Speaking at the UN General Assembly in mid-September, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev outlined a democratic vision for Uzbekistan. Just over a year since Mirziyoyev replaced the late strongman Islam Karimov, such a vision naturally generated skepticism. Yet, Mirziyoyev’s actions, not just his words, leave room for guarded optimism.
In his UN address on September 19, Mirziyoyev stressed a need for political and economic reforms that would help shape a new image for his country. His “ultimate goal,” he stated, was building a sound democracy in Uzbekistan, one where “human interests come first.” Such a vision marks a drastic departure from Uzbekistan under Karimov, when the country was routinely ranked by watchdog groups among the most repressive places in the world.
Setting aside the ambitious scope of this vision, Mirziyoyev has shown in his relatively short time at the helm in Uzbekistan that he means what he says. For one, his New York visit marked the first UN appearance by an Uzbek leader in 15 years, a break from Karimov’s self-imposed isolation.
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Saipira Furstenberg is a research fellow at the University of Exeter, Department of Politics. She is affiliated with Exeter Central Asia Studies Network.