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22 September 2013
Your rarely published guide to whats happening in and around Bishkek

Restaurant Guide Tourist Map Latest News
Plus: Kyrgyzstans roaring 90s, climbing Peak
Uchitel, backchat the police, and much more...
This Month

The Spektator is now online at
Restaurants, Bars, Clubs
All the best bars and clubs in town. Some
well-known spots have been taken out
of this months edition with new spots
added. Full listings available on the
The Guide
News and Views
Our resentful editorial, a bisexual remi-
niscence over a passionate afair with a
married woman, a moan about queues
in Kyrgyzstan and the oppositions latest
video-taped scandals.
TheSpektator Magazineis availableat locations throughout Bishkek, including: (Travel Agencies) Adventure Seller, Ak-Sai Travel, Carlson Wagonlit, Celestial Mountains, Ecotour, Glavtour,Kyrgyz Concept,
Kyrgyz Travel, Muza, NoviNomad (Bars & Restaurants) Hollywood, Metro, New York Pizza, No1, 2x2, Boulevard, Cofeehouse, Doka, Fatboys, Four Seasons, Live Bar, Lounge Bar, Meri,
Navigator, Stary Edgars Veranda, Adriatico, Cyclone, Dolce Vita, Santa Maria, Bella Italia (Casinos) Europa, Golden Dragon, XO (Hotels) Dostuk, Hyatt, Golden Dragon, Holiday, Alpinist
(Embassies and Organisations) The UN building, The American base, The German Embassy, The Dutch Consulate, CAMP Ala-too, NCCR, The Bishkek Opera & Ballet Society.
ON THE COVER: Vorkuta - mighty cold (Sylvain Distin)
The Spektator Magazine
Founder: Tom Wellings
Editor: Tom Wellings
Staf writers: Ben Rich, Robert
Marks, Thomas Olsen, Dennis Keen,
Palmer Keen, Holly Myers, Matthew
Stowbridge, Jika T, Adeline Bell,
Paul Dummett, Patrick Barrow, Dina
Tokbaeva, Alice Janvrin, S. Vysotsky,
Tom Tweedy
Guest Contributor: Dresden Murphy
Design: Hvare Firouzeh
Want to contribute as a freelance
writer? Please contact:
Out & About
Ala-Archa: Beyond Picnics
Ala-Archa, a 30 minute drive from Bishkek,
ofers some of the worlds greatest walks.
Spektator Satire
The dictator of some little-known island
had a birthday do in Bishkek earlier this
summer and Turkmenistans president just
gave birth to a whale. Remember, none of
this is really happening...
Book Review
Philip Shiskins Restless Valley
Restless Valley: Revolution, Murder and
Intrigue in the Heart of Central Asia is a
rip-roaring journey through the modern
histories of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan
penned by Philip Shishkin. Tom Tweedy
reviews it.
The End
Beating the Boys in Blue
Paul Dummett considers strategies for
foreigners looking to evade police shake-
downs while out and about in Bishkek.
City Map
Dont get lost.
Grim up North
Our cover article looks at life in Vorkuta, a
Russian town north of the Arctic Circle fa-
mous for its hostile climate, a gulag mutiny
in 1963, alcoholism and krokodil addiction.
A nice place, then.
Thugs, Drugs and Cattleprods
Kyrgyzstan is not perfect but it has come
a long way since 1997 when security
forces were enmeshed in the drug trade,
the eternal fame at the great patriotic
war memorial was cut due to non-pay-
ment of gas bills and prostitutes worked
out of the Dostuk Hotel. Oh, wait....
Dorm: Not Babushkas Favorite Serial
Emily Canning looks at Obshaga, or
Dorm, a socially attuned drama set in a
student dormitory in Bishkek.
On the Box
September 2013 The Spektator
4 This Month
And there it is, the Spektator magazine limps
on for the sake of your amusement a worthy
enough cause, we suppose. Our loins have now
issued twenty-two sires, not counting the bas-
tards, and another summer issue that missed
the majority of summer is now ready for your
cofee table or the space behind your lavatory,
depending on how you view us. Famous peo-
ple that have heard of the Spektator include the
British Ambassador to Kazakhstan and his wife,
American comedy writer Kevin Bleyher and Sary,
an eagle hunter from Issyk-Kul province. Because
of this, we are not about to develop an inferior-
ity complex or a chip on our shoulder any time
soon. Honestly...
Our Valentines Day issue certainly caused
a stir, mostly due to our guide to Bishkeks strip
bars, which aroused praise and criticism almost
in equal measure (criticism slightly outweighed
the praise, to be fair). Really, we dont ofer any
apologies for this, since after nearly fve years in
which we have covered everything from banyas
and the Basmachi rebellion to snow leopards
and Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky, you take whatever
people ofer you. The other day a friend of ours
ofered to sleep a night in the supposedly haunt-
ed National History Museum in Bishkek on our
behalf. We promptly pledged to print the article
whether she died or not.
Email title lines addressing our delve into
the seedier side of Kyrgyz tourism included sex-
ist shames ( to I
used to read the Spektator but (mollysinstinct@ A couple of disreputable types asked
for more of the same, while
just wanted better directions to the said institu-
tions. Sorry Steve, we would hook you up with
the author but he wanted to remain anonymous.
Something about him working in international
Anyhow, that was then, this is now. Issue
22 has some cracking reads, even by the high
standards the Spektator has tried to set itself
over the years. Our main features are on Vorkuta,
the ex-gulag-hosting town north of the Russian
arctic circle that our intrepid reporter Ben Rich
had the fortune of visiting earlier this year, and
THAT article about Bishkek in the naughty nine-
ties. Alongside these jewels in the crown we have
our review of Philip Shishkins book Restless Val-
ley: Revolution Murder and Intrigue in the Heart
of Central Asia, a rant about queues, a romantic
reminiscence, a spot of satire, a trek through Ala
Archa, advice for avoiding police shakedowns, an
updated guide with some of the more obvious
places taken out, and posts from our partners (a
euphemism for people whose articles we steal
and re-print).
Finally we would like to thank contractor
Dennis Connely, without whose generous gift
this episode would not have been possible. Con-
nely was pissed as a fart when he parted with his
ill-gotten cash and while he may be regretting it
now we are mighty grateful he did. After all, we
would never expect anyone to give money to the
Spektator when sober. Cheers Denny boy!
a Strip off us
BISHKEK, September 5, (The Spektator) - Might this
be a vision of the end of humankind? I asked myself:
shaven-headed heavies managing what remains
of the worlds precious resources, an angry mob
turning in on itself, shortages of everything except
insults, ill-will and violent rage, a Malthusian tipping
point, the gateway to undignifed extinction?
It could have been, but in more tangible terms
it was a queue stretching out of a ski rental shack at
the Nowruz ski resort not far from Bishkek, mainly
composed of well-to-do city types who had all been
possessed by the same inclination to hit the slopes
on January 5, the last day of the winter holidays. The
shaven headed Slavs were no hell beasts either, but
young Russian snowboarders working part-time
behind the rental shack desk, loaning out ski boots,
skis, poles, helmets and sleds. Yet there was a fright-
ful absence of anything available for hire the gear
had all been snapped up earlier the same morn-
ing - and now the hapless crew were waiting for it
to come back in drips and drabs as they fended of
a frustrated crowd of would-be-skiers. For the ffth
time we dont have any size 42 boots. We have just
received boots in 31 and 28, one of them cried in
The winners in such situations are few. But if a
victor emerges it is usually a well-built woman with
kids in tow: well-built because forcing your way
through a throng to claim a scarce resource requires
a level of physical strength that waifs simply cannot
muster, woman because doing the same as a man
will land you in intensive care, and with kids in tow
because in angry queue-type situations children can
be deployed as tools to manipulate the people you
are pushing past, a kind of retroactive justifcation
for the sins of the parent.
Such a woman emerged on that fateful Janu-
ary day. With the gusto of a bingo addict whose
lucky numbers have just been called, she pushed
herself into the shack quite an achievement con-
sidering the volume of people already inside and
the size of the shack door relative to her own colos-
sal frame palmed of a burly man like he wasnt
there, and beelined through a scrum of skinnier
mums to collapse herself over the front desk and
claim the two pairs of boots. She would have to
wait for the skis but f*** it, she was halfway there.
Woman you have no shame, remonstrated
an angry dad, who had wanted the 28s for his
daughter but was wedged into a corner of the
shack. Stick your shame, replied the woman. The
gossamer-like social fabric that held the queue
concept in place had just been ripped apart at the
seams: I dont give a shit.
A lifetime of queues
Queues, and in particular, insanely long queues, were
a cornerstone of life in the Soviet Union. This was
the result of a command economy that allocated
consumer goods in fts and bursts, sufering regular
defcits as well as irrational gluts. In these strange
economic times, the lines outside state department
stores in Moscow became the stuf of legends. Hero-
ine Mothers(Mums with nine or more children) and
veterans of World War Two were shufed to the front
of queues. Less honoured but more resourceful types
could engineer a presence in several queues at the
same time by getting the person in front of them to
hold their position as they dashed between lines. The
all conquering currency in a communist queue, how-
ever, was blat - the power of a personal connection.
With blat in mind, a shopkeeper selling some prized
ware recently dumped on the Moscow market would
often wave a famous local doctor or an honoured
artist towards the till, as the mortal rank and fle
drowned the lucky queue-jumper in silent ire.
A former Soviet state, Kyrgyzstan is part of that
same queuing culture, although there are signs that
the vulnerable sense of order that held Soviet era
queues together has more or less unravelled: Kto
posledni? ( who is last?) has become an ongoing
joke in Kyrgyz lines for anything from mandatory
blood samples to pensions, because you can guar-
antee the person who is last will be the last person
to admit it. On a recent trip to the Chinese embassy,
a friend witnessed another large local woman pose
this dreaded question. When no-one replied she
said: Well if none of you know who is last I am
frst! A German, fearing for his place in the scheme
of things, caught the bug. I am with an international
organization! he exclaimed, unaware that this lent
him less blat, not more.
Impatience, it would seem, is a feature of our
modern age. Lawlessness is a feature of modern Kyr-
gyzstan. Combined they sound a death knell for an
old-fashioned idea: the orderly queue.
Whose Queue is this Anyway? September 2013 The Spektator
5 This Month
Purported Extortion Video a Bid to Boost Foreign Investor Confdence?
BISHKEK, August 29 ( - For years
industry observers have asserted that environ-
mental protests outside the Canadian-run Kum-
tor Gold Mine in Kyrgyzstans eastern mountains
were part of an elaborate shakedown scheme.
Now a video has emerged that appears to sub-
stantiate this view.
Kyrgyzstans State Committee on National
Security (GKNB) announced the opening of a
criminal investigation after the video appeared
on state television August 28, purporting to
show two men who had previously voiced envi-
ronmental concerns demanding $3 million from
a Kumtor representative in exchange for an ap-
parent guarantee not to orchestrate protests. The
video purportedly has a time stamp of July 31.
The videos appearance on state television
suggests that central government ofcials in
Bishkek are intent not only on solidifying their
hold on power, but want to forge a stronger
working relationship with Kumtors operators,
and, more broadly, boost foreign-investor con-
fdence shaken by regular mining-related riots.
GKNB representatives declined to address the
videos provenance.
Speaking in broken Russian in the video, the
two men, identifed as Bakhtiar Kurmanov and Er-
mek Dzhunushbaev, tell Douglas Grier, Kumtors
director of sustainable development, that if their
demands were not met, the mine would sufer
dire consequences. We will close Kumtor, one
claims. They go on to threaten they are ready to
declare war, there will be a civil war, there will be
a revolution, if Kumtor does not give them what
they want.
The two claim in the video to have the sup-
port of nationalist politicians Kamchybek Tashiev
and Sadyr Japarov. Those two recently lost their
seats in parliament when the Supreme Court
found them, along with another Ata-Jurt MP,
guilty of attempting to seize power in connection
with an October 2012 incident, in which an anti-
Kumtor demonstration erupted into a riot.
In late May of this year, another riot and road-
block outside Kumtor -- related to the then-pend-
ing case against Tashiev and Japarov -- caused a
shutdown at the mine. Disturbances also resulted
in at least 55 injuries before police restored order.
Dzhunushbaev and Kurmanov, the two men
appearing in the video, contend it is fake. Adding
muscle to their claim, several hundred supporters
blocked the road near the mine overnight on Au-
gust 28, local news agencies reported. Through-
out August 29 there have been scattered reports
of other attempts to block the road near the mine.
Grier confrmed to that the
demands, and the meeting seen in the video,
are genuine. In an August 29 statement, Kumtor
Operating Company, which is owned by Toronto-
listed Centerra Gold, said the company has been
constantly receiving threats of possible road
blocks in the event of non-compliance with vari-
ous kinds of demands. The statement added that
Kumtor representatives are cooperating with the
ofcial investigation.
Kumtor executives have regularly com-
plained about shakedowns and threats from
locals purporting to represent villagers en-
vironmental concerns. The men in the video,
one Kumtor executive told, had
continued to threaten the company throughout
The video scandal follows on the heels of
reports that Bishkek and Centerra are close to
agreeing on a new operating arrangement af-
ter months of wrangling. Prime Minister Jantoro
Satybaldiyev said on August 22 that the two sides
had agreed to operate Kumtor through a joint
venture, and that he hoped to submit the deal for
parliamentary approval in September.
