With a controversy over proposed gay rights legislation in Kyrgyzstan, the struggle between the United States and Russia for influence in Central Asia – traditionally seen as a conflict over pipelines and military bases – is taking on aspects of a culture war.
Earlier this month, Kyrgyzstan’s parliament passed a law outlawingthe promotion of “a positive attitude toward non-traditional sexual relations.” The U.S. embassy in Bishkek issued a statement condemning the legislation, saying that it “fundamentally threatens human rights, Kyrgyzstan’s democratic gains and constitutional guarantees…. No one should be silenced or imprisoned because of who they are or whom they love.” The parliament’s press service shot back, saying that the U.S. was interfering in Kyrgyzstan’s internal affairs and added that while developing the legislation, lawmakers had studied similar laws in several other countries – including eight American states.
The Russian involvement in the legislation is less direct but many observers detect the hand of the Kremlin, which also last year passed a lawbanning “gay propaganda.” Masha Gessen, writing in the New York Times, noted that Kyrgyzstan is also now considering a law restricting NGOs that receive money from abroad, which also is similar to a law Russia has passed. “In Russia the bills were passed separately, but their packaging in Kyrgyzstan is a perfect reflection of the xenophobic world view Russia has adopted and is now imposing on its allies,” Gessen wrote. The “promotion of Russian-style legislation and ideology” is a “stealthy expansionist project,” she added.