German filmmaker Volker Schlöndorff has called for the release of the Kazakh director and author Bolat Atabayev who was taken into custody in Almaty on Friday (June 15) for allegedly inciting social discord.
In a letter to the responsible judge Nariman Begaliev, Schlöndorff wrote that he made the acquaintance of Atabayev during his work on his 2007 film Ulzhan at the Kazakh Film Studio: “He worked with me as a co-author on my screenplay and helped me look for actors in Almaty and the whole republic,” the Oscar-winning director recalled.
“It is completely inconceivable to me that Bolat Atabayev has ever done anything other than creative artistic work,” Schlöndorff continued. “His whole temperament doesn’t lend itself or make him at all suitable for political agitation. Like your great poet Abai, Aitmatov and Tolstoy, his interest is naturally with the disadvantaged, persecuted and poor, and he also stands up for endangered cultures like, for example, Kazakh folk culture, theatre and music traditions.”
“I appeal to your sense of justice and humanity to release Mr Atabayev until an independent court has finally convicted him - something that, as I already said, I can never imagine happening,” he concluded.
As the co-founder of Almaty’s German Theatre, Atabayev had been invited this August to Weimar to receive a Goethe Medal recognising his merits for German-Kazakh theatre relations and as a courageous fighter for democratic structures..
This distinction has been awarded since 1955 to 329 figures from 61 countries, including Daniel Barenboim, Billy Wilder, John Le Carré and Ariane Mnouchkine, for outstanding services for the German language and international cultural relations.
In a communiqué, the Goethe Institut said that Atabayev “defies the conservative theatrical traditions still strongly anchored in Kazakhstan and often walks a tightrope in doing so - also thematically. In his artistic work he is an open, critical opponent of the prevailing circumstances, for example handling taboo themes such as the genocide of the Volga Germans in Kazakhstan.”
Meanwhile, the independent human rights organisation Article 19 explained that Atabayev and a public activist Zhanbolat Mamai were both arrested on June 15 after neither had appeared in May for official questioning about alleged incitement of social discord which led to riots in Zhanaozen in December 2011.