Nineteenth-century Kazakh composer Kurmangazy Sagyrbaiuly and legendary Russian poet Aleksandr Pushkin may never have locked lips in real life, but a Kazakh advertising agency's never-published poster showing the two men embraced is the target of a wrongheaded lawsuit, according to Human Rights Watch.
Thirty-four students and staff members at a national music conservatory in Kazakhstan named for Kurmangazy are suing Havas Worldwide Kazakhstan, the ad agency, seeking 34 million tenge (about $186,000) for unspecified damages. Meanwhile, a self-proclaimed descendant of the composer has filed a separate suit seeking 10 million tenge (about $55,000).
Human Rights Watch is asking those suing to consider withdrawing their lawsuits, and to show that there is space in the Central Asian republic for freedom of expression and art to flourish alongside reverence for historical figures.
"Works of art or design, which may at times offend or be provocative, should be subject to opinion and debate, not to laws that stifle expression," said, Mirah Rittmann, Europe and Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Studying or working in places named after Kurmangazy cannot be a legitimate justification for seeking moral damages, however much the individuals personally or collectively dislike that Kurmangazy was depicted kissing Pushkin in the poster."
Both suits follow yet another suit filed by the mayor of the city of Almaty because the ad was a reference to an intersection there of Kurmangazy and Pushkin Streets, where Studio 69, a gay nightclub, is situated. That suit won $1,700 in damages and a verdict for the plaintiff finding that the ad was "unethical."
While the ad won Havas an award for the poster at the Central Asian Advertisement Festival, it was only ever posted as a design exercise on Facebook.
Contrary to the Borat caricaturization of Kazakhstan, the former Soviet republic located in the heart of Central Asia, the country is wealthy from oil and gas resources and is becoming increasingly cosmopolitan. Still, many in the nation consider being LGBT as an illnesses or moral failing. An ultranationalist party whose name translates to "Future" in English has even been working to criminalize being gay, lesbian, or bisexual.
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