Uzbek media review: the Kashkadarja region meets the cotton harvesting quota. - An Uzbek in space. - Forests cut down for pilau wood. - Tours will become more expensive
The attention of the Uzbek media remained glued to two major issues last week - the forthcoming parliamentary election and cotton harvesting campaign. Most articles in newspapers were centered around them.
Here is something typical of elections in Uzbekistan: journalists are supposed to speak a great deal on the subject and say practically nothing in the process. The article "Vote Cast for Democracy" in Pravda Vostoka daily (October 12, 2004) is a vivid example. The article describes the international conference in Tashkent on legal and ethical aspects of electoral technologies in the media. For starters, the author gives a list (in painstaking detail) of the attenders and proceeds to describe, in detail, who discussed what. But since cards are usually slapped down in conferences like that, verbatim renditions are not encouraged. The author therefore says that "those present discussed possibilities, problems, and prospects of the use of modern electoral technologies in organization of democratic elections in our country and abroad, the role of the media in description of elections in the West and the East, experience of foreign and domestic journalisms from the point of view of legal and ethical standards." The author goes on to dwell on the relations between the authorities and the media and adds for some reason that "in accordance with the Constitution, newspapers and TV networks operate within the framework of the law, they are not to be censored and are responsible for truthfulness of the information." Why write all of that or how it relates to the actual state of affairs in Uzbekistan is anybody's guess.
Here is another example of an article on the subject of elections. Narodnoye Slovo (October 13, 2004) ran an article "Media in the Elections". What do we find out? We find out that 475 newspapers and TV networks (including 384 newspapers) covered the first parliamentary election in Uzbekistan in 1994, and that the forthcoming one will be covered by 928 newspapers and TV networks (597 newspapers included). In other words, progress is undeniable. Unfortunately, the author fails to mention that there are no independent newspapers or TV channels in the country, just like a decade ago.
Cotton harvesting campaign is the other dominant subject. Just like 20, 30, or 50 years ago, newspapers are full of headlines depicting the battle for the crop in all its magnitude and splendor. "To Kashkadarja Cotton Pickers", "Farmers Pick Cotton", "Dekhkans [Peasants] True to Their Word", "Reap Prosperity" - these are but some articles of one and the same issue of Pravda Vostoka. All of that studied, the reader discovers that "Dekhkans [peasants] of the Kashkadarja region were the first in the country to meet the cotton yield quota. They harvested 410,000 tons of raw cotton. 95% of the crop is evaluated as first grade. On his recent visit to the region, President Islam Karimov praised Kashkadarja cotton pickers. The meeting with the national leader in the midst of the harvesting campaign and attention to them have inspired cotton pickers..."
The same issue featured the president's appeal to cotton pickers. Here is an excerpt from Karimov's speech, "First and foremost, I'd like to congratulate you, experienced agrarians, skilful cotton pickers of the Kashkadarja oasis and all of the population of the region. 410,000 tons of cotton you've collected are a great triumph indeed." The president is convinced that it will always be that way, "I'm convinced that the population of the Kashkadarja region will always be among the first to mount the fame and power of the Motherland, working for development of a prosperous and great future, performing their tasks and functions in all spheres."
Cotton (also known as white gold) harvesting campaign in the Kashkadarja region continues. "Agrarians do their honest best to up the yield to 450,000 tons."
The next issue of Pravda Vostoka contains an exhaustive article "Cotton Picked by Students". It informs readers that the Termez State University has over 1,800 students working in the fields ever since the first day of the harvesting campaign - not to mention vice president of the university, dean of the faculty of finances and economy, faculty of geography, and professors. Students are even paid for their labor prowess. Whoever picks no less than 130 kilograms a day is paid 10,000 sums ($10). "Judge for yourself how much young men and girls can earn," the author concluded.
Let us, however, proceed to other events mentioned by the Uzbek media last week. Narodnoye Slovo (October 13, 2004) describes a meeting of the parliamentary commission for the problems of women and families, the one that discussed Cabinet resolution "On medical examination of the persons applying for marriage". Implementation of the resolution in the Surkhandarja region was discussed. It turned out that things could be better. 4,500 young men and women decided to marry in the first 6 months of the year. Seven were discovered to have drug problems, 7 mental disorders, and 3 were diagnosed to have TB. There were even the instances when health certificates were issued by doctors without a proper license. The commission voted to eliminate defects.
Pravda Vostoka (October 14, 2004) ran an article "State Order Abolished. Rice Remains Abundant". According to the author, state order for rice output was partially abolished in 2003, but the output merely grew. Now that they were granted independence, rice producers became more active and upped the crop capacity meeting the demand. Once this article is digested, the reader cannot help wondering (unpatriotically, that is) if the same should be done in cotton production sphere as well.
The same issue of the newspaper features an article on the start of the 10th expedition to the International Space Station scheduled for that day (October 14, 2004). Author Shakhabutdin Zainutdinov speaks at length of the international crew commanded by ethnic Uzbek Salizhan Sharipov. The article also mentions plans of space exploration cooperation between Russia and Uzbekistan that include the launch of a national COMSAT and the training and orbiting of a citizen of Uzbekistan, a pilot or scientist.
