ALMATY -- The latest attempt by Russian media to disparage the Kyrgyz migrant worker community in Moscow is arousing outrage from Kyrgyz back home.
On his TV show "Evening Urgant" on Kremlin-controlled Channel One TV, Ivan Urgant on April 30 announced that Russian film studio Soyuzmultfilm intends to regain the rights to Cheburashka, a popular Soviet cartoon character.
A Japanese firm acquired those rights 16 years ago and has them until 2023, according to a TASS report in April.
If the Japanese relinquish those rights before then, Tokyo "can ask for the Kurie Islands in return", joked Urgant.
The Kuril Islands are disputed territories that both Russia and Japan claim.
Japan never concluded a peace treaty with the Soviet Union after World War II because of the Red Army's occupation of the entire island chain in the ending days of the war. All the islands are still under Russian control.
Urgant suggested other terms of a deal.
"You give us Cheburashka, and we'll give you all the waiters from the Japanese restaurants in Moscow," he said, referring to Kyrgyz migrant workers.
"This way, we're doing two good deeds -- we're returning Cheburashka to his homeland, and half of Kyrgyzstan's population will finally see Tokyo," Urgant said caustically.
Kyrgyz citizens back home found little to laugh about.
Urgant's joke was out of line, Mira Jangaracheva, a Bishkek resident and former director of the National Museum of Fine Arts, said.
"Kyrgyz are working honestly to feed their families, and at the same time they are forced to endure humiliation from people like him," said Jangaracheva, who worked for the United Nations Development Programme for 15 years.
"Apparently, for the joke writers, serfdom was never abolished," Twitter user Umai Arykova posted.
The Russian TV host's statement has a clear racist connotation, said Kara-Belta resident Sagynbek Jamanbayev.
"Such TV hosts influence popular opinion and form this disdainful attitude towards us. Urgant must apologise for his words, as his colleague Malakhov did," Jamanbayev said.
He was referring to an incident last September, when Andrei Malakhov, the host of "Live" on Russian state television channel Russia-1, stated without any evidence that Islambek Akbarov, a taxi driver from Kyrgyzstan working in Moscow, was hired to kill a Russian citizen.
Aleksandr Marugov, the son of Russian oligarch Vladimir Marugov, died last July in in downtown Moscow after crashing his motorcycle at high speed into a taxi driven by the Kyrgyz.
The investigation in Russia did not confirm Malakhov's accusations.
In January, Akbarov received a two-year prison sentence for involvement in the fatal accident, 24.kg reported, citing the Kyrgyz Embassy in Russia.