Underwear and linen on the one hand and jubilee on the other: capital of Uzbekistan is prettied for unscheduled festivities
The capital of Uzbekistan is being spruced up for an unscheduled celebration, its 2,200th jubilee. Central streets are being swept clean before new asphalt is poured and flower beds are being arranged along the streets. Those buildings that fail to look smart enough are hidden behind sheets of metal. Some buildings and monuments are demolished altogether. Streets are being given new names...
City dwellers, themselves, studiously avoid being drawn into disputes over the age of Tashkent. So do scientists. It figures. If the head of state, himself, claims that Tashkent is 2,200 years old, then 2,200 years old it is. It does not seem to matter that the 2,000th anniversary was solemnly celebrated in 1983.
As is typical of Uzbekistan, preparations for the festivities involve some orders issued by the powers-that-be that defy logic and common sense. For example, city dwellers are not permitted to hang underwear and linen to dry on the balconies of their apartments because it supposedly collides with national traditions. Violators stand to be evicted from their own homes.
In short, the West is no longer number one public enemy in Uzbekistan. Underwear and linen have the honor. Forget Soros, terrorists, and human rights activists.
Who came up with this bright idea - Tukhtayev or somebody in even higher places - is anybody's guess. There is no use guessing because all decisions made in Uzbekistan are run by the head of state and endorsed by the president himself. As for the head of state, he is not the head anymore and has not been for some time already. Most decisions he makes would have been hilariously puzzling. For example, several years ago, Islam Abduganiyevich banned billiards suddenly and ordered the Uzbek Billiards Federation disbanded. Thousands of poolrooms were closed down throughout Uzbekistan, billiard-tables were either locked up or thrown away. "A billiard world championship took place in Uzbekistan. The prosecutor's office wants the winner," was the standing joke in the republic those days.
Green fences along Tashkent roads became the next target. Neither time nor effort was spared to eradicate this evil. City fathers reported green fences felled all over Tashkent in no time at all. It was the bikers' turn next. Indeed, they had had the effrontery to ride their bikes all over Tashkent, never even trying to detour the streets which Karimov's own cortege used every now and then. A ban took care of them just fine. As for the president, he ordered two roads, not far from his residence, transformed into lawns. The order was carried out, resulting in clogged traffic on parallel streets and streams of invectives addressed to the guarantor of the Constitution.
After a short respite, the president launched a campaign against popular diners in central Tashkent (hotbeds of vice? collision with traditions? - take your pick) and particularly along the so-called presidential highway or the road he takes when leaving his out-of-town residence for the office in Tashkent. The municipal authorities did not have to be told twice and all diners were torn down, leaving empty lots. The campaign then spread all over central Tashkent. Traditionally enough, no explanations were given. The same fate awaited all stores in the underground crossing under the street near Bujuk Ipak Juli (former Gorky) metro station, the one Karimov's cortege sometimes passed.
However old the city is, central Tashkent is quiet now. Most cafes and diners are closed, and streets become deserted in the evening. Similar establishments in the outskirts, the ones that escaped Islam Abduganiyevich's wrath, survived so far but, even they are supposed to call it a day at 11 a.m. In fact, police officers claim that they are acting under orders and have most of them closed at 10 a.m.
Only recently bursting and full of life, the so-called Broadway (this is how the entertainment area of Tashkent is colloquially known) looks barren now. There are no more cafes, bars, or basking musicians there, and what's the point in strolling down empty streets? Or was it just what the whole idea was about - to have as few people in the center as possible? So that any terrorist would certainly stand out?
As a matter of fact, the president's eccentricity becomes more marked with each passing year. Leonid Brezhnev, whose rule lasted eighteen years, was fond of all sorts of medals and orders - and never missed a chance to add something new to his already impressive collection. Islam Karimov, whose rule has already lasted eighteen years, too, prefers jubilees which he inevitably attends, broadly smiling and clapping his hands. Two jubilees were celebrated in Uzbekistan last year - the 2,750th anniversary of Samarkand (whose 2,500th jubilee had been celebrated in the 1970s) and the 2,000th of Margilan. The 1,000th anniversary of Alpomysh folk epos had been celebrated in 1999, the 2,700th of Avesta in 2001, the 2,500th of Termez in 2001, the 2,700th of Shakhrisabad in 2002, and the 2,700th of Karsha in 2006. It is Tashkent's turn now. The city is aging with the swiftness that will make it a contemporary of Jerusalem and Babylon soon.
It so happened that all these great jubilees were celebrated in the last nine years of Karimov's presidency. His own 70th birthday this January drew considerably less attention and was celebrated with less pomposity.
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Uzmetronom reports, in the meantime, that the head of the Tashkent municipal administration instructed law enforcement agencies to detain anyone trying to take photos of the demolition of a four-story apartment house in central Tashkent. Orders were also issued to detain anyone talking to its residents, who are reportedly appalled by their new residences as well as by the compensation offered by authorities.
With some tenants refusing to abandon their apartments, demolition proceeds day and night as the site is monitored by police. The apartments with tenants inside are distinguished by the still intact windows, but making contacts with these people is impossible. It should be noted that not a single Tashkent newspaper has so much as mentioned reconstruction of Tashkent, even in passing, or paid lip-service to the problems it has created for city dwellers.
Some buildings were earmarked for demolition in central Tashkent in the name of the forthcoming occasion (the 2,200th anniversary). They include buildings of the UzA news agency, dial central office, bus terminal with adjacent bazaars and a sturdy apartment house near the Uzbekistan Hotel. Their owners and tenants were informed of the urgent state necessity to tear them down only on May 15, barely days before demolition teams arrived.