Centerra announced on August 23 that, un-
der the terms of the proposal, the state-run Kyr-
gyzaltyn gold company would exchange its 32.7
percent equity interest in Centerra for an interest
of equivalent value in a joint venture company
that would own the Kumtor project. Company
representatives went on to stress that while
Centerra believes that progress has been made
in those discussions, no fnal agreement has yet
been reached.
As news of progress trickled out this month,
many industry insiders expected that opposition
leaders would again use environmental concerns
and local protests in an attempt to thwart the
deal and undermine the fragile ruling coalition
when parliament convened next month.
In this context, the video is such a boon to
the government that some are calling it a blatant
setup: This is PR to discredit these guys so that
the protests that were planned for autumn will
be discredited. These guys fell for the bait, said
Turat Akimov, editor of Dengi i Vlast (Money and
Power), a magazine in Bishkek.
Kumtor is Kyrgyzstans most signifcant eco-
nomic asset. In a good year, it accounts for about
12 percent of the countrys GDP. Authorities in
Bishkek have been engaged in a tussle for con-
trol over the mine all year, claiming that the pre-
vious operating deal, signed in 2009, was invalid
because it was negotiated with former president
Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who was overthrown the fol-
lowing year amid widespread corruption allega-
tions. Opposition fgures such as Tashiev and Jap-
arov had latched onto the Kumtor negotiations in
what many observers felt was a populist attempt
to discredit the government using unsubstanti-
ated claims of environmental damage caused by
mining operations. Raising environmental con-
cerns has traditionally been an efective way to
mobilize protesters in Kyrgyzstan.
While almost no one doubts the mine has a
detrimental environmental impact, several re-
cent, independent audits have determined that
the companys operations are not breaking any
Kyrgyz or European regulations.
Some industry observers contend the video
exposes a problem related to good governance.
Orozbek Duisheev, chairman of the Association of
Miners and Geologists, said the video shows that
Kyrgyzstans mining industry operates in a state
of anarchy. He continued that the government,
with its absence of clear policy, isnt addressing
These men are just looking to beneft them-
selves, Duisheev told, adding that
the video undermines the regular environmental
charges leveled against Kumtor.
BISHKEK, September 3, (RFE/RL) - Several
opposition leaders have been summoned to
Kyrgyzstan's State Committee for National
Security (UKMK) following the broadcast of a
controversial video on state television.
The chairman of the opposition Akyikat
( Truth) party, Alikbek Jekshenkulov, told
RFE/RL that the opposition leaders must
appear at the UKMK on the afternoon of
September 3 after their names were men-
tioned in the video, which was aired by the
main state television channel the previous
In the video, youth activist Erlanbek Omu-
raliev claims knowledge of an alleged plot in
which opposition politicians planned to poi-
son the Naryn River and blame the Kumtor
gold-mining corporation for the contamina-
tion. He says they also planned to recruit
activists of the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir Islamic
group to incite mass antigovernment pro-
Kyrgyz Opposition Summoned Over Video
September 2013 The Spektator
6 This Month
It was never hard to strike up a conversation
with Kyrgyz taxi drivers. I heard about life in the
Red Army, discussed revolutions, and on a slow
day listened to the driver talk about how his kids
were studying English and wanted to see Amer-
ica. One day a friend and I got into a random taxi
and started chatting with the driver when he cava-
lierly told us about the two women he had outside
his marriage. My only outward response was oh
wow while on the inside I thought about how we
would probably not be so open about such a thing
to strangers in America. But in Kyrgyzstan, Ive been
told, it is common for men, whether they are Kyrgyz,
Russian, or Uzbek, to have mistresses on the side,
some considered second wives while others merely
lovers. I thought to myself I would never do some-
thing like that while I was in a relationship. I would
stay faithful to my boyfriend in America, and no mat-
ter how randy I was I would never cheat on him or be
involved with someone who is cheating on his or her
spouse or signifcant other. How wrong I was.
Without fail three questions seemed to almost
always come up in conversation in Kyrgyzstan. First:
Where are you from?Second: What are you doing
here?Third: Do you have a girlfriend or wife? As a
young man it would not have been advisable to say
that I had a boyfriend, so I would just say no to the
last question, which would be followed by an inter-
rogation about why I did not. I would say I had not
found the right girl, or some other lie. A common
view in Kyrgyzstan, it seems, is that if you arent mar-
ried before youre thirty there is either something
wrong with you or you arent trying hard enough.
Regardless of the prodding of strangers and the
views of Kyrgyz society, I quietly maintained my long
distance relationship. Well, for a while at least. In ret-
rospect it seemed doomed from the start, but I didnt
realize this until several months of living abroad. By
May the relationship was over in my heart, but con-
tinuing ofcially.
Whether it was carnal temptation or the desire
to get drunk and dance, I went to Bishkeks only gay
club for a night of what I assumed would be like
most spent there, absent of come-ons, free drinks,
and sensual dancing with random strangers. The
night went generally as expected but something
diferent happened this time. A woman came up
to me and started dancing with me. She was beau-
tiful and clearly drunk. I found out later that she
only danced when drunk. We danced and spoke in
Russian, prompting her to ask where I was from, to
which I replied America. The night went on and we
moved from the dance foor to the entryway couch
where we chatted and kissed. It grew from gentle
and sweet to passionate and sensual. I had not felt
this in some time. We stayed until the music stopped
and the club closed. I walked with her until our ways
home parted and we shared a fnal kiss. I then refect-
ed alone on the one thing that she had told me in
the club. She was married. Her husband had cheated
on her, and she was done with him, although he was
not done with her. I thought to myself how we were
both in relationships, hers more serious than mine,
that we were both done with.
I wasnt sure if I would see her again. I didnt
know if I could handle it. I saw her once more to
help her with a paper in English, and afterwards we
walked and talked about life and our relationships.
Whether it was this conversation or a sense of guilt
From the Heart: A Bishkek Afair
that made me break up with my boyfriend before
my return home is still a bit unclear. Maybe a week
or two had passed before I saw her again on a whim.
We strolled through Panflov Park and sat down to
eat when a woman with a bird came up to us. She
was a fortuneteller. I didnt know what the fortune-
teller told her until recently. The fortune teller told
the woman that she was in a relationship but she
wasnt happy. This was true. She told her that she
liked someone else. When she questioned the for-
tuneteller about who this other person was she re-
plied: The man sitting with you. I was oblivious to
all of this since my Russian was and still is poor. It was
later on in the day and in some park when we fnally
kissed again. It seemed like I could kiss her lips for
eternity. I didnt care if she was married, I would be
the other man, all we wanted was to enjoy our time
together and that was all.
As mentioned before it is not uncommon for
men in Kyrgyzstan to have one or more mistresses,
but for a woman to have another man is neither
common nor acceptable. As she would put it later
to me, a husband can go out and have an afair and
the wife is still expected to cook and clean for this
a**hole - it is the wifes job to make the marriage
work. When she fnally made it clear that she was
getting a divorce there was little sympathy for her. It
was her fault that the marriage failed, it didnt matter
that he had cheated frst and that he was a jerk, it
was still her fault.
Her husband would later be told about me, by
her I believe. This led to crazy behavior and a fantasy
to murder us for a time, but the Kyrgyz police force
had already desensitized me to empty threats. Our
friends knew that we were seeing each other as well,
but we always insisted that we were keeping things
light and fun. Our friends seemed to know us better
than we knew ourselves, though. Friends would tell
me that they could tell by the way we looked at each
other that we cared more than we would dare say. I
remember one night on the shore of Issyk-Kul tell-
ing her I was afraid of getting too close. I had been
in love before and there was no greater hurt for me
then knowing it would end. I didnt tell her my other
fear that I had gained from painful experience that
I would love her and she would not love me in the
same way.
Weeks had passed and we had grown closer,
thanks to time spent together, and our common
interests in Nirvana, Quentin Tarantino movies, sha-
manism and Winston cigarettes. But like all things
our time together had come to an end. In a rever-
sal of roles for me it would be her to actually leave
the country frst. We saw each other one fnal time.
I cried more than I had in a long time. I was left in
the place where I had unexpectedly fallen in love,
surrounded by small reminders of her and a feeling
of sadness that lingered with me for months. The
random taxi driver may have had his mistresses, but
could he possibly have felt as attached to them the
way I did to her?
It has been over a year now since we parted
ways. We still talk about life, less about Nirvana and
Tarantino. She is now living the life she wants to
lead; she still has my shirt unwashed that she liked
so much, and we still hold a beautiful place for each
other in our hearts. To this day I still love her, and
while we may never meet in Bishkek again, I know
one day we will see each other again. Anon
BISHKEK, September 4, (OSCE) - On 4 Sep-
tember 2013 the OSCE Centre in Bishkek provided
Kyrgyzstans Defence Ministry with an obstacle
course for training anti-terrorism unit ofcers and
donated equipment for mountain patrolling in
Osh, Southern Kyrgyzstan.
Practical obstacle training will be provided for
members of the Ilbirs (Snow Leopards) Special
Forces brigade. The course aims to improve par-
ticipants ability to quickly and efectively respond
to terrorist groups active in mountainous regions
and will include instruction in running, climbing,
jumping, crawling, swimming, and balancing. The
donated equipment will be used for conducting
mountain patrolling and anti-terrorism operations
The Ilbirs are the frst responders to any cross-
border incursions from armed groups in Southern
Kyrgyzstan, said Ross Brown, Head of the Politico-
Military Unit at the OSCE Centre in Bishkek. Train-
ing and supporting them is crucial in assisting
Kyrgyzstan to efectively combat transnational
terrorism threats.
The installation of the obstacle course and the
donation of equipment are part of the OSCE Cen-
tre in Bishkek`s ongoing eforts to support Kyrgyz
government in combatting terrorism. -
BISHKEK, September 6, ( - The
Kyrgyz Ministry of Foreign Afairs has moved to
prevent Russias nationalist lawmaker Vladimir
Zhirinovky from conducting ofcial business in
the Central Asian state. An ofcial at the ministry
stressed that Zhirinovskys status was diferent
from that of persona non-grata, and that while
Zhirinovsky will be considered an undesirablehe
will not be ofcially prevented from entering the
Parliaments original resolution to declare him
persona non-grata came after Zhirinovsky sug-
gested Kyrgyzstan hand Lake Issyk-Kul over to Rus-
sia in exchange for debt forgiveness. The sugges-
tion provoked an angry reaction in the republic.
BISHKEK, September 6, (Global Voices) - The
story of a 15-year-old boy called Temirbek Isaku-
nov, who died in the eastern part of Kyrgyzstan
after contracting the plague caused weeks of ex-
cited news coverage both inside and outside Kyr-
gyzstan. But with the tragic case proving isolated,
people in the Central Asian republic are now call-
ing for much-needed perspective.
According to sanitary experts at the Kyrgyz
Ministry of Health there is no chance of an epidem-
ic, even among the marmots that carry the disease
and reportedly infected the boy.
Kyrgyz policymakers have now refused to
comment further on the plague case and MPs
have told their colleagues to stop bringing up the
topic. A number of Russian media outlets have
come under fre for sensationalizing the story with
titles such as Russia May be Threatened by Bu-
bonic Plague from Kyrgyzstan (Russia Today) and
Kyrgyzstan is Threatened by a Bubonic Plague
Epidemic ( State TV channel Russia 1
was perhaps the worse ofender, using the news
piece to slander shelf-stacking migrants from Cen-
tral Asia.
Kyrgyzstan in Brief September 2013 The Spektator
7 Map

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A. Usenbaeva
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September 2013 The Spektator
8 Out & About
Ala-Archa is a lovely place, but its best
appreciated away from the drunken-
picnic-crowd who populate the lower
slopes. Theo Wait ofers two suggestions
for weekend hikes that showcase the best
of what the famous national park has to
HE GROWING NUMBERS of foreigners
working and studying in the Kyrgyz capi-
tal is surely testament to the attractions of
the Bishkek lifestyle. Some foreigners de-
light in living in a melting pot of ancient
cultures where East meets West in a riotous spice-
infused collision of modernity and tradition. Oth-
ers revel in the magical efect of becoming ffteen
years younger, three stone lighter, and able to spout
bigotry and misogyny in this fair land of unshackled
liberty where political correctness is nothing but a
geologists bad dream. Furthermore, there is fantas-
tic mountain scenery practically on your doorstep.
Anyone who has spent more than an hour in
Bishkek has heard of the Ala-Archa national park,
and this is not without good reason, for the region
is not only spectacularly beautiful but also ofers
some of the best climbing and hiking opportunities
to be found anywhere in the world. At only thirty kil-
ometres away from the centre of Bishkek, and with
easy to follow trails, it is also unnecessary to enlist
the expensive services of a tour company or guide.
With even mediocre negotiation skills you should
be able to get a taxi driver to take you to the red-
roofed Alplager Hotel for 1000 som plus park entry
but more of that in the grey box to come. For now,
I present two suggestions for weekend hikes that
could also be combined into a three or four night
adventure if your busy work schedule allows.
