Gay club advert sparks controversy in Kazakhstan

Advertising firm responsible for poster featuring Russian poet Alexander Pushkin kissing Kazakh composer Kurmangazy Sagyrbayuly has promised not to display it in public after widespread complaint. EurasiaNet reports

An advert featuring an image of Russian poet Alexander Pushkin and Kazakh composer Kurmangazy Sagyrbayuly kissing has sparked widespread complaint in Kazakhstan.

The poster – which features the two of the region’s most prominent 19th century cultural figures – is designed to promote a gay club in Almaty, one of the most liberal cities in Central Asia. The club, Studio 69, sits at the corner of streets named after Pushkin and Kurmangazy.

According to RFE/RL, 20 activists filed a lawsuit on 25 August against the advertising agency that created it, saying it “insulted both Kazakhs and Russians.” Police told TengriNews they had registered an official complaint. A descendant of Kurmangazy has also threatened to sue for damages.

On social media, reaction to the image has been mostly negative, as people expressed anger at what they saw as irreverence towards cultural heroes . “There is no limit to [my] outrage. How could [they] come up with something like this?” one user wrote.

Some have defended the poster, which riffs off of the famous image of East German leader Erich Honecker and the Soviet Union’s Leonid Brezhnev locking lips in East Berlin in 1979. “At least [there is] some creativity in the barren steppe of domestic works,” TengriNews quoted a local social media user as saying.

One of the artists, Valery Volodin, wrote on Facebook: “One can be proud of this work. First of all because it works: people understand and remember the address. Secondly, it is a brave work, and in the case of the gay movement, traditionally living on the edge, it is more than accurate and justified.”

The poster won an award for advertising firm Havas Worldwide Kazakhstan at a competition in Bishkek on 23 August, but in the wake of the reaction against it, the firm apologised on its Facebook page and promise the image will not be displayed in public: “Acknowledging the invaluable cultural contribution of the great Russian poet and the great Kazakh composer, we officially announce that this poster will not be printed, posted or published in paid media.”

Homosexuality was decriminalised in Kazakhstan in 1998, but anti-gay attitudes are common. In May, anti-gay activists built a wall around a gay nightclub in Almaty to protest its presence. In recent years, officials have debated adopting a Russian-style ban on so-called “gay propaganda”. Citing Kazakhstan’s “national mentality,” one lawmaker last year called for legislation that would classify homosexuals as “criminals against humanity.”

A version of this article first appeared on

by David Trilling for EurasiaNet, part of the New East network
Source – The Guardian