TASHKENT -- The Uzbek government has launched a campaign to distribute its own symbolic ribbon to commemorate the victory of World War II, rather than use one promoted by Russia.
Uzbekistan and other Central Asian countries that are part of the former Soviet Union are set to celebrate Victory Day Thursday (May 9). Uzbekistan calls the holiday the Day of Memory and Honour.
Activists of the Youth Union of Uzbekistan, the National Guard and popular performers April 25 began distributing the Ribbon of Glory, which is in the colour of Uzbekistan's flag, across the country ahead of the celebrations.
Jasur Mirsagatov and other singers took part, joining the activists in handing out ribbons and stickers.
In contrast, the Russian government has been distributing the St. George's Ribbon in Russia as well as in former Soviet republics since 2005 to mark the holiday.
The Russian embassy in Uzbekistan this year already has started a massive distribution of the St. George's Ribbon in Tashkent.
Victory or occupation?
In some former Soviet republics, such as Georgia and Ukraine, the St. George's Ribbon is seen as a symbol of Russian occupation, and some nations have prioritised the creation and proliferation of their own national symbols.
Kazakhstan in 2015 designed a light blue ribbon with a Kazakh ornamental design. Kyrgyzstan, also in 2015, adopted a red ribbon with two yellow stripes called the Ribbon of Victory.
In Uzbekistan, some Facebook groups have been formed against the Russian-derived ribbon, including one in 2015 named "We are against the St. George's Ribbon," according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
The group, which is now inaccessible or defunct, attempted in 2016 to collect signatures to ban the ribbon.
"The St. George's Ribbon became popular in Uzbekistan when it came out. But in 2014, after Russian aggression in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, it started to be perceived ambiguously," Umid Asatullayev, a political analyst from Tashkent, told Caravanserai.
"For many Uzbeks, the St. George's Ribbon has become a symbol of Russian expansion," he said.
This year, Uzbek Prime Minister Abdulla Aripov, during a conference call with the rest of the cabinet, ordered the prevention of the distribution of the St. George's Ribbon in Uzbekistan, some Russian media reported on April 25.
Later, the government clarified that the move was not about a ban but rather about the promotion of its own symbol and provision of a choice to participants.
Uniting the public
The new approach does not imply a clash with the St. George's Ribbon but rather a peaceful promotion of a national symbol in the hope that it will gain popularity with the public, according to Uzbek officials.
"This is not the first year we are promoting our ribbons," an Uzbek government source told Gazeta.uz April 25.
"This is a normal process," the source said. "It is wrong to pit the two [the St. George's Ribbon and the Ribbon of Glory] against each other. Uzbekistan is a sovereign state, and it has the right to create its own holiday symbols."
The promotion of the Ribbon of Glory "should be a kind and sincere gesture that will unite the people", Aripov said in his conference call, while ordering the distribution of about 100,000 ribbons. The Oltin Voha (Golden Oasis) Telegram channel posted the transcript of his call online.
"People wear ribbons with the colours of the national flag with great pleasure. It was difficult to get them before, as there was no large" effort to distribute them, Hojiakbar Mamadaliyev, a Tashkent resident, told Caravanserai.
"Even the 100,000 ribbons promised by the prime minister are probably a very small number for a country with a population of 33 million," he said.
"It seems to me that everyone wore the St. George's Ribbon simply because there was no other symbol," Aleksandra Terleyeva, another Tashkent resident, told Caravanserai.