Uzbekistan: Lingerie shop shamed by conservative activist

Uzbekistan: Lingerie shop shamed by conservative activist
The more customary look of a MilaVitsa store. The offending outlet in Tashkent was given a moral makeover. /
By Eurasianet February 22, 2023

A lingerie shop in Uzbekistan’s capital, Tashkent, has had to take down posters featuring images of models in underwear after a conservative commentator took to social media to condemn what he described as overly suggestive imagery. 

In video footage posted online last week, the self-styled blogger can be heard to note angrily that “fourth- and fifth-grade students walk past here” and demanding that local authorities take action.

In a follow-up clip, the man, who has been identified as a 24-year-old resident of Tashkent’s suburbs, gleefully demonstrated the shop’s bare display. 

“After yesterday’s video, they took away the photos of these prostitutes. Many thanks to officials for their understanding,” he is heard saying.

In the days that followed, things took a dramatic turn, though, when the resident was himself summoned for questioning by the police.   

The episode has highlighted the growing rise of traditionalism in Uzbekistan, and how the authorities often struggle to adopt coherent and consistent positions when buffeted by rivalling social trends. At times officials cave to the conservatives, only to then rapidly reverse themselves without explanation.

News outlet quoted official sources echoing the language of the complainant.

“About 5,000-6,000 people pass by here every day. Families, children. These kinds of photos are unacceptable,” a Tashkent district government office said in a press release.

Authorities in the district of Tashkent where all this unfolded later denied, however, that they had applied pressure on MilaVitsa, the lingerie shop in question, to drop the posters. Officials promised journalists they would provide more information in due time, but no explanations came.

In the days that followed, the branch of MilaVitsa, which is an international chain, replaced its original posters with something a little more prim. Store managers declined to comment to Eurasianet on the incident. 

Just as MilaVitsa’s troubles were ending, things grew hotter for the blogger. At the end of last week, police summoned him to a precinct for what has been termed a “prophylactic chat” – a bureaucratic euphemism intended to convey one single message: “Don’t do it again.”

The police claimed the man had broken the law by posting religious content to his social media account without proper authorisation and that a court had accordingly fined him $50.

A fine is unlikely to diminish the enthusiasm of the flourishing community of pious activists who have taken it upon themselves to propagate their conservative views, particularly as regards what they consider should be the proper behaviour of women. In 2021, a group of activists – they were men, as is customary – printed and distributed leaflets calling on women to dress modestly during the holy month of Ramadan. 

Officials are eager not to be seen as opposing traditionalist attitudes – not least as they have often pushed them hard themselves – but they also evince clear discomfort at hardliner piety spreading unchecked across social media. By punishing both sides, they may hope to have their cake and eat it.

This article originally appeared on Eurasianet here.