People: Kyrgyz Robin Hood knocks Lenin aside

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The Independent Online
ONE of the many benefits enjoyed by the former Soviet republics of Central Asia since they broke away from Moscow is that they are now able to adopt more interesting national heroes than Lenin. Uzbekistan has made the 15th-century conqueror Tamerlaine, who once made a pyramid out of human skulls, a role model for young Uzbeks. Turkmenistan and Tajikistan have each elevated their foremost philosophical poets.

Now Kyrgyzstan, a land blessed by a virtual absence of written history, is using an epic hero who probably never existed to inspire the Kyrgyz into a new and more mature sense of nationhood. Manas, hero of the poem 'Iliad of the Steppe', has made a comeback. The international airport has been renamed after him, his image has replaced Lenin's on the national currency and in the capital, Bishkek, a statue has him on horseback wielding a sword. 'He is like Robin Hood or King Arthur,' said Saginali Subaniyev, the artistic manager at Kyrgyzstan's Philharmonic Academy.

The whole Manas saga takes three weeks to recite, but it kicks off like this:

'His mother was nine days in labour, / Eight midwives were at hand, / A sound of screaming rang out and everyone rushed to see, / Was it a boy or a girl? / When his mother saw Manas' penis, she was so glad she swooned, / Recovering consciousness, she picked Manas up but he was as heavy as a 30-year-old man, / Greedily, he ate three sheeps' stomachs filled with butter at one sitting.'

LOOKING trimmer than usual, Luciano Pavarotti appeared on stage in Melbourne last weekend to perform Verdi's Requiem with the World Festival Choir. He disclosed to journalists later that he had lost 43kg (six and half stones) and intended to lose another 15kg on his successful diet. The recipe? As much fish and salad as he likes, but no pasta or wine. Otherwise, he's confined to a piece of bread and two teaspoons of olive oil a day. The tenor said that the secret to controlling his eating was psychological. 'When I'm sitting at a table, I must see everything there. That way, my body sees everything and I know I can't eat all this stuff.'

ROMANIA'S President, Ion Iliescu, is learning the value of forgiveness: he has pardoned eight Communist bosses jailed in the 1989 revolution for mass murder and abuse of power. The opposition is furious. 'This is no gesture of political wisdom. Thanks to Communism, 1 million people died and many others were jailed for many years,' said Ion Diaconescu, vice-president of the National Peasant Party.

Up to 30 leading Communists were jailed after the revolution for abuse of power and causing 1,000 deaths. Most have been set free for medical treatment. 'The act of Mr Ili escu is a big act of reparation, deeply humanitarian and justified,' said Ion Toma, one of eight freed politburo members.

A SECOND former Bolivian president has come unstuck because of past involvement with drug-trafficking. Weeks after General Luis Garcia Meza was arrested in Brazil while on the run from a 30-year prison sentence, Jaime Paz Zamora, whose term finished less than two years ago, has been accused in a police report of favouring cocaine dealers while in office.