Islam’s agony: Uzbek President Karimov finds himself and Uzbekistan in historical dead-end
Photo by Aleksandr Astafyev
Islam Karimov has lived through his humanly and political peak long time ago, having remained in power for almost a quarter of a century. He is now 75 and it is difficult to understand whether he really is a brutal dictator or just an obsolete personality, who makes no decisions in the country anymore. As a political personality, he seems to be composed of controversies, which started with his membership in the Communist Party of the USSR in 1964 and continued with his presidency of independent Uzbekistan in 1991. The period of his ruling will certainly be written in history of this Asian country as times of highest hopes and bitterest disappointments.
Karimov is now the oldest president in the CIS countries and one of the two rulers retaining the top post since the Soviet Union times. Like Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Karimov has been ruling his country since 1989, when he was elected the first secretary of Central Committee of Uzbekistan. He is believed to be Mikhail Gorbachev’s “creature”. However, immediately after the USSR’s demise, communist Karimov realized the Gorbachev-propelled glasnost had to be muted sooner and rallying political opponents destroyed quicker, if he wanted to retain power. This vision led to what we have today: there is no opposition leader in Uzbekistan for the last 15 years or so – all of them are either imprisoned or exiled.
However, to this day, Mr. Karimov is not shy to speak to the public a-la Gorbachev, delivering long and pompous speeches; he does not forget to touch upon democracy, human rights, and freedom of expression. And the more he continues uttering beautiful and nice words, the harder it is to live in his country. Some 10 years ago, the president has personally initiated a special law on the freedom to distribute information. What are the outcomes, you ask? There is a total censorship, there is no single independent mass media outlet, access to hundreds of news websites are blocked, tens of journalists were forced to flee the country and those too brave are confined to prisons or facilities for mentally unhealthy.
Of course, it would be erroneous to claim, President Karimov is personally responsible for whatever is built or destroyed in Uzbekistan. However, he does remain responsible for all that. Because it was precisely him, long before Vladimir Putin, who built the “vertical structure of power”, which essentially is a model for arbitrariness in action toward the population and manipulation of laws.
As any other sole ruler, Mr. Karimov shyly enjoys his own uniqueness. Fearing analogies with Turkmenbashi and cult of personality accusations, he has repeatedly asked journalists and fawning officials not to praise him too much. Nonetheless, any achievement and success is only accomplished “thanks to the tireless guidance of the president”, while his wise and factual commentaries are found in abundance in newspapers.
Karimov is a life-long president and the actual head of government, where is his puppet-parliament adopts only those laws, which the head of state would sign. Unfortunately (well, maybe fortunately) for Uzbeks, Karimov’s power is as absolute as it is… negligible.
All these years since the Uzbekistan became independent, Islam Karimov spewed hatred toward the former USSS and passionately called to rid Uzbekistan of its “colonial” past. But there is more “Sovietism” in his rhetoric and ruling manner than in those of Putin and Nazarbayev taken together.
From the very first days of ascending to power, Karimov advocated for a rapid transition to market economy, which never happened to date. He is the former head of the State Planning Committee, and Uzbekistan is therefore the only formerly Soviet country where foreign currency can only be purchased in the black market and teachers, doctors and children pick cotton under vigilant police supervision.
The “interethnic harmony and tolerance” Karimov advocated for has turned into a massive outflow of Russian-speaking citizen, which stalled factories and plants, stopped water in taps and burned light bulbs left as such. Mr. Karimov is often praised for supposedly preventing a civil war like in Tajikistan. However, thanks to him, the country may well descend into a chaos and become a horrible warring zone, worse than Syria. Because some categories of citizens are cumulating hatred toward the regime, whereas others are paid well to serve its needs, and the latter will not give that privilege up without a fight.
