Tashkent's jubilee. It happens once every 2,200 years
Celebration of the Independence Day is always the central event of the year in Uzbekistan. Official media outlets boast of unprecedented successes and achievements a whole month before the festivities. Security structures and law enforcement agencies (Border Service, Interior Ministry, and National Security Services) go to a higher alert status. Completion of construction of some flamboyant object in Tashkent is reported (ahead of schedule, of course). Budget sphere employees, retirees, and businessmen find their wages and pensions on bank accounts mysteriously unavailable. This year, the powers-that-be decided to combine the Independence Day with celebration of the 2,200th anniversary of Tashkent.
Preparations for the jubilee began a year ago. Looking definitely run-down, the capital of Uzbekistan was washed and cleaned. Some unpretentious buildings and objects were demolished; some obsolete factories like Tashselmash and part of the plane-assembly factory were eliminated. Streets and roads in the city center were paved anew.
What buildings were not demolished for some reason and construction sites were camouflaged with huge billboards with smiling faces clearly calculated to cheer up the beholder. A sculpture, relic of the Soviet past, was removed from the center of the capital. Some streets were given new names - more appropriate from the ethnic and ideological standpoints. Experience of the Moscow Olympic Games\' 1980 was recalled and all homeless persons, hookers, mardikors (hired hands), and others like them were ousted from Tashkent for a fortnight.
Needless to say, new image of the city was supposed to display historical collisions. Like the lovingly bedecked New Year Tree, Tashkent was decorated with countless posters and billboards reading \"Tashkent is 2,200\". For some inexplicable reason, some of them also included portraits of a medieval tyrant notorious for the penchant to decapitate his enemies en masse before or after seizing their property. (Was that supposed to indicate continuity of mentality, perhaps?)
By and large, Tashkent was prettied up for the occasion.
Construction of the Palace of International Forums Uzbekistan was pompously completed three days before the jubilee. Local newspaper immediately hailed this largest object ever built in sovereign Uzbekistan as \"embodiment of the best traditions of national and modern architecture\". Cost of the construction remains a deep dark secret. It is only known that some German specialists aided the locals in the project that took, from start to finish, a single year. The palace includes three conference halls, the largest of them for 2,200 seats - in honor of what is officially regarded the current age of the capital of Uzbekistan.
The Palace of Forums was solemnly opened on August 28. Residents of central areas of Tashkent found themselves under almost martial law for the occasion. Access to them was blocked by cordons of the police aided by National Security Service personnel. With only 5-6 meters between every two officers, they formed a ring that must have been many kilometers long. Two closest metro stations (Mustakillik and Amir Temur) were shut down in the afternoon, and so was traffic in the direction of the center. Employees and officials of departments and organizations within a kilometer from the Palace of Forums were ordered out - but only after they closed shutters on the windows overlooking the Palace. Once all these security measures were taken, President Islam Karimov finally appeared to proclaim the opening of the Palace symbolizing... etc.
The second clock on the wall of one of the city towers was unveiled in the meantime without undue fanfare. This clock turned out to be located barely 20 meters from the first one, unofficial symbol of Tashkent since 1949. Whose bright idea it was in the first place remains a mystery.
Festivities began at long last on August 31 with a gala in Alisher Navoi National Park (ex-Komsomol Lake). Cabinet members, lawmakers, diplomats, academicians, representatives of international organizations and the so called general public handpicked for the honor of seeing the head of state with their own eyes took their seats in front of the podium. Thousands of police officers and secret service agents in the meantime created a literal live barrier all around the area.
According to UzA news agency, every number of the gala was a hosannah to accomplishments and successes of the era of independence. At some point, Karimov decided to join the dancers. Foreign diplomats immediately hastened to the podium too. Turkmen Ambassador Sultan Pirmihamedov even lasted a whole minute dancing with Karimov.
Tashkent's jubilee as such was celebrated on September 1, the official Independence Day. The newly built Palace of Forums housed its first solemn meeting and concerto. Karimov was present at both.
Center of the city was cordoned off all over again. Police cruisers manned by officers in uniforms and agents in civilian clothes blocked every street leading to the Palace of Forums. The impression was that even security at US military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan was more slothful in comparison.
When he arrived, Karimov made another speech - reading it from syllabus as if unwilling to rely on memory alone. As always, the speech was an endless chain of compliments to Karimov himself and the successes owed to his wisdom.
