Uzbekistan 'cancels Valentines Day'

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A couple and child in Tashkent (Image: Umida Akhmedova)
Image caption,
Valentine's Day has taken off among young people in the Uzbek capital

Lovers in Uzbekistan who used to celebrate Valentine's Day by hearing pop singer Rayhan sing will have to look for other forms of entertainment this year.

Rayhan, a popular singer whose music mixes Eastern melodies with Western pop, has given a concert on 14 February for years.

But this month the show has been cancelled, along with other events.

Instead of Valentine's Day, the authorities are trying instead to promote the study and appreciation of a local hero, the Moghul emperor Babur, whose birthday falls on 14 February.

Babur, a descendant of Genghis Khan and founder of a culturally rich and tolerant empire across South and Central Asia, will be commemorated in readings and poetic festivals.

An official from the education ministry's Department for Enlightenment and Promoting Values said it had issued an internal decree "not to celebrate holidays that are alien to our culture and instead promote Babur's birthday".

The official, who wanted to remain anonymous, said the decree had been in place for a while.

Uzbek citizens were divided on the move, which is the latest in a series by the authorities against Western influences.

Abdullaw, a Tashkent resident who described himself as an intellectual, said it was right to stop the concert.

"It's the birthday of our great ancestor Mohammed Zahiriddin Babur," he said. "Why should we celebrate some artificial, lightweight event? It doesn't fit our mentality and our history."

But Jasur Hamraev, an entertainment journalist, said imposing patriotic celebrations was the wrong move.

"You shouldn't turn the day into a nationalistic cause because that just divides people," he said, adding that many young people would have enjoyed Rayhan's show.

"It's laughable," he said. "For 10 years she's been giving concerts on that day and this year it is banned as if someone had suddenly remembered that it's happening."

'Tedious event'

Local reports say the state information agency has in the past warned local publishers to avoid material on Valentine's Day.

But a college student told the BBC that Valentine's Day had become a new tradition celebrated among young people in particular, with souvenirs, cards and small presents exchanged between sweethearts.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Ms Karimova's videos are apparently not too raunchy for Uzbek authorities

The independent Uzbek news website conducted its own informal survey and found that most of those questioned were planning to celebrate as usual, eating out or going to a club.

"It's a shame that instead of going to a concert we'll have to waste a couple of hours at some tedious event the university will put on," it quoted one student as saying.

It is not the first time that the authorities and the state media in particular have taken aim at what they see as damaging Western influences.

In the past few weeks there have been several articles attacking foreign soap operas from Mexico and Latin America for being too explicit and for undermining local values and traditions.

Similar criticism was levelled against hard rock and rap music in an extensive campaign a year ago. A Youth Channel on state TV labelled the music "Satanic", feeding on drug addiction and immorality.

The government set up a special censorship body to monitor rap music, register artists and hold regular meetings to encourage the use of more wholesome lyrics.

But observers say that the authorities' approach to Western culture is largely inconsistent with state media attacking supposedly immoral content on TV and the internet, while not a word is said about the often raunchy music videos produced by the president's daughter, Gulnara Karimova.