Anti-Wedding Activism in Bishkek

Last night an activist group left messages on the pavement in central Bishkek. It reads “Don’t take out a loan for a wedding!” in Kyrgyz and Russian.

Wedding parties, “toi” in Kyrgyz, are a big thing here. People try to outdo their neighbours by organizing bigger and more spectacular tois. Some people go to work in Russia for years to earn enough money for 500 guests, large amount of fancy food, dancers, singers and renting a special glamorous restaurant, a so called “toikana.”

Other people take out loans and spend years paying them off or never get out of debt again. For me it’s hard to understand why anyone would do that. Apparently the opinion of the neighbours is very important here. The national motto of Kyrgyzstan is “el emne deit” – “what will people say”? Representation is everything and weddings are the best moments to represent.

Wedding party in Osh.

It seems these weddings were never so large in Soviet times or during the nineties because nobody could afford them. If nobody has money, it’s not so necessary to show you have more.

Now some have become wealthier through business or working abroad and show it through parties. Those who haven’t been able to make money still don’t want to be outdone and take out loans. A friend of mine claims 2 billion dollars are spent on weddings in Kyrgyzstan each year. The country might be poor, but people are willing to invest in