Here are several excerpts:
"The Palace that opened its doors today is an astounding example of national architecture." "I think that construction of so impressive and monumental a building in the very center of Tashkent serves as a convincing proof of the growing intellectual and creative potential... of our country, specifically in modern urban construction."
"It is common knowledge that the global financial and economic crisis slowed down development of numerous foreign countries. Thousands of enterprises, companies, and bank become bankrupts. Unemployment is soaring sky-high, living standards are down. Analyzing this predicament, very many cannot help wondering how Uzbekistan managed to alleviate the effect of the crisis, prevent the economic development slowdown and deterioration of living standards... This is a result of far-sighted and astute political decisions. (Unlike the decisions made in other countries focused on the interests of ruling elites, decisions made in Uzbekistan promote genuine interests of the people and the country.) This is a result of the programs faithfully implemented on this basis."
"Also importantly, sovereign Uzbekistan refrained from emulating other countries but absorbed what positive experience they had accumulated and set out on its own course, one that conforms with the mentality of the people and one that is known as the Uzbek Model based on five fundamental principles. Coping with the financial and economic crisis that has the whole world in its grip, the Uzbek Model once again proved its adequacy and resiliency."
As for the common folk denied the privilege of seeing the head of state, they had to seek solace in city parks.
It had been different in the mid- and late 1990s. The so called Broadway (the central boulevard) was then full of pedestrians on the Independence Day, all of them marching down the street right to the very building of the National Security Service and turning back there. The lucky ones could drop in any of the countless cafes which inevitably sold their whole stocks of cakes and soft drinks that evening. All of that is history now. The Broadway was absolutely barren on September 1 this year.
Common folk flocked elsewhere, namely in city parks with free entrance and what entertainment they had offer - show programs and concertos. Unfortunately, the police were there too, clearly on orders and in unbelievable numbers. The police occupied all benches in Uzbekistan National Park so that whoever wanted something better than attractions of Soviet vintage and boring concertos could only walk around the lake munching what was on sale at numerous stalls – samsas, khanums, hot-dogs, etc. The beaches were closed so what taking a swim was not an available option. Situation in other parks was analogous.
The following day (another day-off) saw practically no strollers in parks but countless police officers apparently brought to Tashkent from all over the country.
Another object was built in Tashkent in time for its jubilee - the Mediacenter for production of films, soap operas, and so on. Located near the Conservatory on the crossroads of Batyr Zakirov Street (formerly Abai Street, renamed because of Abai\'s Kazakh blood) and Uzbekistanskaya Street, it is an amazing sight indeed. Whenever one stands in front of it, that is. Walking around the corner the curious will be shocked to see that this building is nothing but the impressive facade.
It is clear that the tradition to synchronize construction of an object, whatever it is, and any specific date (the Independence Day in this particular case) is essentially a height of stupidity. Quality is inevitably the first thing chucked out the nearest window. It was so with the Yunusabad metro line whose construction was completed in the full blaze of publicity eight years ago. On September 1, of course. Karimov visited a couple of stations, grew mad at builders, and ordered the defects corrected. Additional work took 3-4 months. It did not really help. Ceilings kept leaking in rain, and the very air smelt of creosote even years later.
Lots of new fences appeared in Tashkent for the celebration. Considering that practically all administrative buildings in Tashkent are fenced in, one might call fences the principal element of urban decor and architecture.
Another pillar was erected neat Ming-Uryuk, with a plaque informing whoever cared to read it that this monument of the past was conserved on the president\'s order. As a matter of fact, analogous pillars with identical plaques are encountered all over Tashkent - near the new Conservatory, near the Museum of Victims of Repressions, and so on.
In the meantime, this whole jubilee is really a sham even despite confirmation of the data provided by the Uzbek authorities by UNESCO. Any historian with guts will admit it. The Uzbek authorities date the age of Tashkent by the age of the ancient camps of Sash-Tepa and Aktepa located in diametrically polar environs of the city (forget the first mention in ancient documents which is the internationally accepted method). It is common knowledge meanwhile that the growing Tashkent absorbed these areas only in the late 20th century. In the past, they were far into the Tashkent region and therefore could not be the nuclei around which the capital of Uzbekistan coalesced as the official dogmas claim it did. But that is a state secret, of course.