By CCTV correspondent Roee Ruttenberg
BEIJING, Sept. 18 (Xinhuanet) -- In the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan, new efforts are being made there, specifically by young people, to promote the ethnic Kyrgyz language. But some fear it may come at the expense of Russian.
The members of the "Monica Bellucci" comedy troupe are preparing for a competition of wit over the weekend. Their improvised routines have one thing in common – they’re all in the local Kyrgyz language. It's part of an effort to change the negative stigma associated with the ethnic tongue. Jokes in Russian – the other official language in this former Soviet Republic – aren't allowed.
"Back then, to know Russian meant you were educated and elite. Those who spoke Kyrgyz were looked-down upon. That’s why we started to perform, because we wanted to develop our own language and to make it attractive," the comedy group leader Bakyt Osmonkanov said.
The group’s youngest member, Mairambek Uulu Jenish, grew up speaking Kyrgyz at home. But his university studies were in Russian. Many of his classmates didn’t speak his native language.
"Our main goal is to develop the Kyrgyz language. We especially want the young people to speak," said Mairambek Uulu Jenish. "And when they watch our comedy shows on TV and see many people laughing, they naturally become interested in learning the Kyrgyz language."
The club is a private one. It receives no funding from the government and thus creates its own rules. But officially, any change in the status quo can trigger national discord.
Two years ago a presidential adviser allegedly got sacked over plans to de-Russify the names of several Kyrgyz cities. The government reportedly feared upsetting relations with Moscow. That’s because 10 percent of the Kyrgyz live and work in Russia, sending remittances back home, and about the same percentage of Kyrgystan’s population is ethnically Russian."
But local rappers say one language doesn't have to come at the expense of another. They’re more interested, they say, in anything, in any language, that promotes their country.
"I rap in Kyrgyz because it is my native tongue," said Kyrgyz rapper Bayastan. "And even though our community is multilingual, one goal unites us: to make Kyrgyzstan’s rap lovable for people abroad."
His vision for the future: a country where what you say matters more than the language you say it in.