To The End of Ala-Archa Valley
This hike is an excellent idea for the feeble-lunged
who wish to better acclimatise before heading up
to higher altitudes, but also serves as an enjoy-
able and leisurely overnight trek in itself. Start at
the car park in front of the Alplager Hotel (2200m)
and march boldly onwards down the tarmacked
lane that weaves between thickets of pine trees
and (during summer weekends) drunken picnick-
ers, discarded bottles of beer, empty packets of
cigarettes, etc. After about a kilometre and a half
the road ends and the woodland opens out onto
a wide boulder-strewn clearing where the Ak-
Sai tributary on your left joins with the Ala Archa
River, churning its way through the valley from the
south. Cross the tributary, which is shallow and
calm at this point, and keep to the left of the Ala
-Archa River along the obvious path. Once upon
a time Soviet of-road trucks used to drive up this
track all the way to the top of the valley, but look-
ing at its present condition, this now seems an un-
likely proposition. After a kilometres walk the path
rises up an incline to a copse of trees here you
need to fnd the small path to the right which will
lead you down a steep bank and across a make-
shift wooden bridge to the west bank of the river.
The main track continues on the east bank for a
short while but soon dips through the river and
joins you on the other side. From here, you should
fnd no problems in following the trail onwards.
About fve kilometres down the trail there is
a second, even more makeshift bridge across the
river (2550m) incidentally there are some level ar-
eas here and the site makes quite a nice camping
area. The main path crosses the bridge and contin-
ues on the east bank, however we have found that
this route requires the crossing of a further tributary
(with no bridge) which during rainy periods can be
rather wild. Therefore we recommend ignoring the
bridge and continuing down the west bank where a
less obvious but easily navigable trail will allow you
to avoid getting your feet wet. After a couple of kilo-
meters it is possible to rejoin the established path as
it crosses back to the west bank once more.
Top The second bridge. To avoid a tricky river
crossing, we recommend staying on the west
bank of the river from this point onwards -
the main path eventually crosses back onto
the west side, and navigation is easy (All pho-
tos Tom Hanson)
Picnics September 2013 The Spektator
9 Out & About
Continuing up the trail you will come to an
abandoned weather station (2800m) on a level
and grassy plain providing a practical if eerie camp-
site, an incongruous collection of semi-obliterated
meteorological equipment creaking nearby in the
wind. The crumbling weather station building can
provide some shelter in emergencies, but the piles
of rubbish, human waste and goat skulls lend it
an insalubrious air. From here the trail leads more
steeply upwards and to the right, into a feld of scree
and rocks, and past a half buried Soviet bulldozer
(3000m) which has seen better days. Finally, at the
head of the valley is a cauldron of peaks and gla-
ciers, one of which was home to a ski station (now
disused) where the Soviets trained their ski teams.
Like most things up here these days the old ski lift
is being ground into dust by the elements, and in
grey weather and a cold wind it is hard not to detect
something melancholic in the rarifed air. On the
descent it is up to you to decide which camp site is
best, but whereever you decide to pitch, we recom-
mend drinking vodka and telling ghost stories.
Pik uchitel: The Teacher Peak
Pik Uchitel (4520m) is a non-technical climb which
can be attempted as a two-day hike by anyone with
good ftness. However, at four and a half thousand
metres high the mountain should not be underes-
timated: altitude can take its toll, a clear blue sky
can quickly turn an ominous shade of grey, and if
you break your leg on a boulder on the way down,
youre screwed. With this in mind it is wise to go in a
small group, and dress appropriately. Crampons are
not necessary, but a pair of sturdy boots is a must,
and walking poles can be very helpful. The easiest
time to attempt an ascent is between May and early
Day one: From the car park, walk towards the
Alplager hotel (2200m) and take the marked trail to
Ratsek (3300m) which veers left of the tarmacked
lane and into the trees. A series of serpentines winds
up to a meadow (2550m) which afords great views
of the Ala-Archa Valley. From here, continue along
the obvious trail, past the waterfall (2800m) up into
the high reaches of the valley, keeping the river to
your right, and the clifs to your left. The hike can be
tough and can occasionally involve some scram-
bling but in good conditions it should take no longer
than fve hours with a decent sized rucksack.
Ratsek hut is open all year round and is stafed
by a warden. You can pitch a tent for free nearby
or pay around 1000 som (foreigner rate) for a bunk
space. Basic meals can be bought in the bar for 15
USD, or a full board of breakfast lunch and dinner for
35 USD, but it is best not to rely on this.
Day two: Allow fve hours up and three hours
down in good conditions. From the hut carry on a
further 100m into the valley until you see a huge
boulder (pictured above). A trail leads up a scree
slope, past some sport climbing pitches on the left
and eventually up to a gentle ridge. Follow the ridge
up to the right, negotiating three rocky outcrops,
and on a clear day you should see the summit of
Uchitel ahead to your right. The ridge eventually in-
tersects two peaks at about 4350m - a rockier one to
the left, and Uchitel to the right. Follow the ridge to
the right, avoiding the cornice of snow and admiring
the views of Bishkek and the Kazakh steppe. One last
slog of about 150 metres height gain, and you will
make the summit - the Ak-Sai Glacier winds beneath
you, the Ratsek camp glimmers in the sunlight (if you
are lucky), and even the red roof of the Alplager Ho-
tel can be picked out from amongst the trees, more
than two kilometres below.
Top Left The view from the upper slopes of
Pik Uchitel, looking towards the Ak-Sai Gla-
cier and Pik Boks
Top Right Uchitel route: From the Ratsek hut
walk 100m further into the valley and hit
the Uchitel trail which heads left at the large
Transport: Getting to Ala-Archa by marshrutka
bus is basically a pain in the arse, and a taxi is
defnitely worth the extra expense. Expect to
pay in the region of 1000 som (21 USD) for a one
way taxi, plus 80 som per person and 250 som
for a car for entry to the park itself. You need to
explain to your taxi driver that you want to go all
the way to the Alplager Hotel (it has a distinctive
red roof ), which is a further 12km down the road
from the park gates. The carpark at the front of
the hotel is the start point for both these hikes.
If you are unable to organise a taxi to pick you up,
the Alplager can organise one for you for 1500 som
per car. Alternatively it is often possible to hitchhike
back to Bishkek - sometimes even for free.
Navigation: A decent hiking map of the region
can be bought from the Geoid map shop on Ki-
evskaya 107 (at the back of the DHL building), Tel.
(0312) 61 38 69.
Equipment: Sandals are great for river crossings.
Other gear can be hired from the friendly Trek-
king Union of Kyrgyzstan located at 168 Kievs-
kaya (Turusbekova intersection), Tel: (0312) 90 91
15, email:
Getting There
The Summit!
September 2013 The Spektator
10 Out & About
room on the ffth foor. The scene below was
not an inviting one; a windswept central square
overlooked on the far side by Soviet-era apart-
ment buildings. Sullen looking people wrapped
up in thick winter coats and fur hats waited at
a bus stop in silence. Pedestrians walked briskly,
bufeted by a wind that blew of the tundra and
whistled along the citys thoroughfares fnding its
way onto any exposed skin, up sleeves and down
collars. In the distance across the low rise cityscape
a factory smokestack emitted a black smear across
the light blue sky. It was a forbeboding scene, even
brutal, as uninviting as anywhere I had ever been.
The genesis of my unlikely visit could be traced
back twenty-fve years. In my teens I had a map
of the Soviet Union on my bedroom wall. A black
line running out of Moscow depicted a railway line
heading north east. The railway line went on past
the point where the towns stopped, past the point
where the roads ended, and fnally terminated
at a city marked Vorkuta. An island in the tundra,
hundreds of miles from anywhere. Of all the places
marked on the map this was the one that fasci-
nated me the most. The map was eventually taken
down and put away, and the city all but forgotten
about until many years later when I was walking
the streets of Moscow, walking of a severe hango-
ver. My brain felt as though it was dribbling out of
my ears and I hated myself for such self inficted
abuse. I was looking for a place to escape to, escape
myself as much as anything. I headed to Moscows
Yaroslavskaya station looking for a ride out of the
city. Looking up at the departure board I saw in
illuminated yellow letters the name Vorkuta. A
childhood memory returned like a long lost friend
and on a whim I bought a ticket for the evenings
It was no surprise of course that the city looked
so foreboding - it was not made for the beneft of
the inhabitants, but rather for the state. Vorkuta and
the cities my train had passed on the journey north
were built for one reason; to be exploited by the toil
of prisoners. Beneath the hard soil of the north lies
the full breadth of Mendeleevs table. Prisons and
infrastructure were built for the sole purpose of ex-
ploiting the minerals that lay beneath them. Before
the 1930s when construction on the railway began
there was nothing in the area except the native
Komi people following the migration paths of the
reindeer. When Soviet geologists found huge coal
reserves on the upper reaches of the river Vorkuta
central planners deemed it as a place to build the
frst camps of a sprawling archipelago that would
come to be known under the acronym GULAG.
Train in Vain
Train number 42 left Moscow and spent the next
forty hours rolling north past halts and stations
whose names are synonymous with the camps: Pe-
chora, Inta, Ukhta, Vorkuta. The path for the railway
was hacked out of the forest by prisoners torn from
diverse locations across the empire and for per-
ceived crimes as equally diverse. Dumped in the
area often in the middle of winter and with no real
clothing or shelter to protect them from the harsh-
est of climates thousand died where they worked,
leading the prisoners to dub the route The Rail-
way Of Bones. As the train trundles north wood-
en crosses of those who died guide the way. My
wagon was full of miners heading north for stints
below ground. Tough men from tough towns such
as Tambov and Nizhnhy Tagil. With alcohol prohib-
ited in the mining camps they use the journey as
a fnal chance to drink their share for a month. On
the frst evening of the journey and with the in-
After a recent trip to Russias arctic north,
Ben Rich provides an antidote to the Kyrgyz
summer heat with tales of love, tragedy, and
drugs in a cold climate.
Top left Vorkuta street scene (All photos Ben
Top right The matinee performance of The
Hangover 3 proved unpopular at the Vorkuta
North September 2013 The Spektator
11 Out & About
evitable drunkenness getting out of hand the local
police had boarded the train in Yaroslavl and deliv-
ered a choice to the miners: turn in for the night or
be given a free tour of the town in the back of their
wagon. Nobody was foolish enough to accept the
On the second day of the journey the forest be-
came thinner and the villages poorer. The train was
a lifeline to these communities in the forest and was
for some the only connection to the wider world
they had. It also brought problems, however. One
village we passed had a large painted sign advertis-
ing that it was a village without narcotics. It made
you wonder what happened in the other villages.
The further north we pushed the further the tem-
perature dropped. At Pechora it was minus twenty
centigrade, at Inta minus twenty-fve, and when
eventually we rolled into Vorkuta on the third day
of the trip the thermometer showed minus thirty.
Stepping out of the wagon at our destination was
akin to walking into a large freezer. It was physi-
cally painful to breathe. Vorkutan taxi drivers on
the platform however touted for customers with
bare heads and hands. My kupe companion, a lo-
cal businessman who was returning from a skiing
holiday in Andorra promised me I would get used
to it, eventually.
Gazing out of my window on that frst morn-
ing in the city it seemed inconceivable that I would
ever acclimatise. The temperature was a balmy mi-
nus twenty-four centigrade but opening my win-
dow, even briefy, reminded me of how ill adjusted
and poorly prepared I was for such weather. With
no plan of coming this far north until an hour be-
fore departure I had with me clothes suitable for a
Moscow spring - temperatures around zero but not
much below. But by now I could no longer supress
my instinct to explore.
Should I stay or Should I Go
The wind struck me viciously as I exited the building
and headed along icy streets towards the centre of
town. It takes you a while to get your sea legs in the
winter. Whist locals walked along pavements with
confdent steps I slipped, skidded and contorted
my body into diferent shapes, trying to keep my
balance and avoid the ignominy of a fall on the ice.
Russia isnt a place where you expect a hand back
up. If you go down, however hard, you will usually
receive nothing more than looks of contempt.
The only contact I had in the city was my carriage
companion from the train ride. Sergei had spent the
majority of the journey checking his phone for a sig-
nal and then frantically texting as soon as one briefy
became available near a town. I called him and ar-
ranged to meet in a city centre caf. We sat at a table
and he leaned in consiprationally, Ben, have you
ever been married?he asked as the unsmiling wait-
ress brought us our cofees. Then maybe you will
understand me. I have been married for eight years
but recently I have been seeing a girl.He showed me
a photo on his phone of himself and an attractive
brunette sitting together in a restaurant. This girl is
nothing like my Sveta, doesnt take care of me like
she does, doesnt even look as good but something
about her drives me crazy. Can you understand this?
It was a common topic of conversation in a country
where people usually married young and then had
years to regret having done so.
I attempted to steer Sergei towards other top-
ics, of life in the far north. Its not as bad as people
think it is. Polar bears dont walk the streets, you have
seen that we have electricity. I dont know. At times
I want to leave but then when I visit Moscow or St.
