Daily Archives: August 31, 2006


Uzbekistan: Observers Say Situation Heading Toward Upheaval

From RFE/RL

Uzbekistan will celebrate the 15th anniversary of its independence on September 1. President Islam Karimov has proclaimed in the past that the Uzbek nation and its 26 million people are heading toward democracy and that democratic reforms are the only form of political development. But his rhetoric is quite different from reality.

PRAGUE, August 28, 2006 (RFE/RL) — Fifteen years after gaining independence from the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan has what some experts refer to as a notorious reputation.

Bahodir Musaev, an independent sociologist, spoke to RFE/RL from Tashkent. He said: “Fifteen years after declaring independence, we find ourselves behind the starting point, in a deadlock, if not in a complete social catastrophe. The most obvious example is our neighbor Kazakhstan. In 1991, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan were at the same point. Today, there is a huge gap between them [in democratic and economic development].”

Falling Behind

Uzbekistan seems to trail not only Kazakhstan — which is now Central Asia’s wealthiest country — but others as well.

Craig Murray, a former British ambassador to Tashkent and a fierce critic of President Karimov’s regime, tells RFE/RL that in the fight against dissent, the Uzbek regime is the most brutal among all Central Asian countries and even harsher than Turkmenistan.

“I think the violence is worse in Uzbekistan,” Murray said. “More people are tortured by the regime than in Turkmenistan. Certainly the repression has increased ever since [the May 2005 violence in] Andijon. There are successive trials of both opposition people and religious people, sometimes in quite large groups. And the scale of political attacks seems to be increasing [in Uzbekistan].”

While the Uzbek government has strengthened repression against political and religious opponents, it has also shut down or squeezed out many foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and humanitarian groups.

The most recent case of an NGO’s imminent closure came today. Authorities accused the Massachusetts-based Partnership in Academics and Development (PAD) of proselytizing among Uzbeks. PAD says it has helped Uzbek university professors with new textbooks and assisted them in expanding contacts with academics in the international community.

As a result of its anti-NGO policy, the portion of Uzbek civil society supported by foreign aid groups has almost disappeared.

Meanwhile, authorities continue to strictly control local media, and foreign journalists have been forced to leave the country amid harassment and intimidation.

Fierce Repression

Opposition party members and human rights activists have been either jailed or forced to exile.

Bakhtiyor Hamroev, one of the few human rights activists still working in the country, was injured on August 18 in his apartment by a large group that beat him — in the presence of British diplomats and with police watching.

Another rights activist, publicist Motabar Tojiboeva, who is serving a prison term, is reportedly being ill-treated and tortured in jail.

The situation in the economic sphere does not seem to be any better. And foreign investors have become a target of government pressure.

Earlier this month, authorities announced the bankruptcy of Zarafshan-Newmont, a U.S.-Uzbek joint venture, and froze its assets and confiscated gold.

Earlier this month, reports said authorities had revoked the license of Britain’s Oxus Gold PLC, preventing it from continuing to develop a high-grade zinc, silver, copper, lead, and gold deposit in the country.

On August 24, Uzbekistan stripped an Uzbek-Israeli joint venture of its exclusive rights to process a strategic metal (molybdenum concentrate) produced by the state-owned Almalyk Mining and Metallurgical Combine.

Uzbekistan’s Future

Experts say these are signs of the regime getting more desperate as opposition among the people grows stronger.

The question is: where is Uzbekistan heading and what options do the people have before them? Murray says a popular upheaval is imminent.

“At the moment, Uzbekistan, undoubtedly is heading into further political and economic isolationism,” he said. “And things are simply going to get worse. You can keep people managing to just live at a very low level and you can keep the very wealthy people and President Karimov still managing to steal huge amounts of money from the economy provided that [currently high] gold and cotton prices maintain and the regime keeps its grip on power. But ultimately that’s going to lead to violent upheaval.”

Musaev agrees and says the country is in agony.

“The country has already entered the period of troubles,” he said. “Potential for protest has been growing, there will be social collapses — local, regional, and then bigger ones. The country had already become unmanageable. It is held together only by fear — by rubber truncheons and bayonets.”

Creating Radicals?

Many Uzbeks are trying to find an escape. Some leave the country. Others find consolation in religion: membership in Hizb ut-Tahrir, the banned Islamic religious group that offers to create a caliphate, or an Islamic state, as an alternative to the current system, has reportedly been growing in membership despite the authorities’ brutal repression.

Michael Hall, the director of the International Crisis Group’s Central Asia Program, says political instability, growing unemployment and corruption, as well as repression against dissent contribute to the popularity of radical ideologies. He says the Uzbek government has to change the political and economic situation if it wants to change this trend.

“I think to a large extent, it does depend on the government’s policies,” Hall said. “Allowing, for example, for greater freedom of discussion, allowing for greater independence from the state of religious institutions, I think this certainly can help. I think there are other aspects of the problem, too. One simple fact: a large number of Hizb ut-Tahrir members are young people. Young people very often don’t have much to occupy their time with. The educational system is being underfunded and in some places is inadequate.”

Musaev believes the current regime is unlikely to voluntarily begin making reforms. He says Karimov is not willing to give up power and the only way that will happen is to change the whole political system.

“The political system needs to be dismantled,” Musaev said. “The regime is going to maintain itself only on [declarations of] the necessity to provide national and regional security. But objectively, this internal policy of using violence amid the absolute poverty of people will create a huge social base for terrorism. And it won’t be Islamic at all, just [take] one demographic factor — people who have no jobs. Karimov’s political regime is a complete failure.”

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‘Titanic Express’ reviewed in the Independent

Peter Stanford reviews Titanic Express, By Richard Wilson

From The Independent

Forgiveness is not a popular concept these days. Instead, we seek justice, compensation and, often, revenge when others have done us wrong. These were the immediate goals of Richard Wilson when his 27-year-old sister, Charlotte, was murdered by rebel gunmen in Burundi in December 2000. A VSO worker in neighbouring Rwanda, Charlotte had been travelling on a bus – the Titanic Express of the title – with her Burundian fianc’, Richard Ndereyimana, when the attack took place. As well as the couple, 20 other passengers were robbed, stripped and then killed in cold blood.

Titanic Express begins with an account of Wilson’s battle to find out how his sister died, and to bring the perpetrators to justice. Foreign Office officials and the Metropolitan police officers assigned to the case are among the obstacles he has to surmount. More than once, he contemplates commissioning someone with a gun in Burundi to do to Charlotte’s killers what they did to her.

As his investigation unfolds, however, Wilson makes contacts with other aid organisations in Burundi, foreign journalists and exiles from its corrupt political system and ethnic tensions between Tutsis and Hutus – the same animosities that caused the genocide in Rwanda in 1995. In the process, he becomes an expert on Burundian politics – a microcosm of the problems that continue to afflict parts of post-colonial Africa. Movingly, he goes beyond a desire for revenge to develop an understanding of why Charlotte’s killers did what they did. Yes, they were heartless murderers, but something had happened to make them like that. In violent, hopeless societies, everyone and everything is infected and degraded.

It is not an easy personal journey. Wilson continues to struggle with a more primitive reaction even late in the book, when he meets a BBC World Service journalist from Burundi who has close links with the rebel group behind the attack. But his honesty carries the reader with him. Intimate books charting an individual’s quest only work if the author is prepared to show himself, warts and all. This Wilson does unflinchingly.

He also goes beyond the particular to ask broader questions about grief. It is a messy, painful, isolating experience that society today is reluctant to acknowledge or support. In his anguish, Wilson speaks to and for all who cannot easily put loss behind us and get on with life as if nothing has happened.

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