The Spektator Magazine was a loss-making enterprise that published 24 issues between October 2008 and June 2014.
The magazine featured writing on society, culture, current affairs and tourism, covering a sprawling, ill-defined and occasionally illogical geographic reach from Kyrgyzstan to the Caucasus, and from Vorkuta to Paraguay.
A Potted History of the Spektator
The Spektator was founded by an English drifter, a Russian photographer, and a Kyrgyz alcoholic in the winter of 2006. Following a laborious and expensive twelve-month procedure to obtain business and publishing licences (which the Russian had promised to fast track with his influence) the Russian fell out with the Englishman over creative differences.
“Foreigners are all pederasts,” proclaimed the disgruntled photographer, as the team of three became a team of two.
As the Russian would not surrender his shares in the nascent publishing company for anything less than “thousands and thousands of dollars”, it was decided that founding a second company would be less of a headache than wrestling with a sulking xenophobe.
A further labourious procedure occupying much of 2008 resulted in a second set of licenses, and the Spektator train was finally all set to rumble out of its siding towards the turntable of truth.
The first run of a prototype issue was printed late one night on a colour laser-jet in the office of the Honourary Italian Consul to Kyrgyzstan. The publishing team exiting the office via a second floor window with the help of a ladder, taking their precious printed material with them. The magazines were soon distributed amongst friends and family and potential advertisers.
The take-up from advertisers was luke warm to tepid, but the steadfast local partner was confident that the Spektator’s pages would soon become sought-after square centimeters among the restaurateurs and travel agents of Bishkek. The first issue’s stories, including one lifted from the internet, were written, proofed and ready to roll.
Bad news from Bishkek
A hand-written message, scrawled across Abdylas Maldybayev’s face on a one som note which had been Sellotaped to the doorhandle of my flat, elaborated the bad news. The local partner needed to skip town at short notice – he would possible have to lie low for a few years as something unpleasant and non-Spektator-related had caught up with him. “Don’t try to contact me, I’ll contact you.”
Hope was soon on the horizon again, however, and a team was patched together with someone found on couchsurfing.com, and a teenage graphic designer from Bishkek who fancied lending a hand. Concerns regarding our comrade’s disappearance and a lack of knowledge regarding the local taxation system were put aside, and a valiant exercise in cross cultural communication with an office of elderly ladies secured a slot at the old Soviet-era Typography at Uchkun. Three thousand Spektators would soon be hurtling off the press.
Printing is usually a nighttime affair, and our print run was to be no different. Somewhat after midnight one crisp night in October, and somewhat worse for wear, the Spektator team descended into the the darkness that pervades the labyrinthine tunnels below Uchkun. Navigating the building’s concrete bowels by the light of a Nokia 1110, we located the nerve centre of the typographers and deposited our USB stick into the hands of the chief. The printing team was already well into a second bottle of Vodka, and cigarette-smoke clouds hung in the greasy air. “Fear not,” said the chief, with a flash of a gold tooth and a cheeky glint in his eye, “I am a professional!”
By the third bottle, our Spektators were rattling out of the big blue Indian-made printing press and into the hands of a team of nocturnal babushkas, who cut and sliced and bound them up in bundles of 200.
When the run was finished, the chief was hammered, so we said our good nights and good mornings and left for home. An orange publishing juggernaut had been born.