Ad Nauseam: Russian Comic’s ‘Uzbek’ Appeal Turns Some Stomachs

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Holding a fresh plate of plov and outfitted in a quilted robe and traditional Uzbek hat, Sergei Svetlakov, a donkey peering over his shoulder, stares longingly into a camera.

The image is part of a Yekaterinburg ad campaign for another in the Russian comic and actor's chain of restaurants, called Eshak, or Ass, in Uzbek.

Some in the local Uzbek community are unamused.

"To every self-respecting Uzbek, this is unacceptable," Abid Turatov, the head of the Ural-Uzbekistan Friendship society, said, according to RFE/RL's Uzbek Service.

Turabov has asked the region's human rights commissioner and prosecutor to inspect the advertisements for signs of extremism.

Turatov says it's not the ass that bothers him but the image of Svetlakov, a Russian, in traditional Uzbek dress.

And Akbar Umarov, the head of the Uzbek Chefs Association, told the BBC that the Uzbek Foreign Ministry has already sent diplomatic notes to embassies in Russia and Ukraine, where Svetlakov has another Eshak restaurant.

"Our ambassadors have also expressed their disagreement," Umarov added.

Svetlakov has been accused of showing poor judgment before.

In a segment on Nasha Rasha (Our Russia), a popular Russian comedy show, the actor played a construction supervisor to two migrant workers from Tajikistan who spoke little Russian and were bad at their jobs. The segment was later made into a full-length movie.

Svetlakov has rejected the new complaints.

"Our poster with the word Eshak and an image of an ass could only offend the ass in the image," the actor said through his representative, Olga Glushkova. "We make our advertisement with respect to the East. Eastern traditions and values -- hospitality, good taste, wit, and practicality -- all are a part of our restaurant culture."

Some Uzbeks agree.

Sher Abdugaripov, a famous Uzbek blogger who is also popular in neighboring Kyrgyzstan, tweeted that neither Eshak nor the advertisement concerned him.

"If people go to him to eat Uzbek food, let him work," he wrote.

"Some peoples consider an ass to be a symbol of hard work," Abdugaripov added. "For instance, in Argentina they lovingly call [soccer player Ariel] Ortega an ass."

Svetlakov opened his first Eshak restaurant in Kyiv in 2013. To attract customers, he placed a real donkey outside the restaurant. Neighbors complained of braying emanating from Eshak day and night, the smell of smoke from hookahs, and a rattling ventilation system that allegedly shook apartment building walls.

The actor has two more Eshak restaurants just outside Moscow.

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.