Uzbekistan to Students: Shape Up or Ship Out
Conform to "the traditions of national independence ideology," Tashkent has reportedly told students, or get out. Concerned about the lax behavior they see as rampant in Uzbekistan’s universities and colleges, authorities have introduced a new set of moral regulations that, among other things, restrict criticism of teachers and govern what students write about their school online, reports the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR).Failure to adhere to the new 23-page moral code could lead to expulsion. Unsurprisingly, students are unhappy with the “prison-style” rules targeting “gaudy dress” and calling on them to combat "foreign religious and extremist influences." On campus, “rock concerts alien to the national mentality” are also taboo. The code may aim to stifle mockery, as well. Recently several YouTube videos have emerged, appearing to show the impudent children of Uzbekistan’s small but highly privileged elite harassing their instructors. In one video, boys dance and wave dollar bills at their bemused teacher. In a parody of the rampant corruption in the education system, the laughing students attempt to place the money in the teacher's pockets and on his desk. The growth in popularity of social networking websites such as Facebook in Uzbekistan, despite severe Internet censorship and restrictions, appears to be spooking authorities who fear social networks may challenge their hold on power, à la the Arab unrest. In the fall, Uzbekistan introduced Muloqot (Conversation), its closely monitored answer to Facebook, in an attempt to regulate online activity. But this has not dented the allure of foreign networking sites.
Paul Bartlett is a journalist based in Almaty.