Petersburg I realise that I never could. Its good here
if you have money. Quite how Sergei made money
he did not say, however I could not help but notice
that hed arrived at the caf in a new imported 4x4
and he had just been skiing in Europe, things that
were beyond the reach of most Russians living in the
provinces. Sergeis phone beeped, it was his mistress
Irina, he had to go. What can I do? he said spread-
ing his hands. You know how it is.And I did.
White Riot
Stretching around the city of Vorkuta over the tun-
dra is a road that was built to link the numerous
prison camps of the region. On this frozen river ba-
sin a Soviet holocaust took place. I hailed a cab and
negotiated a fare to Pit 29. It is a name we should
all know.
On July 19, 1953, something happened that
caught the camp administration and local NKVD
ofcers completely of guard. The wheel at Pit
7 stopped turning. The prisoners and guards in
nearby camps who noticed this were confused. The
wheels never stopped, plans had to be fulflled. Ru-
mours began. Then coal trains were seen returning
from Pit 7, empty. Soon news was smuggled out of
the camp. Pit 7 was on strike. On hearing the news
the prisoners at Pit 14 downed tools in support,
then Pit 16 did likewise, and then further out at Pit
29. The frst mass protest since the 1921 Kronstandt
mutiny was underway.
Gulag Literature
The Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyns master
work, is surely the most famous of frst hand
accounts of life inside the Gulag. It describes
a vast canvas of camps, prisons, transit centres
and secret police, of informers and spies and in-
terrogators and also of heroism - a Stalinist anti-
world at the heart of the Soviet Union. Likewise,
Solzhenitsyns novella A Day In The Life Of Ivan
Denisovich is a defnitive meditation on the in-
mates struggle for human dignity, the outrage
of unjust punishment and the importance of
A World Apart by Gustav Herling is a much
less well known work, but one that Bertrand Rus-
sell described as the most impressive account
of life in the Soviet camps that he had read. In
spite of this testimony from one of the greatest
intellectuals of the 20th Century, the book is little
known outside Herlings native Poland.
Finally, Anne Applebaums Gulag: A Histo-
ry that has been recognised as a landmark work
of 20th century history ofers the frst fully docu-
mented portrait of the Gulag, from its origins in
the Russian Revolution, through its expansion
under Stalin, to its collapse in the era of glasnost.
Applebaum intimately re-creates what life was
like in the camps and links them to the broader
history of the Soviet Union.
On hearing the news the prison-
ers at Pit 14 downed tools in sup-
port, then Pit 16 did likewise, and
then further out at Pit 29. The frst
mass protest since the 1921 Kron-
standt mutiny had begun
September 2013 The Spektator
12 Out & About
Left Vorkuta in its Stalin era days
Opposite page right Lenin wears his overcoat
to ward of the north arctic chill
The wheels stopped turning and 15,000 slave
workers had spoken. Stunned at the unimaginable
challenge to their authority the camp administra-
tion were unsure how to proceed. The prison-
ers had varied demands throughout the striking
camps but focused on two main points: the reduc-
tion of sentences and a normalisation of condi-
tions. They were asking for humanity.
We drove over the featureless tundra until an
abandoned pit wheel came into view a half a kilo-
metre of the road. With it being March it was im-
possible to get to, the snow would be waist deep in
the region until June. Vladimir, who had come from
Odessa to work the mines and later moved into the
taxi business to supplement a meagre pension,
handed me his fur hat. I tried to fnd a path of shal-
low snow that would allow me to approach the pit
but I sank in up to my thighs as soon as I stepped
of the road. Through the windscreen I could see
Vladimir giving me an I told you so look. The aban-
doned camps of Vorkuta are not a place to walk
blind, surrounded as they are by prisoner cemeter-
ies and communal graves - you dont know what
buried secrets you might be stepping on.
Moscow was informed of the strike immediate-
ly. The government sent a commission headed by
the formidable General Derevianko (the same gen-
eral who, along with General Douglas McArthur,
accepted the surrender of the Japanese in 1945)
with the aim of getting the prisoners to return to
the pits. On the ffth day of the strike and with the
prisoners holding frm, the authorities ofered a se-
ries of concessions: bars were to be removed from
camp windows, number patches could be removed
from jackets, prisoners were not to be locked in
their huts at night, prisoners could now write to
their families once a month instead of once a year,
and with permission of the camp commander fam-
ily members would be allowed an annual visit. The
notice was taken around the camps by messenger
and the prisoners immediately set about ripping
number patches of their work gear and hacking
bars of the windows of their huts. However the
message from the authorities remained frm: pris-
oners had to work.
As the intimidation was stepped up over the
weeks the mines succumbed one by one, prisoners
returned to work and the pit wheels began turn-
ing. Eventually only one pit held out - Pit 29, the
remains of which I could see in the distance. The
prisoners held frm in the face of coercion, bribery
and threats, refusing orders from camp authorities
to call of the strike. After weeks of stalemate the
NKVD was ordered to act. They surrounded Pit 29
with troops and tanks delivering a fnal ultimatum
and leaving the striking prisoners in no doubt as
to what would await them should they refuse. Still
they stood frm. The following day the tanks en-
tered the camp, crashing through the main gates.
In front of them stood the prisoners, arms linked
and singing. One by one they fell under the volley
of small and heavy arms fre. When it was over the
dead lay on the ground, arms still linked to their
comrades. The bodies were thrown into a commu-
nal grave that had been dug outside the perimeter
fence in anticipation of the massacre. It would be
another ten years until the barbed wire and watch-
towers were fnally taken down and the last of the
prisoners freed. I wanted to feel something, some
deep stirring of visceral emotion but images of
those fearless victims were not forthcoming.
Lost In The Supermarket
We drove on to Vorgashor, a half abandoned town
battered by polar winds. I entered the central shop-
ping centre which is a grandiose name for what
was a dusty hall in a semi-disused building lined
with glass kiosks. There was a power cut which
meant people walked the dark alleyways shop-
ping by the light of their mobile phones. I entered
a cafe and ate a slice of stale cake watching the few
remaining citizens of the town hurrying between
buildings clutching their hats and collars close
to them. There were no men on the streets, all of
them below ground hacking at the rock face that
gave the town its reason for being. I entered an-
other building looking to purchase a pair of sturdy
boots. Two middle aged women running a kiosk
that sold imitation sports clothing ushered me in,
seemingly happy for the distraction of talking to an
outsider. Business didnt seem good; I was the only
customer in the shopping centre. Ludmila and Lilia
were both married to miners and had opened the
shop together to support their husbands wages
and, I suspected, each other. I could not imagine
what else there was to do in the town to keep
themselves occupied.
So tell us about your travels in Russia, Lud-
mila, a native of Kazan, asked me as she retrieved
a large chocolate cake form under the counter. I
recounted my recent trip to the North Caucasus as
she cut the cake into large slices. The people there
are good, she ofered. We have many Dagestanis
in the city, they came here for work in the mines
and never left. Honest types. It was the frst time I
had heard a Russian have something positive to say
about people from the south, but in a city where
most people were from somewhere else there was
seemingly less of a them and us attitude.
So are you married? Lilia asked. It was the
question I was asked most often in Russia, usu-
ally by middle aged women looking to match
make. Being late 30s and unmarried perplexed
most who asked. Well if you return we will fnd
you a wife, you must have seen how beautiful the
women of the north are. What I had noticed was
how few young people there seemed to be, eve-
ryone seemed to be in the latter years of middle
age. I asked if they had children. I have a son and
a daughter but they live in Moscow. They left for
university and never returned. They visit but after a
day or two they become restless and want to leave
Ludmila said. I wasnt surprised. The town was half- September 2013 The Spektator
derelict and seemed to ofer nothing in the way
of entertainment. For people used to the bright
lights of Moscow, such as Lilias children, it must
have been particularly hard to readjust to.
I walked the streets of Vorgashor. The skies were
blue and clear but the cold was unlike anything I
had experienced before. I was wearing as many
layers as I had brought north but still the cold pen-
etrated. The streets were lined by half-empty apart-
ment buildings that were built in a curved shape so
as to allow the Arctic winds to roll of them. None
had balconies, such things being an unnecessary
luxury in a city where temperatures only peaked
above zero for two months of the year. These north-
ern towns were expensive for Moscow to run and
hence in the late 1990s a programme of relocation
was begun, helping people who wished to leave
move south. Russias wealth lies in oil and gas, ren-
dering coal mining towns so far north uneconomi-
cal. Most of the mines in the area had been closed.
Moscow would dearly like to close the rest, but as
there is no other work in the region this would lead
to a host of social problems that the centre could
do without. As with most such schemes in the post-
Soviet world, however, emigration subsidies dried
up and people who did not get out in the frst wave
remain stranded in bleak half-empty towns such
as Vorgashor, no more able to leave now than the
original habitants of the pit towns. Beaten by the
elements I caught a minibus back to the city on
which the passengers had hands ingrained with
coal dust from a life spent below ground.
Junkie Slip
That night I found myself in a run down apart-
ment building on the edge of the city standing on
a dimly-lit landing that stank of urine. I was drunk.
A guy I had met earlier in the evening had gone to
speak to a dealer he knew that cooked up krokodil
in his mothers kitchen. Krokodil is a cheap heroin
substitute that was ravaging the disenfranchised
of Russias provincial cities. Simple to make with
over the counter medicines it had become popular
frst in cities along the Kazakh border where ad-
dicts were looking for cheaper alternatives to Cen-
tral Asian heroin. Inevitably, however, the recipe
spread along railway lines and backroads to other
towns. I was interested in taking a glimpse into
that world. Th world of krokodil, however, is one
rife with danger. You dont fnd krokodil dealers
and addicts in city centre restaurants or hotel bars,
you fnd them in vicious night clubs and poor sub-
urban housing estates like the one I was standing
in. I would meet Nikita earlier in the evening at a
club in the suburbs called Penguin. The title was an
ironic joke since we were high up in the Arctic, as
far from penguins as one could be. Vorkutans were
propagaters of irony - the other club in the city
was called Tropicana and the main supermarket
was called Flamingo. A kind of gallows humour.
The taxi driver who took me to the club warned
me to be careful. It was good advice, the club was
seemingly full of types I would usually do my best
to avoid - addicts, thugs and whores. I got talking
to the barman and asked over the deep thud of the
bass if anyone dealt the drug in the club. He point-
ed out a guy in a nylon Adidas tracksuit who was
sitting alone in the corner smoking a cigarette. I
walked across the half empty dance foor past ano-
rexic looking girls with bruised legs and explained
what I wanted to see and photograph. He knew
someone but was suspicious of my interest. Two
light green notes from my wallet were ofered and
his suspicions evaporated. To seal the deal we or-
dered shots of Absinthe warmed up with a lighter.
I was then handed a straw and instructed to inhale
the fumes. It was a stupid thing to do.
By the time we had reached the suburban
apartment building where the cook lived I was far
drunker than I should have been in such unfamil-
iar surroundings. We took the lift to the third foor
where I waited by the radiator whilst Nikita went
to see the cook and ask if I could enter and photo-
graph him at work, or rather to ask how many more
light green notes I needed to provide in order to
do so.
On the landing above I heard two male voic-
es. One of the voices descended and asked me in
an unfriendly manner if I had a cigarette for him.
I didnt, and he stood there looking at me longer
than was necessary before going back upstairs and
talking to another voice in hushed tones. Nikita
returned with a bottle of beer and said we would
have to wait. The cook was out on a delivery but
would be back. Then everything went into slow
motion. The lift door opened on the foor below
and suddenly they were on us. One guy, young and
powerfully built, ran up from the lift past me and
smashed his fst into Nikitas face, the young fxers
skull bouncing of a green-painted wall before his
body sank into an unconscious slump against it. I
stood there too drunk to register fully what I had
just seen. Another guy, the one who had asked for
the cigarette, ran down the stairs from the upper
landing and grabbed me, strangely I thought I saw
fear in his eyes. We fell down the stairs together and
landed on the cement foor below followed by the
other guy. Punches and kicks rained down on me
but I felt nothing at all. I had never been attacked
on my travels before and all I could think as I was
being kicked was that I hoped my face would not
be hit. I smiled inwardly at my vanity. There was no
fear, just a strange acceptance of what was hap-
pening. Eventually they prized my camera bag out
of my hands, the punches and kicks ceased and my
attackers ran down the stairs and out of the build-
ing into the night. I was in no ft state to give chase.
I stood up and realised that somehow I was com-
pletely unmarked. Nikita staggered down clutch-
ing the bottle of beer in one hand and his jaw in
the other. He sat down next to me, took a swig and
passed me the bottle. Do I still get paid?he asked.
London Calling
I stood on the platform with the other passengers
who were leaving the north and returning to the
mainland as the inhabitants of the city described
the region where the road begins. Sergei arrived
at the railway station to say goodbye. His wife and
a small child he had not mentioned to me earlier
stayed in the warmth of the car. Irina and me, its
over, Ben.He was upset but trying not to show it. I
made my choice long ago and I should accept it,he
said, nodding in the direction of his family. Thats
it for me and women. From now on Ill be a good
husband.He handed me a bottle of vodka. Drink it
in London and remember us.An attractive blonde
girl in a short skirt and large suitcase boarded my
wagon. His eyes followed her up the steps. I wish
I was coming with you, he said distantly before
turning and walking back along the platform to
the choice he made long ago.
