The Uzbek government has told musicians, film stars and directors to help bring in the cotton harvest or risk blacklisting, it’s reported.
Several actors told the Uzbek Service of US-run Radio Liberty that they got a call from their employers – the state cinema company Uzbekkino – to this effect, and stage actors were also told to head to the cotton fields of Tashkent Region. “They were pretty firm,” says one film actor. “They put us on buses, drove us out to the fields and said ‘pick 30 kg [66 pounds] each by lunchtime, and don’t let us down’. They made it clear that anyone who failed to go would miss out when it comes to casting and awards.”
The story has been widely picked up in Central Asian and Uzbek emigre media, but not in the country itself, where strict censorship prevents criticism of the authorities. Local newspapers have nonetheless featured reports of farms “inviting artistes” to come and help out, Liberty adds.
Uzbekistan has been on the receiving end of unfavourable international publicity over its policy of what amounts to forced labour for soldiers, students, state employees and sometimes even children in gathering the harvest on the inefficient, Soviet-style state farms. In another throwback to Communist rule, singers and actors have often been sent to entertain labourers in the fields, but this is the first time they’ve been expected to do the actual picking.
But some artistes who enjoy the patronage of President Islam Karimov see it as a way to “prove their loyalty”, says Radio Liberty. The website has reproduced photos that it says well-known singers have posted on social media of them doing their bit to bring the harvest home. It notes that they are dressed in “smart, clean clothes”, despite picking cotton all morning.