Chuchuk-Gate in Kyrgyzstan: A Case Study in International Public Relations
This paper uses the Circuit of Culture model to analyze a case of miscommunication on social media that was magnified and amplified in the international public sphere. On Dec.31, 2015 Michael McFeat, a Kumtor welding contractor serving his shift in Kyrgyzstan, posted on his Facebook page a photograph of chuchuk, the Kyrgyz traditional horse meat delicacy, mislabeling it as "horses penis" (sic). The post immediately became viral as many Kyrgyz people were insulted by the representation or passed it on as an insensitive joke, while many people outside of Kyrgyzstan were sharing the post out of curiosity and gullibility. On Jan.2, about 1,300 Kyrgyz employees of Kumtor started a strike, demanding McFeat to be arrested for incitement of ethnic hatred, which is a criminal offence according to the Kyrgyz Law, punishable by imprisonment of up to five years. McFeat had to be smuggled out of the Kumtor site in an ambulance to Balykchy and then to Bishkek, where he was arrested, transferred to Karakol for a speedy trial and deported on Jan.5 with no right to return Kyrgyzstan. Using the Circuit of Culture model, the paper looks at the case through all the five moments constituting the model: Regulation (how the Kyrgyz Criminal Law and traditions were used to frame the case within the incitement of ethnic hatred provisions), Representation (what McFeat's original post represented for various groups involved in the case), Production (how the post was produced, attempted to be mitigated through a follow-up apology, and ultimately deleted), Consumption (how the post was interpreted by various groups inside and outside of Kyrgyzstan), and Identity (what are the deeper underlying identity issues that affected the case interpretation and outcome). As a case study, the paper will use archival documents, media coverage, and expert interviews to analyze the events and phenomena of the case. It will also present recommendations for how this case could have been prevented in the first place from the intercultural communication and international public relations perspectives.
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