Sting made the news on Sunday, when information about him accepting between $1.5 million and $3 million to play in Tashkent for Uzbek president Islam Karimov’s glamorous daughter and heir was picked up by the press.
The former Police singer and bass player is known as a human rights campaigner and Amnesty International supporter.
Karimov, the former First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic, is known as one of the world’s harshest dictators, who has used torture, media censorship and false elections to remain the country’s president-for-life since 1990.
Uzbekistan is a country in which children are employed to work on state cotton fields, and protest rallies are shot at (several hundred protesters were reported to have been shot and killed in Andijon in 2005).
Craig Murray, the former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, who wrote about sweeping corruption and appalling human rights abuses in his 2007 memoirs, “Murder in Samarkand,” even reported cases of Karimov’s political opponents being boiled to death.
Tactfully, Sting’s official web site did not report the event — neither when it took place in October nor when the controversy arose on Sunday — but the singer reacted to media criticism with some remarks in his defense.
“I am well aware of the Uzbek president’s appalling reputation in the field of human rights as well as the environment. I made the decision to play there in spite of that,” Sting was quoted as saying by The Daily Mail on Sunday.
“I have come to believe that cultural boycotts are not only pointless gestures, they are counter-productive, where proscribed states are further robbed of the open commerce of ideas and art and as a result become even more closed, paranoid and insular.”
Former ambassador Murray disagreed. “This really is transparent bollocks,” he wrote on his blog.
“He did not take a guitar and jam around the parks of Tashkent. He got paid over a million pounds to play an event specifically designed to glorify a barbarous regime. Is the man completely mad?”
Sting chose the wrong line of defense.
The Scorpions, after performing at the Federal Security Service’s 90th anniversary concert in the Kremlin (yes, the FSB sees itself as the heir to Lenin’s murderous Cheka) in 2008, said they did not know what the concert was about.
Anti-capitalist Roger Waters, whose 2008 concert on Palace Square was promoted as a “gift” from the Economic Forum and was attended by oligarch Roman Abramovich — who traveled to St. Petersburg on his state-of-the art, missile-proof yacht — said that the promoters hadn’t told him that his show was part of the forum.
“What Uzbekistan? What Karimov? I wasn’t told what it was about,” would be the right answer. Or does Sting still have some conscience left?
— By Sergey Chernov
Editor’s Note: You have one day left to listen to Dave Hare’s brilliant radio dramatization of Craig Murray’s Murder in Samarkand, starring David Tenant as Ambassador Murray.