Putin’s Peak


I wouldn’t be the first one to point out the absurdity of the Kyrgyz government’s decision to name a mountain peak after his holiness Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, but given that the U.S. State Department just happened to pass along an award to President Roza Otunbayeva, it would seem that I am not too late.

Having spent a fair amount of time in Bishkek, I had to wonder how a country which holds no particular admiration for the Russian leadership, how such a flattering dedication unfolded.

On the eve of the debates in the newly-elected Kyrgyz parliament last September, the future prime minister of Kyrgyzstan Almazbek Atambayev traveled to pay homage to Putin, much like the Russian princes used to travel to the Horde for yarlıqs. From sources present during the meeting, it was apparent that Putin did not take a liking to Atambayev at that time (though perhaps it should be acknowledged that Putin may not be the most likable person to everyone he meets).

After Atambayev was sworn in as premier, he once again traveled to Putin. They had a pleasant chat (there was no way out already, after all) and then, in the fervor of oriental passions, Almazbek Sharshenovich unexpectedly mentioned to Vladimir Vladimirovich about how one of the peaks of the Tien Shan will be named the «peak of Putin» in his honor. The officials eagerly asserted that this dedication was the result of popular demand.

Putin reacted with humor (indeed he has an well known sense of humor): well, if that’s how it is, it looks like we’ll have to climb up this mountain. And who would have doubted him? Macho Putin and his manly cult of personality, engaging in judo, whale and tiger hunting, firefighting via airplane, and even karaoke… Soon, you’ll turn around and see him appearing at the Mr. Universe competition with his famous torso. Why not imagine him scrabbling up a 4-5,000 meter high peak?

After the laughter died down, everybody understood that he was making a point; that he would only climb up there once they had confirmed the name of the peak and made a public announcement.

And why not confirm? Previous Kyrgyz governments had already named other peaks of the Tien Shan in Issyk-Kul Oblast, including one dedicated to Boris Yeltsin.

In short, Atambayev sent an order on the official naming of the «Peak of Putin» for ratification to the parliament of Kirgizia. However, some deputies of the parliament, the Zhogorku Kenesh, did not understand the latest geopolitical and geographical trends of diplomacy as performed by Atambayev. For example, the leader of the faction of the Ata-Zhurt party, deputy Kamchibek Tashiyev, considered it improper to attach the name of figures of a foreign state to a mountain pinnacle or another natural object of Kyrgyzstan.

He noted that this step is populist, only made in order «to be liked by someone»: “To public figures of foreign states who have made a certain contribution to the development of Kyrgyzstan we can give state awards, but in no way confer their names on Kyrgyz land If before they used to sell the lands, then now we are going to confer names. It is just that then our own descendants will not understand us,” he said.

And so that contemporaries would understand the deputy, and perhaps not kick him out of the party, he added: «I am in no way against Putin and Russia».

Other deputies objected to Tashiyev and spoke out in favour of Atambayev’s initiative, having noted that they do not see anything dangerous in it. (Indeed: few are capable of discerning the danger of the person by the name of Putin at first…)

Well, what can you say here? On the one hand – a question not worth a second thought: there are many mountains in Kirgizia, all the more so – nameless ones. There will be enough for all the Russian presidents and other princelings. And besides, no matter how you twist it, you’ve got to be friendly with Russia if you happened to be located in this region, and Putin is going to be in this Russia, from all appearances, for a long time yet, for a very long time.

But maybe this is short term thinking. How’s it going to look in a couple dozen years, (and maybe even earlier, if one recalls the events in Tunisia and Egypt), already after the decision of the Hague tribunal on the life imprisonment in jail of a certain Putin, V.V., when people are going to come to the parliament of the KR (those same descendants about whom deputy Tashiyev had hiccupped) and ask: and just with whose name is it that we’ve got a mountain named in the valley of the Ak-Suu river in the Chuy valley? And why isn’t there a mountain with the name of our own people’s writer Chinghiz Aitmatov? And where’s that one, what’s his name, who had displayed the initiative?

It will be good if Almazbek Sharshenovich turns out at this time to be in Bishkek and will be able to answer the people. But what if he won’t be able to? And what if he’ll be far from the native mountains?

…And also I’m thinking: perhaps someone will propose to Putin to name one of the trenches in the ocean with his name? Suddenly one will be found that will turn out to be deeper than the Mariana one? And the evergreen Russian national leader Putin, like a real macho, will say: it looks like we’ll have to dive…

Grigory Pasko

Grigory Pasko is a Russian journalist and publisher of an environmental magazine. In November 1997 Pasko was arrested by FSB agents in Vladivostok and accused of espionage for publications on the environmental problems in the Japanese sea but found not guilty due to lack of evidence. He was found guilty of “abuse of his official position,” but released immediately under a general amnesty. He was recognized as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International. His articles appear at Robert Amsterdam's website (http://www.robertamsterdam.com) and are reprinted with permission.

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