BISHKEK -- Kyrgyzstan is cracking down on Russian propaganda films and other symbols related to the war in Ukraine.
The Culture Ministry's cinema regulator, Kyrgyztasmasy State Cinema, is banning the screening of a number of Russian feature films about events in Ukraine, Kyrgyz Minister of Culture, Information, Sports and Youth Policy Azamat Zhamankulov announced April 23 on Facebook.
Zhamankulov's announcement came after Harmony, a Bishkek-based Russian cultural centre funded by the Kremlin, applied to Kyrgyztasmasy for permission to screen "Donbass. Borderland" (2019), "Opolchenochka" (2019) and "Hotsunlight" (2021) as part of the "Time of Truth" film festival.
All three films are set during the war in eastern Ukraine and paint Russian-backed separatists as heroes. The villains are Ukrainian troops.
The Kyrgyz cinema regulator initially granted the screening authorisations but later rescinded its decision.
"In light of the current international situation, and taking into account the neutrality of the Kyrgyz Republic, the state agency Kyrgyztasmasy is withdrawing the previously issued screening authorisations and banning the screening of the aforementioned films in the Kyrgyz Republic," said an official statement.
Kyrgyz citizens expressed approval for the decision on the minister's Facebook post.
"Thank you to the Kyrgyz Culture Ministry for making the appropriate decision and stopping war propaganda," wrote Gulzada Medraliyeva, the Bishkek manager of Tyanshi, an international retailer. "Now if ... we stopped paying for broadcasts by Russia, it would be outstanding."
"This is the right thing to do. We need to think about the future," wrote Anara Sulaimanova, a Russian language and literature teacher.
"We shouldn't throw fuel on the fire," she added.
Aigul Nasirdinova, a professor at the International Academy of Architecture of Eurasia, also expressed support for the ban.
Decisions about screening Russian films in Kyrgyzstan must be made only after experts fully analyse the content of the propaganda, she wrote.
Almaz Tazhybai, a Bishkek-based political analyst, said art should disseminate the ideas of humanism and humanity.
"But works that promote animosity, violence and human rights violations need to be banned," he told Caravanserai.
A ban on 'Z'
Meanwhile, the State National Security Committee (GKNB) put out a warning on April 21 saying it is unacceptable to use the "Z" symbol signifying support for Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.
The GKNB told organisations renting out parade uniforms ahead of the May 9 holiday marking the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II not to include the "Z" symbol, as it was "capable of inciting inter-ethnic hatred", which is punishable under Kyrgyz law.
The GKNB also warned citizens to refrain from wearing Z-related insignia at the May 9 parade in Bishkek.
The Latin alphabet letter has been regularly sighted on the tanks and uniforms of Russian forces that invaded Ukraine.
In Russian civilian life, it has become a symbol to encourage those who support the war and threaten those who are opposed to it.
Kyrgyz police officers are also fining drivers who display the letter Z on the windows or bodies of their vehicles.
The penalty for displaying a Z sticker in Kyrgyzstan is at least 5,500 KGS ($70).
'Shut down Russian channels'
While the Kyrgyz government has refrained from criticising Moscow, the nation's citizens have openly condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Protestors held demonstrations in Bishkek in late March, holding Kyrgyz and Ukrainian flags and signs reading "Say no to war!" and "Kyrgyzstan stands with Ukraine".
Kyrgyzstan should leave the Russian-dominated economic and military blocs it has joined, said Adil Turdukulov, a journalist in Bishkek who took part in the protests.
"On top of that, we need to get all the Russian military bases out of the country," he told Caravanserai.
Another demonstrator, Asel Kubanychbekova of Bishkek, said that all her friends, colleagues and acquaintances sympathise with Ukraine and oppose the Russian invasion.
"For objective reasons our government needs to be neutral, but we the Kyrgyz people aren't obligated to stay silent," she said.
"The world needs to know that our people oppose the nightmare that Russia is creating against the brotherly Ukrainian people."
"The Kremlin-backed television channels are turning people into zombies, and a lot of them don't know how to tell truth from fiction and think Russia is fighting the Nazis," Kubanychbekova said.
"The current situation is yet another compelling reason why it's vital to shut down the Russian channels in our country."
Russian media have been criticising the Kyrgyz government's recent measures, describing them as "pressure from the Kyrgyz security agencies" on citizens.
An April 14 meeting in Bishkek between US Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Uzra Zeya and senior Kyrgyz officials, including Foreign Minister Ruslan Kazakbayev, has also drawn Russian ire.
The participants discussed co-operation between Kyrgyzstan and the United States on bilateral and global issues, and the importance of democratic institutions.
Russian media condemned the meeting, while the pro-Kremlin newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets called the talks a potential "stab in the back" by Kyrgyzstan and promised a "firm, swift response".
The Russians are eager to point up Kyrgyz economic vulnerability.
Their measures against Kyrgyzstan could include the curtailment of investment activity by Russian companies, the deportation of migrant workers, a halt in official and informal money transfers, and a reexamination of Russian exports of food and oil to Kyrgyzstan, an April 20 article citing Russian diplomatic sources said.
"And that's just the beginning," it said, noting that about 1 million Kyrgyz citizens, who regularly send remittances home, live and work in Russia.