"Saigak May Be Saved" - this an article on the last page of the same newspaper condemning mass extermination of the species. Saigak for Asia are what bison are for America. There was a time when millions of them grazed on the endless plains in both countries. Practically all bison were killed in the 19th century. This is what is happening to saigak in Uzbekistan nowadays. The article gives chapter and verse: these steppe antelopes numbered 2,000,000 by 1960. They number only 120,000 at best nowadays. The problem is that most of them are does. Bucks are killed for their antlers, and so they do not exceed less than one percent. Author Valentin Bochin gives a vivid description of barbarous hunts in Karakalpakia.
"Antelope meat in passenger trains bound for Kazakhstan is sold at 1,000 sums ($1) a kilogram. There are poachers as well who kill bucks for their antlers they sell to China. Antlers of three bucks amount to a kilogram sold for $300-350. These poachers use powerful bikes. They kill a buck, saw off antlers, and immediately disappear. A truck collecting the rest follows. Even when inspectors catch the truck, they are helpless. There are no guns present. Truck driver and his helper explain that they are looking for a camel or horse that wandered off and encountered the carcasses. Without hard evidence, no prosecutor will accept the case. The third category comprises high officials. The hunt is an entertainment for them. They do not need additional income or something. The hunters drive powerful Jeeps accompanied by local policemen." In fact, the article dwells upon a serious problem. It even suggests measures needed to do away with the hunting orgy that may lead to complete extinction of the species.
Narodnoye Slovo (October 15, 2004) informs its readers that lawmakers of the parliamentary committee for agrarian and water resources and food decided to tackle "food security" of the population. The committee uncovered innumerable episodes of violations of the law "On food quality and security" in the capital alone. Ninety-four illegitimate workshop producing foodstuffs have been discovered. Foodstuffs past their shelf life were sold in 47 episodes. Lawmakers are particularly worried by the people selling homemade foodstuffs (forget quality control, of course) in the street. The committee used the opportunity to condemn Public Enemy Two (after Hizb-ut-Tahrir activists, that is) - food importers. "We are worried by the so called shuttle vendors who import foodstuffs of dubious quality or unknown origin." The author proceeds to say that the committee voted to enforce stiffer control over foodstuffs quality and security.
Pravda Vostoka (October 15, 2004) reports an interesting fact: there are between 5,000 and 6,000 (a rough estimate) stalls where pilau is cooked and sold in the streets of Tashkent and along the ring road. It takes 3-4 logs or 0.02 cubic meters of timber to cook 100-150 helpings (one large kazan or cauldron). Multiply it by 5,000 or 6,000 stalls. The result is 100 to 120 cubic meters of timber every day. It means 3,000 to 3,600 cubic meters or an echelon of 60 flatcars every month. This is a luxury indeed for a bare republic whose own forests were cut down long ago.
Another article of the same issue reminds the believes of the holy month Ramadan, explains what it means, how the tradition began in the first place, and what is to be done by way of observation of rites. "Work, prayer, good thoughts - this is what a Moslem should care about these 30 days," the author comments. "Rudeness, deception, violence, bribes are sins."
Zerkalo XXI weekly ran a large article on the restricted highway between Tashkent and Samarkand. The highway was put off bounds when President Islam Karimov closed the borders with Kazakhstan to prevent import of cheap commodities. Only a small part of the border ran across the territory of Kazakhstan. The decision to close the highway made the whole road longer by dozens of kilometers and travel time by about two hours. Instead of 3 hours, coaches from Tashkent to Dzhizak spend 5 hours on the road. Have spent for almost two years already.
Biznes-Vestnik Vostoka business weekly writes that the Asian Bank of Development agreed to loan Uzbekistan $25 million for text-books for kids. The government decided that text-books should be paid for back in 1998, and the decision immediately led to a chronic shortage of text-books. All hopes are therefore pinned on the Asian Bank of Development now.
The same issue ran an article "Tours to Uzbekistan Will Become More Expensive". According to the author, travel agencies and hotels are supposed to pay $1 per every foreign tourist (the so called tourist tax) to the non-budget tourism development trust. It follows that the tax for every foreign tourist on a 7-day tour of Uzbekistan may increase by $5-7. Hotels will probably include the new tax into the cost of services. Travel agencies, however, can but include it in the cost of tours as such. Will somebody but functionaries of the tourism development trust benefit from it?
One last article. Narodnoye Slovo (October 16, 2004) featured an article by Valery Biryukov, Director of Trud Bureau in Central Asia. Here are some excerpts from the article without comment.
"It is common knowledge that the candidate's financial position pushing his or her moral and business qualities into the background plays a decisive role in how the citizens vote. Unfortunately, they do not care about the candidate's arguments or even program. It is unacceptable of course because it does not promote the best representatives of the people at all. To some extent, that is why President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin suggested a new draft law permitting the national leader to nominate candidates for governors that are then endorsed by regional legislatures. In fact, the Russian Federation has finally come to the model of formation of the power vertical Uzbekistan has used all through its years of sovereignty."
"The situation with the media in Uzbekistan is absolutely different from that In Russia. So far as I know, some international organizations specialize in criticism of the Uzbek media, viewing local newspapers and TV networks as conduits of the policy of the president and government he controls. Uzbek newspapers, TV networks, and radios may be somewhat restricted in the range of subjects they bring up but, thank God, they are not spoiled by elements of lopsided democracy - democracy of distorting mirrors when everything is permitted even when it collides with common sense and harms interests of society and the state."
This was a brief account of the most interesting articles of the Russian media of Uzbekistan between October 12 and 16, 2004.