Ben Rich is a freelance writer whose blog can be found
A guy I had met earlier in the
evening had gone to speak to a
dealer he knew that cooked up
krokodile in his mothers kitchen
Out & About
September 2013 The Spektator
1997 as a journalist. But there is no ofcial re-
cord that I ever set foot on Kyrgyz soil. Each
time the plane from Moscow touched down
a Mercedes would pull up to the stairway
and my travel companions and I would leave
through the back gate of Manas airport without
so much as a fash of our passports.
I would depart for Moscow in the same fash-
ion, except on the last occasion when I had no
choice but to go to departures at the airport. I will
come back to how that worked out later.
The idea of going to Kyrgyzstan came from
Igor, a former KGB ofcer I was introduced to in a
casino in Moscow. He had bit of a roulette prob-
lem and a bit of a drink problem but had a repu-
tation among some of the expat correspondents
for being able to get them into tricky places and,
more importantly, back out. He was a fxer.
I was a crime correspondent and had just
completed a documentary about the infamous
Moscow OMON riot police that had proved a hit
for the German TV station I worked for. It had bad
cops, prostitutes, mafa and gratuitous violence,
the right ingredients for German primetime.
Igor was ofering the opportunity to spend a
week or two flming the Kyrgyz Ministry of Interi-
ors Anti-Narcotic Division in their valiant struggle
against the drug lords in the south of the country.
While I liked the idea it was well-documented
who was winning the struggle, so apart from the
flming being potentially dangerous there was
the real prospect of spending two weeks patrol-
ling the mountains south of Osh and coming
back empty handed.
I told Igor I was interested but we would need
a Plan B in case the drug story didnt work out.
I told him we had a deal if he could guarantee
me flming access to a womens prison. As far as
I knew nobody had flmed inside one in Kyrgyz-
stan and felt sure that German viewers (read: voy-
eurs) would take to something of that ilk even if
nothing special happened during flming.
Igor said he had a friend in Bishkek with
whom he had gone to KGB school, who would be
critical to us getting access. Five minutes later he
got of the phone with his friend and told me that
he could guarantee the full cooperation of the
Anti-Narcotics Unit, access to the female prison-
ers colony outside Bishkek and was confdent he
could organize a beauty competition in the pris-
on for us to ensure we got good pictures.
Igor and I consummated the deal over what
was to be the frst of many bottles of vodka we
would share together. We agreed to fy to Bishkek
the following week to hammer out details with
his friend and then return later to do the flming.
Bishkek in 1997 was waking from its Soviet
slumber to a new nightmare of lawlessness and
poverty. We stayed in the Dostuk Hotel which was
as grim then as it is now. Prostitutes haunted the
hallways with their pimps and the bar on the sec-
ond foor featured a striptease with graduates of
the Bishkek Ballet School who had fallen on hard
The war memorial across the road commem-
orating the Great Motherland War was symbolic
of the economic decay that blighted the country.
The eternal fame had long since petered out as
the gas was cut due to non-payment. All of the
brass lettering ingrained in the granite had been
torn out by scavengers to be sold as scrap metal
to the Chinese. Most of Bishkeks manhole covers
had been swiped for the same purpose.
On the frst evening of our reconnaissance
trip Igor and I wandered over to the casino across
the road to meet his contact to discuss our itiner-
ary for the next two weeks. We chugged down
a couple of complementary drinks while waiting
and Igor tried his luck at roulette.
At the pontoon table next to us a punter
wearing a traditional Kyrgyz hat began shouting
at the croupier that the casino was cheating him.
He pounded the table with his fsts and threated
to kill him unless he got his money back.
Two security guards quickly appeared from
behind him, one of the burly pair producing an
electric cattle prod from under his jacket that
he proceeded to zap the protesting client with.
The unhappy gambler roared in chorus with the
sound of thousands of volts coursing through his
body before falling to the ground in what looked
like an epileptic ft.
Hardly anybody threw the man a glance as
the security guards placed his hat on his stom-
ach, grabbed a leg each and then dragged him
towards the main entrance before turfng him out
into the dark.
What were you doing in 1997? Dresden
Murphys answer to this question is by no
means run-of-the-mill.
Above, Right and Next Page Thankfully Kyr-
gyzstans KGB was unable to confscate all of
Dresdens footage (all photos stills taken from
original video footage)
I September 2013 The Spektator
Igors friend, who I will refer to as Kaarman-
bek, turned up shortly afterwards wearing a
sharp suit and carrying the air of someone accus-
tomed to commanding respect. They embraced
before we all retired to a private room to discuss
the flming over a bottle of vodka and plates of
He was clear from the outset that the anti-
narcotics unit was underfunded, badly trained
and up against an adversary with far better re-
sources. But he was adamant that two weeks in
Osh and in the mountains south of the city would
involve raids, arrests and drugs.
To test how good his contacts were I asked
him to let me know if a murder took place in Bish-
kek within the next 48 hours, so that he could
take me to the scene of the crime and let me in-
terview the murderer if they were apprehended.
He said it would be no problem, took out a
police radio from his bag and barked some orders
into it. He then flled our glasses and said with a
macabre smile: Now we wait for somebody to
Two hours later a uniformed policeman came
to the room and whispered to Kaarmanbek who
then turned to us and told us there had been a
murder on the other side of Bishkek. A man had
been killed and then robbed in a drunken dispute
with a friend who had been apprehended shortly
afterwards lying unconscious in a park with a mi-
crowave, a record player and a bag of jewelry laid
out beside him.
We headed over to the crime scene in a cop
car with the siren on and blue lights fashing at
my request. It was a miserable picture. The wife
of the deceased was kneeling by his side sobbing
and the kitchen knife that had been used to kill
him was still protruding from his chest.
Empty vodka bottles lay strewn on the foor
of the kitchen along with pools of blood.
The culprit was being held in solitary confne-
ment at a nearby police station, which we were
invited to visit.
When we arrived we were told he was still
passed out but we were welcome to look in on
him. We were taken down to cells located in a
narrow damp corridor of the basement. The stink
of piss and sweat only added to the sense of
When we stood outside his cell I moved for-
ward to peer through the Judas hole, not notic-
ing there was no glass in it. Kaarmanbek grabbed
my arm and pulled me back. He explained one
had to be careful as it was not unknown for pris-
oners to wait until a guard looked through the
hole and then stick a pencil or some other sharp
object into their eye.
A guard unlocked the door wide enough for
us to see through the darkness that a man was
lying on a wooden platform in the corner of the
cell. He shouted at him to stand up but the man
could only manage to get on his knees.
He then asked him why he had killed his
friend. He replied that he couldnt remember do-
ing it and then curled up in a fetal position, mum-
bling to himself. I was told he would probably get
15 years but would have difculty surviving the
term without the help of his relatives. Poor nutri-
tion, disease and corrupt guards would take their
toll long before the sentence was served.
Kaarmanbek then turned to me and asked
rather sinisterly if there was anything else I would
like him to organize. If not, when could he expect
me back to start flming?
A month later I came back with Igor, a cam-
eraman and a sound man. It was the same routine
as before; when the plane landed all the passen-
gers were told to remain in their seats while my
team and I were told to disembark frst. Below the
stairs the black Mercedes with an Interior Minis-
try number plate waited to whisk us away via the
back exit.
We spent two weeks flming in Osh and in
the surrounding mountains with the anti-narcot-
ics unit. We had access to the prison and pretrial
detention center where we could flm convicted
drug smugglers. On patrol or at checkpoints we
managed to uncover small bags of opium hidden
in peoples clothing or in their luggage. We even
got one guy who came by foot over the moun-
tains carrying two kilos of opium. I was told he
was probably a decoy to distract law enforce-
He then flled our glasses and
said with a macabre smile: Now
we wait for somebody to die
ment from a bigger operation a few crumbs to
make the cops look like they were doing their job.
None of it would make good viewing.
There were plenty of ofers to set something
up and make it look real but I wasnt interested.
I had come to the conclusion that in the game of
cat and mouse between the drug barons and the
police it was the drug barons who were the cats
with big claws.
On our last day in the mountains we were
flming at a routine checkpoint. To pass the time I
had asked permission to be the one who decided
which vehicles we stopped. A Kamaz truck came
into view towing another one with Tajik number
plates and I told the cop standing beside me with
the Kalashnikov to pull them over.
The usual perfunctory search began. The dog
handler and his dog circled the truck while the
driver had his documents checked. Altogether
there were about ten cops at the check point
along with Kaarmanbek, Igor and my flm crew.
Hardly any of the cops took any notice of the
search as they smoked and exchanged jokes.
But then suddenly the dog handler became
animated as his dog began pulling at his leash,
snifng feverishly beneath the drivers cab. Soon
it was whining and it had caught all of our atten-
tion. The driver began to look decidedly uncom-
Thats when the bad cop/bad cop routine of
interrogation began. Two cops began shouting
at the driver and poking their fngers in his chest
while pointing to the cab.
The cop in charge of the operation decided
to have the trucks driven to a local police station
as he felt we were too exposed on the mountain
top. Once there a guy with a wire hanger and an-
other with a hammer began probing and thump-
ing to see if they could fnd a false compartment.
Five minutes later 17 kilograms of black tar opi-
um lay in plastic bags on the ground. The driver
looked terrifed as he was handcufed and man-
handled into a car.
We flmed everything, even getting an inter-
view with the driver who claimed he had run into
fnancial difculties in Tajikistan and had been
forced to smuggle the opium in order to settle a
debt of 50 dollars. The opium itself had a street
value of $320,000 in Europe before being
September 2013 The Spektator
16 Focus
converted into heroin.
We drove jubilantly in a convoy back to Osh
to get the driver booked and hand over the
drugs. As we entered the warehouse in the back
of police headquarters the smell of opium satu-
rated the air. The room was about 20 square me-
ters and was stacked waist high with confscated
bags of drugs. Within minutes I was beginning
to feel a bit lightheaded and the ofcer in charge
was clearly stoned.
Later in the evening as we celebrated our
fortuitous day at the Intourist a waiter asked
Igor to go meet some men who were waiting at
the entrance. When he returned I asked him if
there was a problem.
He said that every-
thing was OK but that
it might not be a bad
idea if we headed to
the airport earlier than
planned the following
On the plane he
would tell me that the men who had approached
him had told him that the drugs bust had been
a big mistake and should never have happened.
They said that they had got their drugs back and
if Igor would give them the cassettes they would
pretend nothing had happened. He promised to
meet them at 07.00 the next morning with the
cassettes. We left for the airport at 06.00.
We decided that it was best for us to leave
the country straight away and return when we
got a signal from Kaarmanbek that there would
be no repercussions.
A month later we returned to flm the wom-
ens prison colony. My German editor had been
seduced by the promise of the prison authorities
holding a beauty contest during our visit. Thirty
or so women participated with the winner being
a young blonde with a mouth full of gold teeth.
She was serving seven years for murdering her
After flming was over I decided to hang out
a few extra days in Bishkek while the rest of the
team few back to Moscow. However, on the day
before my departure Kaarmanbeks father died
and he had to go to the funeral in Naryn.
His assistant Almaz picked me up at the
hotel in an ancient Zhiguli with the standard
darkened windows. I had a slight sense of fore-
boding as we approached the airport and he
dropped me at the departure lounge.
Checking in was the easy part but when I got
to passport control they told me that I couldnt
leave the country as there was no evidence of
me having ever been there. It took a while but
I was able to convince them to let me through
arrivals in order to get an entry stamp and then
go back to them.
This created a new problem when arrivals
asked me which plane I had come in on. When
I told them I had fown in from Moscow they
replied with astonish-
ment that there was
no fight from Moscow
that day.
It was then that
I saw Almaz with his
head sticking out from
the curtains hanging
over the baggage con-
veyor belt. He beckoned me over and we pro-
ceeded to walk down the belt to where a small
luggage tractor was waiting for us.
We mounted the luggage tractor and drove
onto the tarmac where I could see my Kyrgyz-
stan Airways fight taxiing for takeof.
Almaz urged the tractor driver to head the
plane of but while we drove into its takeof path
a cop car came hurtling towards us with the
loudspeaker, shouting at us to change course.
The plane, the tractor and the cop car came
to a halt. Hands were shook as is seemingly cus-
tomary even when trying to block the departure
of a plane. Almaz explained to the cops that I
was a guest of Kaarmanbek who was unable to
make it to the airport. The tension lifted immedi-
ately. Backs were slapped, cigarettes were lit and
a stairway appeared for me to board the plane.
Almaz accompanied me up and explained to
the surprised hostesses that I was an important
guest of the Interior Ministry. The plane was so
full that there were about ten people standing
at the back. The man in my seat was ordered to
vacate it. I took his place and few back to Mos-
cow without there having ever been a record of
my stay in Kyrgyzstan.
The wife of the deceased was
kneeling by his side sobbing and
the kitchen knife that had been
used to kill him was still protrud-
ing from his chest
Kyrgyz Timewarp
Whilst the Spice Girls were spicing up our lives
over in the UK, What was going on in Kyrgyzstan
in 1997?
