Andizhan students hope that they will not be assigned to cotton harvesting duty this year
September has come and residents of Andizhan are once again waiting for the new cotton harvesting campaign. All city dwellers from students to obstetricians spend two or three months in cotton fields every year - harvesting cotton for the hirmans.
City dwellers harvest cotton every year. In fact, the whole campaign is a laugh. Cities provides transportation, garments, hot meals, etc for workers, students, and schoolchildren. The latter do not appreciate it. They harvest only 2 or 3 kilograms a day - less than what is spent even on hot meals.
It is common knowledge that "soft" city dwellers cannot become professional peasants overnight. Their use in cotton harvesting is a waste of time and effort. Moreover, these "intellectuals" do what they can to duck the duty - they call in sick and hit the bottle. Sometimes, these "trips to the country" end in traumas and even tragedies. In the late 1990's two students of the Andizhan State University fell asleep in the field and were run over by a cotton harvester. The authorities of Uzbekistan have been using city dwellers in cotton fields for years.
Saidullo Begaliyev, the new head of the Andizhan regional administration, seems to be ready to spring a sensation on city dwellers. According to what information Ferghana.Ru news agency has compiled, at several conferences already the new khokim dared discuss ineffectiveness of city dwellers in cotton fields.
Regional universities and colleges are back in business. Their students cannot believe yet that they will spend this autumn studying, and not harvesting cotton. Their pessimism is understandable: they are always sent to cotton fields every autumn. Should it fail to take place, it will be something truly unprecedented.
Experienced bureaucrats do not think that the new and overly energetic khokim will dare break the old tradition concerning students and cotton fields. Thirteen years of sovereignty should have taught everybody that it is the regional leaders who meet the cotton yield quotas (or at least report that they do) that are favored by the central government. Moreover, Uzbekistan fell behind the plan in 2003, and that means a serious financial loss.
These days, students of Uzbek universities and colleges study four years to become bachelors. Every year, students throughout Uzbekistan spend at least two months in cotton fields. Multiply 2 by 4 - it means 8 months or a whole academic year out of 4 wasted in the fields. It means that Andizhan bachelors (unlike the ones from Tashkent who have not been assigned to harvesting duty since 1990) are actually an army of half-educated people - just like their opposite numbers from other regional universities and colleges. This is where the true "wealth" of the country is being lost!
Time will show if Begaliyev has the guts to leave students be. Even if he gives his word to return them to classrooms in a month instead of keeping them in cotton fields until the New Year Eve (the way regional leader K. Kholmirzayev kept his word in 1991 and 1992), it will be a success.
Kudrat Sharipov (Andizhan) - exclusive for Ferghana.Ru news agency