One of the books authored by Mr. Karimov is entitled “Uzbekistan will never depend on anyone” and is included into the school and university curricula. It is ironic to hear this statement from a geopolitical weathercock, who is ready to sell itself to anyone ready to protect his power and provide “stability”. The direct outcome of that very “independence” is an impoverished country, despite its enormous natural resources. The country is no longer able to provide for its citizens, who are forced to break their backs in Russia for miserable wages. The more “stable” Uzbekistan is, the worse its skirmishes are with its neighbors in Central Asia. Not to mention the shootings and hostage takings near borders with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
Mr. Karimov is considered a fighter against the “threat of terrorism” and “Islamic extremism”. That is true – any uncooperative Muslim is called an Islamist or extremist in Uzbekistan. The Jaslyk prison for prisoners sentenced based on political and religious motives shares all but one trait of Auschwitz: the climate is hotter. Thus, fearing finding themselves behind bars, thousands of “terrorists”-refugees fled Uzbekistan for Europe and elsewhere, where for some unknown reasons nobody finds them dangerous for society.
The name of the Uzbek President is Islam; but Islam cannot be practiced in this country, unless it is the version controlled, encouraged and approved of by the state. On the other hand, only the green banner of Islam is capable of raising the uneducated and downtrodden to revolt.
If one wishes to identify Mr. Karimov’s plans, then his speeches must be interpreted in quite the opposite manner. When, for instance, the president declares a year the Year of Elderly, the state takes away retirement money from those very elderly and disabled ones’ benefits. If a year is the Year of Youth, the latter better start saving money for tuitions are about to increase. The year 2013 is declared the Year of Prosperity. It is to be seen whether that means more labor migrants will go abroad and join those who already contribute some half-a-billion US dollars monthly to the country’s budget.
Mr. Karimov needs money all the time. Therefore, the president of Uzbekistan issues more and more decrees on benefits for foreign investors. That is probably why foreign investors are often cheated into completely losing their investments. As soon as an investor commits funds and starts making profit, the government always appropriates their income under some seemingly plausible pretext. There are many examples with American, British, Russian and Kazakh investors.
Mr. Karimov is still known as the “slick Asian politician”; but he is not aware of what is going on in the country’s streets, in his glamorous daughters’ heads, in his thievish emissaries’ pockets and feelings of degrading plebs. He is not used to roaming streets in the dark incognito and listen to people’s pleas like a famous Arab Caliph used to, on the one hand; on the other, his informers have been reporting only what the khan’s palace wants to hear. The aging khan of Tashkent is as from reality as was the old Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. That is why the story of a janitor from Uzbekistan, who works and lives in a waste dumping facility, has seriously surprised him: “Why could not that Uzbek find a job in his motherland?”
it is probable that the majority of voters did cast their votes in favor of Mr. Karimov in early and mid-1990s. Of course, local authorities have always applied every effort to ensure the “right candidate” gets the necessary votes, but the leader’s charisma and promises of changes to come were a far more effective encouragement to support him. When Mr. Karimov nominated himself for the third term, everyone realized that Uzbekistan would remain a “state with great future” on paper and miserable present.
The state propaganda is not the most reliable tool to remain in power in the ear of Internet and transparent borders. Sooner or later, the monarch starts killing discontented subjects. Having personally ordered to open fire on unarmed civilians in May 2005, Islam Karimov has undoubtedly extended his term in power; but that very order was also a symbolic plea of guilt before before Her Honor History.
Having relied on the love of masses and then on lawlessness and violence, the former communist Karimov has brought to naught those modest achievements of the 20th century, dragging his country back to early 1800s. The ardent follower of events in Uzbekistan can clearly see the path the harmless love of masses toward the “national leader” can lead to.
The fate of Karimov and Uzbekistan under his rule are a sad lesson for anyone who speaks of “sovereign democracy” and “our own way of development”. During the last several years, Mr. Karimov’s reputation is characterized with violence and blood, and every birthday, which he celebrates as head of state, is a grave threat to his once perspective country. Because it has now become difficult to distinguish between the two dangers: his prolonged ruling and upcoming demise.
Daniil Kislov, the editor in chief at Fergana.Ru
Source: Moskovskiy Komsomolets, 30 January 2013