Dinamo Bishkek won the Kyrgyz Football
League, the teams frst in a consecutive hatrick
of league titles between 1997 and 1999. In an
uncertain decade Dinamo changed their name
to FC Dinamo-Oil Bishkek, to FC CAG-Dinamo-
MVD Bishkek, to FC Erkin Farm Bishkek, to FC
Dinamo-Erkin Farm Bishkek, to FC Dinamo-
Polyot Bishkek, until they were dissolved in
2003. The team was recently refounded in 2012,
reborn as Dinamo MVD Bishkek.
The Kumtor gold mine started produc-
tion. A year later in 1998 a Kumtor lorry spilled
cyanide into the river Barskoon, which caused
a fair ammount of aggro. Nowadays the mine
contributes 10-12% of Kyrgyzstans GDP but
people still arent happy with it. In May this year
the villages surrounding the mine burst into ri-
ots, with a group of restless young men burn-
ing a Spec Ops vehicle in a pitch battle with the
government. Kumtor is likely to be central to
any political controversies in the country for the
next few years at least.
Apas Jumagalov was Prime-Minister of
Kyrgyzstan. Actually, Apas, a northerner, had
a shot at being the republics first president,
but neither him nor southerner Absamat
Masaliyev could achieve a majority in the vote,
paving the way for Askar Akayev to emerge as a
compromise candidate. Jumugalov would take
up a plum position at the state energy company
KyrgyzNeftGas after his premiership, but he
never hit the political heights Akayev did. His-
tory, as they say, is a diferent country.
On April 29, Chinese, Kyrgyz and Uzbek del-
egations met in Tashkent to talk about a railway
link that would connect Andijan, in Uzbekistan
to Kashgar, in China. reported
that there were problems with the negotiations
given that Russia was opposed to the link in
principle and a big technical hitch existed re-
garding the width of the proposed track. Fast
forward sixteen years and little has changed.
This project is a slow burner.
September 2013 The Spektator
On the Box
HILE THE US government cuts fund-
ing for research and education in
Central Asia, J Los surprise birthday
serenade in Turkmenistan reminds
us of what Americans truly do best:
entertainment. Although satiating the whims of an
appallingly repressive regime is perhaps not the
most productive form of exerting infuence, enter-
tainment does have the capacity to efect social and
political change. Thus in Kyrgyzstan, blessed with
the regions least stringent media controls, we can
explore the fruits of a productive form of infuence:
the new television series Dorm.
At frst Dorm, or Obshaga in Russian, seems
like a typical youth-oriented sitcom. Like the
long-running American series Friends, the show
centers around three male and three female
characters that share intimate friendships and re-
lationships. Like the Russian comedy Univer, the
protagonists are all college students who share a
dormitory. Then the similarities fade, for Ameri-
can and Russian sitcoms tend to have clearer
boundaries between genres. Friends and Univer
are unambiguous comedies with a hefty dose of
slapstick and few soul-wrenching soliloquies. Ob-
shaga likewise ofers genuine hilarity, but before
you hit the foor laughing, out pours unexpected
pathos. The series unabashedly confronts Kyrgyz-
stans most pressing social problems.
The central issue tackled by Dorm is the ten-
sion surrounding nationality. Although the early
Soviet period helped entrench aspects of ethnic
identity in Central Asia that were previously non-
existent, during the majority of its history the state
worked to subsume ethnic diferences in favor
of a shared Soviet citizenship. Since Kyrgyzstan
became independent in 1991, the narrative pro-
moted by its frst president Akayev of Kyrgyzstan
our common home has become steadily unrav-
eled in favor of practices that exclusively promote
the titular nation. The breaking point of increas-
ing tension in the wake of April 2010 revolution
occurred two months later in Osh, where several
hundred people were killed largely along ethnic
lines. Since this war as many in Osh referred to
it at the time was perceived of as between Kyrgyz
and Uzbeks, Dorm promotes an alternative vision
for interethnic relations: make love, not war.
Thus enter our dormitory heroine: a strikingly
beautiful Uzbek girl from Osh named Tahmina. The
object of her afections? A handsome Kyrgyz lad
who in his spare time practices Judo and strums
his guitar; that is when hes not busy saving dam-
sels in distress. Yet its not just their love story that
gets your heart racing. The other characters are
equally intriguing. Theres Drei the cool, rich city
boy who has fallen out of his fathers good graces
and bankroll. Drei is the perfect foil to nave coun-
try bumpkin, Azamat, who is constantly falling
prey to the shenanigans of his shaardyk (urban)
peers. For instance, there is an episode where Drei
explains to Azamat that thongs are all the rage in
fashion and convinces him to wear one . However,
this faux pas does not prevent Tahminas sweet
Russian roommate, Nadya, from fnding Azamat
adorable and feeding him borsch.
The show tempts tolerance in the same way
that all great works of fction do: through empathy.
As we follow the characters through their trials and
tribulations as they attend university in Bishkek, we
see beyond their labels and relate to them as indi-
viduals. As such, I noticed some incredible changes
in peoples comments on the website,
where you can watch the shows 25 episodes. At
frst there were lots of nationalist statements like,
what, you couldnt fnd any Kyrgyz girls for this
show? This alludes to the fact that in addition to
Tahmina and her Russian roommate Nadya, who
are played by Uzbek and Russian actresses respec-
tively, the third female roommate (Meerim) is also
an Uzbek actress playing the part a Kyrgyz girl. Yet
comments like its such a shame what happened
to Meerim! or Poor Tahmina! far outnumber the
occasional racist troll. The empathy was spreading.
In addition to fostering empathy toward those
with diverse ethnic backgrounds, the show con-
fronts other pressing social issues. From corruption
among the police to the bribing of professors, the
young characters strive for fairness in a political
system that is weighted against them. Yet corrup-
tion is an uncontroversial problem compared to
the much heavier issues that arise. For instance, it
seems like no soap opera would be complete with-
out a surprise pregnancyand viewers will not be
disappointed there. But the fact that sex happens
in the dorms of Bishkekbefore marriageis not
at all sugarcoated. There is desire. There is danger.
Characters change; they become disillusioned. But
not all hope is lost.
One hopeful sign for the future is the shows
linguistic medium of choice. Seeing each charac-
ter as an individual rather than as an ethnic ste-
reotype is abetted by the fact that they speak in
Russian a more politically neutral choice given
the regions diversity. Yet the shows characters still
pepper their Russian with words and phrases from
their mother tongue. Azamat switches languages
most often; he is frst introduced rambling in Kyr-
gyz about how he lost his only T-shirt while getting
mugged just moments after arriving in Bishkek.
An even more startling language choice oc-
curs in the opening scene of the frst episode: a
conversation between Tahmina and her mother is
shot entirely in Uzbek. Although Russian subtitles
are included in such instances, the shows humor
will be especially appreciated by those who speak
Russian and Kyrgyz. Azamat valiantly speaks in
Russian even though his accent betrays his rural
origins, while Nadya speaks softly to Azamats
mother in Kyrgyz. The characters put forth the ef-
fort to speak in each others languages, and this
symbolic choice demonstrates a level of mutual
respect that makes a world of diference.
At the end of the show when the credits roll,
the seal of the US Department of State presents a
telling sign. It appears that the American embassy
in Bishkek lent some assistance toward getting
this show of the ground. While I lament the cuts
to programs that assist Central Asia and even more
so the use of funds for destructive rather than con-
structive purposes, this time I applaud American
assistance. The local creators of this show are hip
and worldly. They are able see their compatriots
not as Kyrgyz, Uzbek, or Russian, but as fellow Kyr-
gyzstanis. They understand the most serious prob-
lems of the day, but are frustrated by a political
system that excludes their generation. This is how
they can reach out to their peersthrough doing
the hard work of getting people to swallow sensi-
tive issues by wrapping it in a savory coat of senti-
mentality. Surrender to Obshagas charms, and you
wont regret it.
Post originally appeared on 9/7/13
Not Your
September 2013 The Spektator
BISHKEK, August 12, (The Spektator) Back in
June, hordes of migrant workers from the water-
locked autocracy of Nether Brittle descended on
unsuspecting staf at Bishkeks Motel H to celebrate
the birthday of their iron-fsted dictator, Lizzie Piz-
zie. The June 5 bash is the main annual gathering for
the Brittleish, a fractious, clannish expat community
who come to Kyrgyzstan in search of apartments
they can aford to rent and women they could never
fnd at home.
As the congregated toasted Lizzie Pizzies
health, led by their informal leader, a large, raucous
cardiovascular miracle called Red-faced-Reg, a Kyr-
gyz ofcial from the Ministry of Emergency Situa-
tions was on hand to provide a diplomatic veneer
to proceedings. Noting that Kyrgyzstan and Nether
Brittle were going through a period of strained rela-
tions due to the latters refusal to extradite known
Kyrgyz terrorist Max Bax, Janybek Profanov re-
minded the Brittleish that Buckfast, a cheap fortifed
wine popular in Nether Brittles Autonomous Tribal
Regions was still illegal in Kyrgyzstan, and that any-
thing made out of glass was strictly prohibited at
Brittleish gatherings.
We continue to hope in vain that you will f***
of and stop trying to marry our females, but if you
must stay, then at least try not to kill each other
like last year, said Profanov, who promptly left the
Getting Rat-Arsed
The nominal reason for Brittleish celebrations
on June 5 is the ofcial birthday of Lizzie Pizzie,
their authoritarian ruler, who has maintained a
vice-like grip over the island for more than six de-
cades, changing Prime-Ministers as often as she
changes her infamous handbags. Human Rights
organizations such as Freedom For Something
(FFS) have accused Lizzie Pizzie of ignoring for-
mal political institutions and ruling through her
Corgis, an elite, unelected group of canines who
are said to control whole swathes of the stagnant
Brittleish economy. This situation has fostered a
common Brittleish complaint that the country is
Dictators Birthday Bash Offers Window into Strange Expat Community
going to the dogs. Like her counterparts in Zim-
babwe and North Korea, Pizzie has several birth-
days, a ploy designed to keep people from know-
ing how old she actually is.
But really, June 5 is just an excuse to get rat-
arsed, explained Red-faced-Reg, who assumed the
mantle of leading the Brittleish community in Kyr-
gyzstan when he won a shouting competition with
his rival Burly Baz that lasted for fve f***ing days
and fve f***ing nights. Reg later explained to con-
fused local journalists that rat-arsed was Brittleish
slang for drunk, and did not imply shoving rodents
up anyones rectum. He added that the Waleish, a
clan that lives on a particularly rainy, agrarian out-
crop of Nether Brittle, sometimes experiments with
sheep, but that on the whole the Brittleish popula-
tion copulated in the same manner the rest of the
world does.
Brittleish drinking excesses in Kyrgyzstan may
be explained by the totalitarian nature of the regime
back home. By decree of Lizzie Pizzie, smoking has
been banned in public places on the island while
drinking houses close before midnight. CCTV sur-
veillance - introduced under the guise of prevent-
ing crime - is ubiquitous even in far- fung villages,
and bride kidnapping has been illegal for centuries.
On June 6 ofcials in the Kyrgyz Health Ministry
were pleased to announce that there had only been
one hospitalization at the Motel H knees-up, com-
pared to last years six. Clansmen of Red-faced-Reg
and Burley Baz reportedly clashed violently over the
partys last can of Guinness, another popular drink
on the island that some Brittleish believe has mysti-
cal qualities.
While Lizzie Pizzie continues to harbour crim-
inal elements from the former Soviet Union, the
gracious republic of Kyrgyzstan will continue to
refuse aid to Nether Brittle, confrmed a Kyrgyz
Foreign Ministry spokesman. Yet there are no
plans to reintroduce visa requirements for Brittle-
ish nationals living in Kyrgyzstan. So far we dont
judge the Brittleish to be a security threat, said
Kanybek Kanyladov, a colonel in Kyrgyzstans
Ministry of Interior. In fact, if this community is a
threat to anybody, then it is only a threat to itself,
he told journalists on June 6.
Turkmen President Gives Birth to a Whale
ASHGABAT, August 6, (The Spektator) - Not
wishing to be outshined by the recent fshing ex-
ploits of President Putin of Russia and President
Lukashenko of Belarus, Gurbanguly B, leader of
Turkmenistan, has spawned a 25 metre whale,
Turkmen TV reported on August 4. Both the
whale and its father are said to be completely
The whale birth will represent a huge PR
coup for the dictator of the isolated Central
Asian state, forever living in the shadow of
Turkmenbashy, the countrys previous ruler,
whose sperm created the universe back in 1992.
This whale birth is just the frst of many
miracles we expect from our beloved ruler,
said Porky, the worlds frst fying pig, who also
plies his trade in Turkmenistan.
Russias ambassador to Turkmenistan
,Sergei Mozgov, congratulated Gurbanguly
B on an inconceivable feat, but cautioned
against the one-upmanship that is strain-
ing ties between leaders in the former Soviet
Union. This frst started when Vladimir Putin
drove to Siberia in a Volga. Now his Central
Asian counterparts are lapping the cosmos
on bicycles and winning wrestling bouts with
seven ton dinosaurs. Even megalomania must
be realistic, Mozgov warned.
