’ sign for International Women’s Day.  Somehow we know what ‘real’ men have to do – be tough, strong, aggressive, protect and kill the enemy. Yet we still have to remind the men that they have to be ‘real’ and link celebration of their ‘masculine’ characteristics to war and protection.

Symbols of violent masculinities on a card for 23 February

Religion, media and an LGBT Organization 4th anniversary

Today a person from Russian Ortodox Church called my office and said that they were planning to sue Labrys for something. This something is not very clear but it is related to Labrys press conference on 14 February where an LGBT-friendly priest Maksim from Apostolic Orthodox Church spoke about his church’s views on homosexuality (which are positive).

There is no case for putting to court because Maksim was not representing Labrys but the reaction of the church is a little strange and unexpected.  The media did not focus their attention on religion during the press conference and there was hardly any information about Maksim speaking. Most of media focus turned to usual ‘exotic’ issue of transsexuals struggling to change their gender marker officially which was not the news hook at all. 

The press conference was supposed to raise the LGBT issues and talk about Labrys experiences during for years of its work and the official opening of the new LGBT community center. Somehow only Labrys Programmer Department Manager Alex Mamytov who spoke about transgender issues and social worker Viktoria Lotz talking about ‘rehabilitation’ center made it to the news.  I actually wrote to 24.kg news agency which hosted the press conference and asked to take the ‘rehabilitation’ part out of the text and ‘sexual minorities’ as well. Journalists somehow mix things up all the time and only write about things they find interesting or exotic, e.g. political news (= the state might allow transsexuals change their gender in passports).  

If I were to write about the press conference, I would focus on positive developments in Labrys and get in-depth information about the issue, maybe ask to visit the center or talk to  priest Maksim in detail, request information from Ministry of Health about their views on transgender documents change. Easy and Shocking unchecked and distorted information made it to media. You may read some of the reactions here.

Labrys blog has some more information about the events surrounding the press conference and will feature

Tursunbek Akun elected as an ombudsman

Tursunbek Akun

Tursunbek Akun reminds me of hunger strikes, bragging about his experiences during Chechen war and senseless speeches.  Same old faces, same politics, maybe a little bit easier on gender than Bakir uulu. I still wonder why his State Human Rights Commission had to be dissolved?

Nominated by the President for this seat and elected, it seems that things are going to be this way from now on. Once the President nominates someone, the dominating party Ak Jol supports them and then we play democracy.

Irony: usually human rights activists challenge the state which infringes upon human rights and freedoms. Why do then representatives of the State vote to elect the new Ombudsman?


Female Minister of Labor and Social Development resigns to free the way

When I was writing about Parliamentary elections and women’s participation, there was a concern over possibility of resignations of electen women to give their place to somebody else. There was a precedent in 2007 Armenian parliamentary elections of elected female MPs resigning to give their seat to a more popular man. The 15% quota in Armenia only gave women a 9% representation in Parliament.

‘Freeing a way’ for somebody younger, stronger and male has been one of the strategies sometimes raised in Kyrgyz society. For example, in 2001 Presidential elections village elders wrote a letter to Omurbek Tekebaev who was running for a presidential seat that he should ‘ free way’ to an older and wiser candidate. 

I am happy that the freeing way is not yet part of discourse in the parliament, yet resignation of Minister of Labor Jamilya Alymbekova set a precedent for using this approach to leaving political spaces. She freed way to ‘the young’.

Boys BarCamp Latvia


A little bit off-top about gendered spaces.

I just returned from BarCamp Latvia which was my first unconference and one of the few non-LGBT events I attend. At the LGBT events I am usually surrounded by gay men and in BarCamp I was surrounded by presumably heterosexual men outnumbering women by about four times. So now you can guess who runs blogs in general and what ‘citizen journalism’ means. Views of male citizens with thousands of people in the audience. 

The event itself was extremely interesting in terms of structure and atmosphere. Friendly and simple people plus a lot of familiar faces I was happy to see.  It’s also a place where anyone can become an organizer, I spent couple of hours at the registration desk which was fun and useful for organizing future events. Presentations ranged from purely technical to detailed experiences of building social networks. I have a lot of new ideas which I hope to use for this blog.

For me the event was marred by the last presentation of a website much requested by the audience, it was a Latvian website featuring nothing but female breasts and the audience cheered and yelled sexist remarks. I felt very out of place there and also powerless.  The presenter said that they were wondering how to get more women to use internet and suggested writing about shoes and cats as a solution.  This was supposed to be funny.

Kyrgyz MPs discussing the Mosque versus Victory monument issue

MSN newspaper ran an article featuring comments of Cholpon Baekova, former MP and number one on Ak Jol party list, and Bakyt Beshimov, former Vice President for Academic Affairs at American University -Central Asia and member of SDPK party.  Both MPs find it normal that many ethnic Kyrgyz turn to Islam. Baekova emphasized that Kyrgyzstan is a secular state, Beshimov is worried about Kyrgyzstan becoming a battleground for Islamic extremist forces. Both agreed that the issue is about two holy places, as both Islam and World War Two are important for