Uzbekistan marks president’s birthday with adulatory doc
The documentary features a softball interview with President Mirziyoyev.
State television in Uzbekistan marked the president’s birthday with a degree of fanfare and a soft-focus interview that indicates unquestioning subservience to authority is to remain a dominant theme of political life for the foreseeable future.
Shavkat Mirziyoyev turned 61 on July 24, a fact that could not possibly have gone unnoticed by anybody reading local newspapers or watching state television news bulletins. The intense coverage of this ultimately insignificant event is reminiscent of the kind of adulatory treatment reserved for leaders in countries like Turkmenistan, Russia and Kazakhstan, where full-blown cults of personality have been created as way to bolster presidential legitimacy.
The highlight of the day was a hagiographic documentary featuring a softball interview with Mirziyoyev on state television that cast the president in the guise of a humble but tireless servant of the state. The program began with stirring orchestral music and a smattering of ostensibly representative shots of daily Uzbek life, from people cleaning their home and working in the fields to riding public transport and getting ready for work. Interspersed with those scenes are shots of Mirziyoyev’s motorcade and the beginning of his working day, which apparently begins with him reading the newspapers and making phone calls. Both the title card of the documentary, called Mister President, and the intro music are pure overblown modern Hollywood epic.
The interview was billed as the first given by an Uzbek president, but the heavily edited exchange revealed little but quaint generalities. Mirziyoyev informed television viewers, for example, that he places great importance on the role of the family in public life.
“That is why I devote a great deal of attention to the education of my children. I devote attention to my every child and grandchild. I know the character of every grandchild, their dreams and their wishes,” Mirziyoyev said in a fragment cited by Gazeta.uz.
Other than to showcase this kind of milk-and-water philosophizing, the purpose of the documentary was to hit some key notes about the kind of president of Mirziyoyev has been since he came to power following his predecessor’s death in September 2016.
One sequence, scored to sad music, shows glum Uzbeks shoveling snow off the roofs of their shabby wattle and daub homes and the exterior of crumbling Soviet-era apartment blocks. The orchestral strings suddenly soar again and pictures appear of workers building a bright and clean new residential quarter. The crudely conveyed message being that Mirziyoyev is improving people’s lives.
A later section features an interview with U.S. Ambassador Pamela Spratlen in which she praises Mirziyoyev for his efforts to reverse some of the most egregious human rights violations perpetrated by his predecessor, Islam Karimov. Footage then appears of people being released from prison.
The documentary proceeds by rote through all of Mirziyoyev’s achievements.
Kristalina Georgieva, the chief executive of the World Bank, is rolled on to hail Uzbekistan’s improvement in her organization’s Doing Business ranking.
“This strikes us as an indicator of this spirit of change,” Georgieva said.
To demonstrate the president’s mindfulness of security responsibilities, there is footage of him looking through binoculars at soldiers blowing things up, abseiling down cliffs and firing automatic rifles during military exercises.
The culmination of the documentary is a sequence documenting Mirziyoyev’s many travels abroad. These start with his meetings with his neighbors — regional integration has become a byword of this president’s regime. As the unceasing musical accompaniment reaches frantic and decidedly jarring urgency, Mirziyoyev is then shown traveling to some of Uzbekistan’s most important partners — South Korea, the United States, Russia and China.
The film is standard and predictable Central Asian state television fare. Some may be concerned, however, at the ease with which government media has fallen into old habits of utter deference to the president. While times may be changing in Uzbekistan, many of the customs remain very much the same. For all the talk of liberalization, Tashkent does not appear eager to entertain public dialogue about its path of development, but is preferring instead to propound a narrative of unvarnished positivity.