Turkmenistans only ofcial opposition
party, the Gurbanguly B Fan Club, promptly
announced it would be changing its name to
Whale in honour of the event. We are so glad
that a succession plan has been established, a
spokesman said earnestly on August 4.
Left Burly Baz managed to keep his clothes on this time round - just Right Corgi No. 526 is rumored to have a hidden 20% stake in British Telecom
September 2013 The Spektator
Book Review
This month Thomas Tweedy reviews Philip
Shishkins Restless Valley: Revolution, Murder
and Intrigue in the Heart of Central Asia, pub-
lished in May by Yale University Press.
OOD BOOKS on Central Asia tend to
come around with about the same
frequency as Ded Moroz, so when
we heard about the buzz surround-
ing Philip Shishkins debut Restless
Valley: Revolution, Murder, and In-
trigue in the Heart of Central Asia, we quickly
succumbed to the instant, one click gratifica-
tion of the Kindle purchase and devoured it
greedily over the course of a few days. To say
Shishkins title has added to the well-disguised
canon of English-language reading material on
the region is an understatement: Restless Valley
is a breathless, relentlessly informative journey
through post-Soviet malaise and machinations,
a testimony to the authors journalistic due dili-
gence and a worthy addition to the Central Asia
geeks mini mini-library.
Restless Valley centres on two states, Kyr-
gyzstan and Uzbekistan, both of which Shish-
kin covered regularly as a correspondent for
the Wall Street Journal. While the two republics
share a Soviet history, a stan suffix and a rest-
less geographic lowland the Fergana Valley
they pursued very different paths following
the breakup of the Union. Shishkin traces these
separate post-independence trajectories via
a series of gripping chapters that address key
events in both countries, making allowance for
an insightful, whistle-stop tour of the Central
Asian heroin trail as he goes.
Shishkin is not alone in seizing on Kyrgyz-
stan and Uzbekistan as subjects for a book.
American professor and erstwhile Spektator
interviewee Scott Radnitz also chose the two
countries as case studies for his excellent 2011
release Weapons of the Wealthy: Predatory Re-
gimes and Elite-Led Protests in Central Asia. But
as the title of the latter book would suggest,
Radnitzs work is academic in its aims, while
the journalistic style
of Shishkins book
makes Restless Valley
more broadly acces-
sible to non-scholars
and those unfamiliar
with the Central Asian
regions dynamics.
Despite their dif-
ferent approaches,
both Radnitz and
Shishkin identify key distinctions between the
highly authoritarian Uzbekistan and the cha-
otic, would-be-democracy of Kyrgyzstan. For
Radnitz, Kyrgyzstans patronage-based plural-
ism is its undoing, a structural phenomenon
enabled by first President Askar Akayevs po-
litical reforms, and something both the former
physicist and his successor Kurmanbek Bakiyev
found impossible to reverse when marginal-
ized politicians began mobilizing large crowds
against their rule. The regime nurtured by Uz-
bekistans president, Islam Karimov, in contrast,
nips opposition in the bud. If Kyrgyzstans 2010
Osh ethnic violence was the result of a melee
of actors stirring the pot in a power vacuum,
then Karimovs calling card, the 2005 massa-
cre in Andijan, was a brutal show of force by a
government determined to squeeze all signs of
political life out of its citizenry.
Shishkin addresses both of these tragedies
seminal moments in the young lives of the two
republics - with the meticulousness and insight
one would expect of a regional correspondent,
but for those already familiar with the anatomy
of these events chapters like the The Rise and
Fall of the Grey Cardinal may prove more com-
pelling. This particular chapter refects on the
complex existence and gory death of Medet
Sadyrkulov, a former Chief of Staf to both Askar
Akayev and Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who was found
incinerated in the remains of a Lexus after fall-
ing foul of the Bakiyev regime in 2009. The life
of the apparatchik, who received a severed ear
in the post after going into opposition, remains
a dramatic thread through modern Kyrgyz his-
tory according to Shishkin. Proud, self-regard-
ing and Machiavellian, Sadyrkulovs webs of
intrigue were legendary, embodying a political
culture where ideology counts for little and al-
legiances shift at frightening speeds. While the
assassination was already the subject of a po-
litical novella written by an oppositionist during
the Bakiyev era, Shishkins talent is in examining
the stories behind the Sadyrkulov story he in-
terviews his daughter, his school friends, and an
investigative journalist that worked with the for-
mer Chief of Staf.
Another character that leaps from the
pages of Restless Valley is Eugene Gourevitch,
a Jewish migr from the Soviet Union-turned
international investment mastermind, who
made a rare old nest egg for himself in Kyr-
gyzstan during the financial chicanery of the
Maxim Bakiyev days. When protesters pitched
a banner outside the White House on April 7
reading Dirty Jews and those like Maxim Ba-
kiyev have no place in Kyrgyzstan, they were
referring to men like Gourevitch and Maxims
other Jewish business partner, Mikhail Nadal.
Gourevitchs story
challenges belief. He
went from being a
regular financial inter-
mediary in New York
to Maxim Bakiyevs
most trusted econom-
ic advisor, overseeing
a series of dubious
transactions which at
any one time might
involve London-based shell companies, tax re-
funds swindled from the Italian treasury, and,
nearly always, an obscure financial institution
in Kyrgyzstan called Asia Universal Bank.
But Gourevitchs fortunes turned on April
7 as frustrations with the kleptocratic Bakiyev
regime reached boiling point. Shortly after
a coup which left over eighty people dead,
Gourevitch was smuggled delirious with fever
across the Kazakh border by a pair of murky
Chechen brokers who charged him the best
part of half a million dollars for their services.
After Maxim helped him escape Kazakhstan
on a Belarus-bound chartered flight contain-
ing other Bakiyevs, Gourevitch repaid his for-
mer patron by flipping and becoming an FBI
informant. Eventually he helped the American
government build a case against Bakiyev for
insider trading on Wall Street, conveniently
brought up as Kyrgyzstan reaffirmed its inten-
tions to get rid of Washingtons air base in the
Shishkin notes in his introduction to Rest-
less Valley that such plots could be straight
out of a thriller, and it is indeed a conundrum
as to why Central Asia has not spawned a fic-
tional detective along the lines of Alexander
McCall-Smiths Precious Ramotswe, who solves
mysteries in Botswana, or Inspector Chen, Qiu
Xiaolongs Shanghai-based protagonist. Per-
haps the reason for this literary anomaly is that
for all its textbook villains and heinous crimes,
the region is yet to put forward a conceivable,
incorruptible hero to uncover them.
Sadyrkulovs webs of intrigue
were legendary, embodying a
political culture where ideology
counts for little and allegiances
shift at frightening speeds
September 2013 The Spektator
$ - Expect change from 300 som
$$ - In the region of 300-500 som
$$$ - Expect to pay more than 500
Hollywood* (Druzhba/Sovietskaya)
As you would probably guess, decorated with
movie posters, photos of cinema icons and a
bunch of American kitsch. Hollywood is popu-
lar with a younger crowd and is usually packed
from mid-evening onwards. A fun place for a few
drinks before heading off to the clubs. $
Metro* (133, Chui)
In the impressive location of a former theatre, Metro
remains the premire drinking hole for ex-pats. A
high ceiling, a long bar and friendly staf compli-
ment a good Tex-Mex menu and a wide selection
of drinks. Metro is one of the best bets for catch-
ing sporting events on TV, although thanks to the
hideously late kickof times for Champions League
football matches, dont count on the staf waiting up
unless its a big one. $$$
Smokies (Donetskaya/Jukeeva Pudovkina)
Bishkeks first and only traditional American
barbecue restaurant serves pit-smoked spicy
beef brisket, ribs, pork shoulder, lamb legs and
chicken quarters. Well worth the trek out to Or-
to-Sai market in the cooler half of the city. Enjoy
a range of cocktails and spirits, too. $$
Landau (Manas/Gorky)
Fancy something a little diferent? If you can tol-
erate the arthritic service, Landau isnt a bad spot
for a pork steak or some other Armenian culinary
goodies. Also, treat yourself to some decent Arme-
nian conjac whilst your here, youll never go near
Bishkek conjac again. Ever. $$
Bars and Restaurants
As the Spektatior is still dusting the cobwebs of
its shoulders and rubbing the sleep from its eyes
after its year-long enforced hibernation, the guide
is yet to get up to full speed. In the meantime, this
abridged guide should keep you going until spring.
Be aware that NEW may mean new to the guide,
rather than the capital...
As ever, theres a fne line between bar and
restaurant in Bishkek. Places more suitable for
drinking sessions are marked with a star *
Price Guide (main course, garnish, beer)
China Town NEW
Open since last December, this joint is the real
deal - two metre terracota warriors even feature in
the decor. Pricier than the other Bishkek Chinese
spots but overwhelmingly better. Go for the spin-
ach and mushroom side, fried chicken with garlic
and Chinese dumplings. $$$
Chuchuara Hoga (117, Chui)
With this Chinese restaurant, a little out of the way
and rarely visited by tourists, you really feel you are
(TeplIkluchy village)
Wooden cabin located by a rushing stream thirty
minutes out of town. The overpriced food is more
than compensated for by the chilled atmosphere
and wild surroundings. Hotel accommodation also
available. Head south on Almatinskaya and keep go-
ing. $$$
Barashka (Tokombaeva 78)
Sister restaurant of Tubeiteka but more lamb-fo-
cussed and with a pretty water feature that adds a
measure of calm to outdoor dining. Barashek is out
in the micro regions so you get a dose of fresh air
free with your mutton rack. $$$
Blonder Pub is the new brewery-restaurant to try
out. Cavernous yet cosy inside, theres decent blues
every night, live Premiership Football, Eurogrub
and a good selection of ales. In regard to the latter
we recommend Datski Schnafer. $$$
Buddha Bar* (Sovietskaya/Akhunbayeva)
Buddha bar ofers a taste of the East inside a tastefully
constructed zen log cabin. The sushi is excellent, and
for those on a budget, the stir-fry noodle dishes make
an excellent lunch. Recommended! $$$
Cave NEW (Gorkova, close to Sovietskaya)
Wow. To be honest we arent sure what the food is
like here - we spent most of the evening supping
mulled wine and gazing at the hundreds of wooden
cranes poetically suspended from the ceiling. The
wine is decent, but the latter are revolutionary by
Bishkeks base artistic standards. $$
Cofee House (9, Manas & Togolok Moldo/Ryskulova)
Treat yourself to some of the fnest cofee and
cakes Bishkek has to ofer at one of three Cofee
Houses; cosy boutique cafs with a European fa-
vour. Curl up and read a book, or just drop in for a
cafeine hit and a chocolate fx. $$
Derevyashka* (Ryskulova, behind Dvorets Sporta)
Atmospheric drinking cabin that serves a range of
Central Asian and Russian cuisine, as well as an im-
pressive array of pivo. Well worth it on football nights,
when the locals are rather rowdy. $
European / International
Dragons Den * (Shevchenko/Frunze)
Bishkeks English pub comes complete with English
barfy regulars, English publican, and English pub
quiz (wednesdays at 8pm). Kyrgyz weather allows
for a summer terrace. Both English and regional
dishes, and a well stocked bar. $$
(338a, Frunze)
One of our favourite places to drink in the Summer-
time, when we can aford it. Outdoor balcony-cum-
terrace high above the street with slouch-couches
and fne views of the circus - which you can some-
times smell in hot weather. Nice. $$$
Four Seasons (116a, Tynystanova)
One of the poshest places to eat out in Bishkek. El-
egant, yet modern interior and polite service. Great
place to splash out on a special occasion or just for
the hell of it. $$$
Derevyashka* (Ryskulova, behind Dvorets Sporta)
Atmospheric drinking cabin that serves a range of
Central Asian and Russian cuisine, as well as an im-
pressive array of pivo. Well worth it on football nights,
when the locals are rather rowdy. $
Four Seasons (116a, Tynystanova)
One of the poshest places to eat out in Bishkek. El-
egant, yet modern interior and polite service. Great
place to splash out on a special occasion or just for
the hell of it. $$$
Foyer (27, Erkindik) Foyer is an excellent place to
enjoy an evening cocktail or check your inbox with
a cup of cofee. Free Wi-Fi, good deserts and blues
on Tuesdays. $$
(Asenbai region, next to City Club)
We watched a band called Liquid Cactus play here
and admired the old Soviet paraphenalia hanging
on the walls. Lenin makes an appearance outside
the bogs and you can get Spektator favourite Ven-
skoye on tap. Good beer snacks and the burgers
arent bad either. Nice for a theme night out. $$
Grifon (Microregion 7)
A cosy log-cabin afair with a large meat-roasting
central freplace. On one disturbing occasion the
waiting staf were about as plesant as a bunch
of chavs, but hopefully that was a passing phase.
Minibuses 195 and 110 take you right past it as you
head out to the mountains. $$$
Guiness Pub* (338 Frunze,opposite the circus)
You can get a Guinness here, when it isnt held
up at the border with Kazakhstan, and the other
beers are decent too. We havent ordered, but our
Irish chums say the nosh is grand and the themed
nights have made it a key fxture on a Friday even-
ing. Starts to fll up around 8ish. $$$
Twenty-four hour sports bar with live music at
weekends. Plenty of leather couches provide the
ideal place to sip cocktails whilst watching the
Champions league at three in the morning. $$$
getting the real deal. Request a (your own
personal Chinese boiling-pot) and randomly select
a variety of unusual Chinese delicacies to throw in.
