Uzbekistan: Festivities for the chosen few, the nation only seen in the crowd scene!
It was impossible to freely and easily reach one’s destination either on foot or driving in central Tashkent over the last few days of August. The reason for that was rather banal: heavy traffic jams resulting from visits the country’s president was paying to newly-built facilities and buildings in Tashkent ahead of the Independence Day (celebrated on September 1). The streets were blocked to ensure the president’s security and safety. The city residents, of course, could say nothing.
Perhaps even children know that the so-called “nationwide and popular” holiday—the Independence Day that is—is only organized with the sole purpose of pleasing the ears and eyes of the “person number one” and his entourage. All the while, the Uzbek population serves as an unpretentious crowd in the background.
Independence – limiting human freedoms
The state authorities of various calibers undertook even tougher actions for “improving” traffic in Tashkent on 31 Aug 2014, i.e. the day of festivities to mark the 23rd anniversary of independence, and on 1 Sep 2014, the nationwide celebrations day.
“For me personally, this is not a holiday at all, but just another day-off,” says Makhfuza, an elementary school teacher. “How could one call it a holiday anyway? The constant feeling of insecurity and empty pockets… Holidays were celebrated in a proper way in the Soviet Union times; the First of May, for example, was celebrated with lots of songs, genuinely popular celebrations and joy. People’s attitude was completely different back then! Whereas these holidays are “on paper” – and I don't like them (including the elections). I could watch a concert [presumably organized as part of Independence Day celebrations] and think to myself that I am probably not the only thinking like this.”
Uzbekistan – the country of the happy downtrodden
Closer to the day of independence anniversary, a pro-government center for public opinion, Ijtimoiy Fikr, issued another “masterpiece” – a research into the socio-moral foundations of the Uzbek society. The findings this research yielded were astounding (well, they always are): 82.3% of the population is fed, content and indescribably happy with their lives!
The organizers of the research in question have undoubtedly been fulfilling instructions coming from the higher echelons of power all these years. After all, those “up there” are only concerned with establishing the image of a prosperous and democratic state in Uzbekistan for the Western audience.
If one wishes to learn the real situation on the ground, they would need to talk to people on the street. For example, the Main Post Office building is a perfect venue to meet a very wide spectrum of those “humiliated and insulted.” Just look at those old and young people or women holding infants in those lengthy lines. And these people traveled here from Karakalpakstan, the Ferghana Valley, Khorezm…
The eyes of people in remote and close regions outside of the capital only emit despair and hopelessness, and certainly not joy of holidays. If just inquiry, however briefly, they will make sure they will tell you that, having knocked on the doors of all human rights organizations and having found no support or help, they are desperate to draw attention to their problems. They believe one of the most certain ways of reaching state bodies and officials is sending them letters and telegrams.
When requested to share thoughts about their happy lives, they promptly start describing it in rather negative terms and harsh terms, often peppering their stories with swear words. Because people are tired of waiting for that “bright future” the authorities have been promising for over two decades, and the majority of the population started openly expressing their outrage with their arbitrariness.
People are no longer scared to openly curse the corrupt Uzbek authorities and to call out the names of specific officials. Some refer to the “events in Ukraine,” which were ignited after the people expressed their outrage with the corrupt authorities. This certainly is a very worrisome development in Uzbekistan, and the authorities ought to listen to what people are saying.
“Unfortunately, the years of independence in Uzbekistan can only be described as years of hyper corruption and arbitrariness on the part of the authorities. Sadly, the [state] budget is mainly spent on fencing off the regular taxpayer from powers-that-be – they are spent on fences and all kinds of security systems,” laments Fakhriddin, 61, a resident of the city of Zarafshan in Navoi Region. He should know; he appealed to the President’s Administration many times, asking to hold local tax inspectors responsible for their [presumably illegal] activities.
Zokir Omonkulov, a respected elder from Namangan, could not say any flatteries about the incumbent authorities. His 19-year-old son was convicted to 15 years of imprisonment based on trumped up charges. The young man was sentence to such a long term after he was found guilty of allegedly raping a 5-year-old girl, while his real “crime” was refusing to hand over a piece of land to a local businessman. Investigators demanded the family pays a five-thousand-dollar bribe to stop the investigation into this completely ungrounded alleged crime. The “suspect’s” family could only offer explanations that they do not have such money.
“Nothing depends on us.…”
In response to the question “What is independence?” Uzbek residents bitterly joke: “It is when nothing depends on us.”
“Only because the common citizen has a chance to watch fireworks once a year, his household does not get happier,” quips Murodjon, a mechanic at a private construction company. “I, for one, they could instead provide jobs for youngsters, pay salaries and pensions on time, lower taxes; there are examples of more prosperous neighbors [in this regard]; take Kazakhstan, for instance.”
Vladimir Nikolayevich, who has been a driver for 40 years, spends a lot of time driving between Tashkent and Fergana. He is very frustrated with the heightened security measures in entrance and exits from the capital city, especially at the Kamchik Pass. Motorists waste hours during additional inspections at checkpoints both before and during holidays. According to this interlocutor, one can only hear foul language about and damnations of the holidays and authorities that organize them.
“You cannot see every driver and passenger as the enemies of state,” laments Vladimir in warm blood. “This is a direct route to paranoia! Do you know why prices sharply spike in the markets before and during holidays? Because they [presumably the authorities] are purposefully preventing farmers in regions from delivering their products to Tashkent.”
The vendors in trading plazas have their own reasons to dislike supposedly nationwide holidays.
“Throughout the years of independence, preparations for holidays were financed exclusively by businesses and their owners. While those “up there” ordered their subordinates not to shamelessly collect money from us, they still do it,” businessman Ismoil says in anger.
The city maintenance services pronounce damnations most because they have to fulfill illogical orders various administrations decree. These bosses want reports on security of private detached garages or empty apartments; they then want these services cut down suspicious trees; they then demand they control basements and attics in multistory houses. The most disgusting order, in their opinion, is ordering to weld manholes in the morning and then undo that very job in the evening – supposedly to prevent terrorists from getting into them. Obviously there are several hundreds of such manholes in a big city like Tashkent…
Independence paved way for corruption into the state system
According to the interlocutors’ words, corruption has become rampant in the country during the years of independence. Indeed, it has turned into a system that is endangering the country like a dangerous epidemic. The unstoppable rise of prices, fees and tariffs is also linked to the corrupt officials at various levels of state governance. According to an expert in the field of architecture and building, “kickbacks” and other payments make up almost half of project budgets. Although corruption and embezzlement are raging in the corridors of government agency and ministry buildings, the common citizen in the street pays the price.
The years of independence clearly show that censorship of mass media (supposedly officially cancelled) and absence of any journalistic investigations into corruption in highest echelons of power along with the elimination of the parliament’s ability to control the executive power have brought about ideal conditions for officials’ arbitrariness, corruption and nepotism. One should not forget about the utterly corrupt system of power-wielding bodies, whose leadership and administration are mostly, if not only, are concerned about personal enrichment via the abuse of power.
The authoritarian regime has also destroyed the independence of judicial and law-enforcement bodies, all the while administrative influencing and pressuring turned the Uzbek system of justice into a completely impotent and toothless system, which is in completely dependence from the corrupt executive branch of power.
The lawlessness in the country and insecurity of mere mortals is a perfect illustration of the incumbent authorities’ vision: if you are loyal, go ahead and steal; if you are not loyal, you will soon be imprisoned.”