Gulnora Karimova has been on a tear lately. This year alone she has campaigned against breast cancer, finance 1,000 weddings and 1,000 circumcisions, gone to fancy parties in Europe, started tweeting a bunch of dreck that reads like a 12 year old’s Facebook wall, and put our an album of Euro-trash pop music (and maybe… probably… stole Uzdunrobita back from its Russian owners). The latest exciting dispatch is that she is writing a screenplay! and Gerard Depardieu!
She says she is writing a screenplay set in sixth-century Central Asia.
The news site olam.uz quotes Uzbek filmmaker Akbar Khakimov as saying Depardieu is expected to play a Christian monk in the film.
Obviously Gulnora inhabits a unique world. She is bound by neither the Uzbek state nor by the social, cultural, and identity norms promoted by the state.
Take this screenplay she is reportedly writing, for example. It is set in pre-Islamic Central Asia.
Like other nations solidified and territorialized during the Soviet period, the official line on Uzbeks is that they have an eternal and unquestionable chain of inheritance to the territory of modern Uzbekistan back to pre-history. Sure, other groups moved in and contributed to the current composition of the Uzbek nation, but the people and the land have been together for all time. Further, to be Uzbek is to be Muslim. A Christian simply cannot be sufficiently Uzbek. And while everyone in Uzbekistan knows that there was a time before Islam and that Turkic, Mongol, and Persian peoples moved to and through the territory that is now Uzbekistan, the current government, aggressively assuming its role as protector of Uzbek culture and identity, is sometimes uncomfortable with public discussion of how “foreign” peoples, cultures, and languages contribute to modern Uzbek identity. An Uzbek religious historian I once met, for example, said that the government had requested he restrict his discussions of the links between Zoroastrianism and Uzbek religious and cultural practices to academic fora where the public was unlikely to encounter the information.
So, turning back to Guli’s movie, who will be the people inhabiting the world she creates? Factually, they can be neither Muslim nor Uzbek, but if Gulnora had to meet the same expectations as others, some creative trick would need to make them both.
Maybe this is not such a big deal anymore though. Maybe the government has lightened up a bit. Really, it is not that bad when you think about it. It certainly is far worse to hang out with Muslim men who wear impressively full beards.
Speaking of which… As that photo above shows, Gulnora does that too. In fact, this gentleman not only has a suspiciously radical beard, but he also is a Turk. And while every flavor of foreigner is suspect, Turks are especially so given their interests in strong, direct cultural ties with other Turkic peoples, funding education in other Turkic states, and allowing the spread of Turkish Islamic thought.
The list could go on and on, but suffice it to say that there is a tension between the ideas of Uzbek identity and Uzbekistan that Gulnora Karimova constructs, those the state constructs, and the realities Uzbekistan’s people experience. Gulnora portrays herself as educated, artistic, philanthropic, and a peer of celebrities and global thinkers. She releases jewelry, buys her way into parties, puts on fashion shows, and releases awful dance music just like the long list of people who have become famous for being famous. Unlike them, she has better resources. She is what Heidi Montag would be if she had 25 million people to shake down.
And considering where she is from, Gulnora is lucky to have her father, and not just for the money. Much of what she does implicitly questions the values, and others have found themselves on the government’s bad side for much less than Gulnora has done.