Turkmenistan: From Popular Art to Social Movements. Comment by Mengli Mamedova.

Mengli Mamedova, Contributor from Turkmenistan.

Turkmenistan is a special case study for social movements as those are very rare or absent. One of the arguments made is that the country shall experience the raise of the grassroots movements as the appearance of top-down change is hardly possible. Due to the strict censorship, performance arts is said to offer a room for maneuvering as it has more spaces for advertising and dissemination. However, it is not clear whether performance arts offer much opportunity for promotion of ideological messages. In fact, there is no evidence that performance artists would use their works to disseminate dissident messages.

The question that rises is whether there were any real manifestations of disobedience in Turkmenistan through performances of local artists and citizens of the country.

The comment below considers two precedents of appearance of the video clips online that are attributed to social movements and argues that they lack ideological backing to be considered precedents of social disobedience. Moreover, the discussions around them are provoked by reports on dissident platforms and have no particular impact on the Turkmen community inside the country.

The most recent video that received a wide attention from online users appeared on DissidentTV’s Youtube channel. The video features girls singing turning up the love and imitating the clip for the song. The dissident post appeared under the title of school students being checked for the presence of other “provocative” videos. By labeling the clip a “provocative”, dissident platform suggests that making video clips by school students in Turkmenistan is not acceptable and that this provoked a reaction from the side of authorities against freedom of expression of the people. The platform which claims to be a human rights initiative has also failed to ensure promotion of the human rights by exposing the full faces of the girls. Moreover, the video appeared from an unidentified source which makes the origin and the purpose of publishing of the video questionable. Thus, by sharing the video of children, the dissident initiative does not make any good to the girls. On the contrary, it sparks unnecessary discussions and attention to the performance that otherwise would go unnoticed.

Ma-Ro’s video and his song “Raise Up” is the only case when the artist was arrested on “unknown” grounds. The author of the song was imprisoned in 2011 and it is not clear whether it was due to the content of the song or other activities of the singer. This case created a controversy around it, as there was no official statement, while news reports were once again released through opposition platforms. That being said, there is no indication of the rising social movement through the performance art. Turkmen rap existed before and after imprisonment of Ma-Ro. It is believed to communicate messages different from the mainstream pop art. Importantly, is that none of the existing rap songs or any other “alternative” types of performances have ever provoked social reactions.

Thus, there is no strong evidence that performance art might spark any social movement. On the contrary, the government actively promotes new types and improvement of the quality of performances through funding of the national TV and radio music channels.