Beware, the spicy sauce, although delicious, may
leave delicate stomachs in some distress several
hours later - consider the not-spicy sauce as a
suitable alternative. $$
Frunze (Chui/Pravda)
Free semechki is one of many reasons to check out
this lively hangout, rammed with Chinese at lunch
and dinner time. The menu is encyclopediac in
scope, but if youre feeling bewildered, just point
to something tasty-looking on a neighbouring
table like we did. $$ September 2013 The Spektator
Pinta Pub* (Lenin/Manas)
Pinta Pub is a bright green lighthouse for the Spekta-
tor on a hot day. With a host of well-kept ales on tap,
the best grub here is pub grub with any pork or lamb
dish recommended. $$
Pivnof* NEW (Karalayeva/Koibogarova)
A lovely little ale garden in the 4th micro-district
which one of our readers stumble on while trying to
fnd Orto-Sai market. Good pub food and a range of
brews on draught, surrounded by other interesting-
looking cafes too. $$
Johnny Pub * NEW (Toktogul/Orozbaeva)
A buzzing centrally-located cafe popular with a
mostly younger clientele, Jonny Pub is a good
place to load up on onion rings and fresh beer be-
fore moving on to a hukka pipe flled with absinthe
later in the evening. Last time we checked, the pub
had a resident cat, but since this creature seems to
rub some customers up the wrong way by touting
for scraps.... $$$
Rosso NEW (Shopokova/Ivanitsova)
Rosso means red in Italian, and this bistros decor
is likely to make you feel like youve stepped inside
an artery. Once swamped in blood-coloured vel-
vet, however, you can order some tasty fried moz-
zarella cheese balls and a half-decent goulash. A
bland alfredo pasta and the feckless waiting staf
are drawbacks, but given Rosso has only opened
recently it is probably worth a shot. $$$
(15, Panflova)
The concrete monstrosity of the Russian Theatre con-
ceals one of Bishkeks fnest attempts at a cosy base-
ment bar. Friendly staf, a decent menu and a collection
of old bits and bobs decorating the walls make Edgars
an attractive alternative to the citys mainstream cafs.
A blues band plays most nights and a pianist adds a ro-
mantic ambience on some Sunday evenings. $$
(5, Gerzena)
Don your beer drinking trousers and head down
to Bishkeks take on a Bavarian-style beer hall. They
brew their own stuf - such a relief from the insipid
bilge thats normally sold as lager. Compliment your
pint with a plate of German sausage with sauerkraut.
Bars, Restaurants & Clubs
Aoyama (93, Toktogula)
Elegant sushi joint frequented by serious looking
suited-types concluding their latest dodgy deals.
The foods excellent though - if you can scrape to-
gether enough soms. $$$
Beliaist NEW (Moskovskaya/Turuzbekova)
Watch your meat and vegetables fried in front of
you on an oval metal pan attached to your table.
Limited menu but a very cool experience. $$
Egao NEW (Chui 140)
Egao is an intimate Japanese afair on Bishkeks
main drag and with only two tables inside we won-
der how it breaks even. But the chef is Japanese,
some of the Kyrgyz waiting staf there speak Japa-
nese and the ramen is very tasty to the Spektators
untrained tongue. Order a meal and get an Arpa for
60 soms. $$
Fusion (Vefa Centre, Sovietskaya/Gorkova)
Takeout is free on orders over 450 soms (0312 510
707). Teriaki chicken, Miso soup, sushi rolls and pork
in ginger sauce are all well worth a phone call. $$
Kyung Bok Kung NEW (30, Chui), Vostok 5)
Family-run and extremely popular among a small
circle of ex-pats, who begged us not to put it in here
for fear of ruining the secret - sorry guys, the game
is up. A seat at the dolls house table is a strictly
shoeless experience and can be awkward for the
long-legged. $$
Chong Gi Won (115, Chui), Vostok 5
Across the street from Kyung Bok Kung, our resident
Korean tells us this place isnt bad either. $$
Regional/Central Asian
LAzzurro (105, Ibraimova)
This is a delight, albeit a pricy one. If the plan is to
stick to Levantine treats then LAzzurro has the full
range, but we recommend dabbling in the fsh as
well. The grilled trout, in particular, is a winner. A
good place to take large parties. $$$
Beirut NEW (Sovietskaya/Mederova)
Relocation has made Beirut more accessible to
Bishkeks southerners without afecting the quality
of the grub. Similar to LAzzurro in both price and
mezze, but service a tad shoddier. $$$
(Sovietskaya, opposite the Hyatt)
A varied and interesting menu including fne Indian
food make this place a real treat. On midweek days
there are also several excellent business lunch deals
ofering a soup, salad, main course and dessert for 250-
350 som. A real stand out and a Spektator favourite! $$$
Pirogof-Vodkin (Kiev, 107)
Classy restaurant with a turn of the 20th century
atmosphere serving Russian specialities. Have your
tea in a giant samovar. $$$
Taras Bulba (Near the Yuzhniy Vorota on Sovietskaya)
Like all the Ukrainian restaurants weve tried in
Bishkek, Taras Bulba serves great food. We liked the
potato pancakes with caviar, the delicious soups
and fresh salads. $$
Ojak (On Erkindik between Moskovskaya, Toktogula)
Technically an Azerbaijanian, but dont let this fact
ruin the best value kebabs in town. The menu is
limited and if your Russian is too, just say kebab. $
Usta (Opposite the main mosque, Moscow street)
Probably the best of the lot, with the Usta Kebab
perhaps unsurprisingly the standout dish on the
menu. $$
Yusa (Logvinenko/Bokonbayeva)
The lavash is outstanding here, as are the range of
sauces that compliment a wide array of vegetable
and meat dishes. $$
Zaporyzhia (9, Prospect Mira)
Zaporyzhia is a cossack favoured restauraunt in
a varnish-scented log cabin. Hearty rustic dishes
and a homely atmosphere. The medovukha is rec-
ommended! $$$
Bukhara NEW (Shopokova 126, behind circus)
Bukharas menu overfows with the best Uzbek cuisine
has to ofer but also boasts a plethora of tasty salads,
making it a magnet for both the gourmand and the
grease-lover. The Bukhara salad, Kazanski kebab and
Dim-la-ma get the Spektators full endorsement. $$
Derevyashka* (Ryskulova, behind Dvorets Sporta)
Atmospheric drinking cabin that serves a range of
Central Asian and Russian cuisine, as well as an im-
pressive array of pivo. Well worth it on football nights,
when the locals are rather rowdy. $
Faiza I (Jibek Jolu/Prospect Mira)
Possibly the best place to munch traditional grub in
town. Their fried pelmeni and manti are so good that
they have often run out by supper-time. Save an
appetite and go early. Slightly more upmarket sister
restauraunt on Mederova/Tynastanova. $
Jalalabad (Togolok Moldo/Kievskaya)
Basically the cheapest food (that wont give you gut
rot) in the centre of town. Probably at its best in sum-
mer, when the shashlyk masters fanking the entrance
ofer their creations straight to guests sitting at East-
ern-style tables cross your legs and see how long
before cramp sets in. $
Sauporo (Kok-Jar Village)
A veritable Kyrgyz disneyland. Manas greets you at a
dung-scented entrance, old men catch their supper
in a lake and waitresses in national dress bring out
things like beshbarmak po-Talaski. Not kosher. $$$
Tubeiteika (Moskovskaya/Turusbekova)
Hard to spell but great to eat at. The menu is well
beyond the traditional Central Asian scope, with nods
to China, Japan and Europe, too. We liked the Chinese
chicken, the sushi and the shashlyk. $$
Adriatico (219, Chui)
Reportedly sufering following the departure of
its Italian chef, Walter, although we have been told
that the soup is still excellent. $$$
Bella Italia (Kievskaya/K.Akiev)
Adriaticos former Italian chef, Walter, moved homes
and started serving a practically identical range of
dishes at this spot just behind October cinema. Enjoy
the best pizza in town, gnocci and other typical Ital-
ian numbers, tasty business lunches from 200 soms.
Recommendations? Tortellini PPF or anything with
mushrooms. Where does he get them from? $$
Cyclone (136, Chui)
Smart Italian restaurant with plush interior, efcient,
polite serving staf and a warm atmosphere to alle-
viate Bishkeks winter chills. Pasta dishes stand out
among a menu of traditional Italian favourites. $$$
Dolce Vita (116a, Akhunbaeva)
Cosy Italian restaurant with smiling waitresses serving
excellent, good value pizza. Also serves salads and Eu-
ropean cuisine. Small terrace outside for summertime
dining, but be warned, it flls up on weekends. $$
Mimino (Kievskaya Shopokova)
Mimino is nice, cosy and serves up bowl-fulls of
steaming, hearty Georgian fare with pomegranate
seeds a-plenty. $$$
September 2013 The Spektator
26 The End
OU KNOW THE DRILL: Salam Aleykum!
a voice from behind you calls out. But
the man bearing this greeting does not
wish for peace to be upon you. Instead
he hopes that a few thousand units of
the local currency are upon you, and that
your passport has been left at home. Shortly after
the friendly salutation an inquisition begins: What
is your nationality? Where are you going? Are you
drunk?Usually your interlocutor is a waif in his early
20s, often working in tandem with another skinny
git, while their older, heftier boss, plump from
the proceeds of a thousand shakedowns just like
this one, sits behind a desk in downtown Bishkek,
ploughing through the Kyrgyz equivalent of donuts
as he waits for his cut.
Dont you think this looks like you?one of your
questioners asks, fashing a photograph of the latest
Hizbut-ut-Tahrir member to appear on the Ministry
of Interiors Most Wanted List. The man in the pic-
ture has darker skin than you do, a narrower face,
and a longer, more straggly beard. He also has a
prominent scar above his left eyebrow.No resem-
blance at all, really, you reply. But the bent cop disa-
grees: Lets go down to the station! And so begins
the haggling.
There is scarcely a foreigner in Bishkek that has
not come into contact with the city police. Burglary
victims report that the force is broadly useless at
doing its ofcial job investigating crime - but in
keeping with a trend for cops across the former
Soviet Union, Kyrgyz PCs have developed a special
talent for earning shabashka a glorious Russian
word for of-the-books income - in order to comple-
ment their meagre salaries. In its years on the mean
streets of Bishkek, the Spektator has accumulated
enough encounters to fll a small book, but rather
than boring you with the details of these narratives
we decided to compile a short list of strategies to
help readers of our hallowed magazine beat the
boys in blue.
1. Get on the front foot
While foreigners are supposed to carry a passport
or an ofcially endorsed form of ID around them
at all times, bobbies on the beat are also obliged
to do the same, and show it to you whenever they
stop you. You are also allowed to write their name
down. Heading along this route is likely to lead to
a protracted Ill show you mine if you show me
yourstype dialogue, but it should ultimately end in
a hard-fought victory, since from the police perspec-
tive a shakedown must be executed anonymously.
In the event that you get bored of this banal back-
and-forth you can always reach for your mobile
phone and threaten to dial an advokat lawyer. This
is known as the rights-based approach.
2. Play dumb
We consider this a slightly overrated line of defence
but many of our friends attest to its efectiveness.
The idea of this approach is that you just pretend
not to understand anything the policeman says
until they get bored and leave you alone. Our prob-
lem with this approach is that if you get stopped
by a law enforcement ofcer with an IQ of over 80
(they do exist, apparently), who actually knows
that words like passport are in the universal, you
might fnd yourself booked for obstructing the
course of bribery.
3. Bring other people into the conversation
If your Russian isnt so good and there are people
milling around where you are stopped, you can
always opt to make a noise and introduce other
actors into the play. This will likely embarrass the
police, although they shake down locals as well so
they are not afraid of them in manageable num-
bers. If this approach isnt bearing any fruit, add a
layer of drama to proceedings by reaching for your
cash and waving it in front of the bemused cops
face the shadow economy does not like being
thrown into the light.
4. Work the networks
Kyrgyzstan is a patronage-based society rather
than a law-and-order-based society, and this ap-
plies particularly to the bodies that should be en-
suring, ahem, law and order. For this reason, who
you know - or who you pretend you know - may be
more important than some abstract conception of
your entitlement as a foreign citizen. We have had
excellent results, for instance, by reciting the names
and patronymics of current and former heads of
the Ministry of the Interior, while a local flmmaker
friend used to fip of unscrupulous policemen by
fashing a business card belonging to a nephew of
then President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. If you have the
means of keeping up to date with who is an in and
who is an out (tip: Bakiyev is very much an out
these days), this approach is probably the fastest
for making a crooked cop disappear.
The city militsia have gotten a lot better
since Kurmanbek Bakiyev was ejected
from power, but they still have their mo-
ments. The Spektators crime and punish-
ment correspondent Paul Dummett runs
through a list of a strategies to help our
readers resist thier advances.
Below and Right Bishkek police are an amiable
bunch once you scratch the surface (archive)

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