Uzbekistan’s President: No Reason to Miss the USSR; Now Fulfill Your Quota
Uzbekistan’s apparatchik-in-chief could still give a Sovietologist pause. Twenty years after the fall of the Soviet Union, President Islam Karimov – an economist by training – continues to stuff his people full of fabulous statistics, records even. But like the excerpts from a Central Committee meeting, something doesn’t quite add up.
No one in Uzbekistan misses the old Soviet Union, Karimov told his nation recently, because life since independence has become even more equitable (his own multi-millionaire daughters aside): “If you recall, back in 1990 from the rostrum I addressed our people, specifically the youth, my children, to say that in the future Uzbekistan, there would be a just state where there would be neither very rich nor very poor people.” How did independent Uzbekistan, rising out of the ashes of that failed utopia, meet these ideals? The answers are in the statistics, which Karimov skims over with alacrity.
From his January 19 speech to the Cabinet of Ministers, marked by a two-hour program on state television the next day (transcription and translation by BBC Monitoring):
Now there are some people nostalgic for the old times. I am sure that there are no such people in Uzbekistan at all. […] One can hear views on TV and through the media that after the collapse of the USSR all went bankrupt. If a person wants to have a personal, independent opinion on this, let him see the figures. Let him comprehend the figures. After this, no propaganda is needed. And there is no need to persuade him or tell lies to him. Everything will be clear to him by comparing the two things.
Compare or not, despite promises the USSR is dead and buried, Karimov moves on to sound eerily like a commissar:
Last year, over 3,800 farms failed to meet their contractual targets in cotton growing. As a result, the production of raw cotton was less [than the target] by over 160,000 tons of cotton worth over 120 billion sums. If we calculate this figure as cotton fiber that can be exported, the potential loss will amount to nearly $100 million. Please focus on this, at first sight it may sound like a small figure but in fact, we have lost $100 million only from potential exports not taking into account other losses.
Cotton is, of course, one of the most controversial features of contemporary Uzbekistan. Rights groups estimate up to 2 million children are dragged out of school each fall to pick the crop: “They live in filthy conditions, contract illnesses, miss school, and work daily from early morning until evening for little to no pay. Hunger, exhaustion, and heat stroke are common,” said Human Rights Watch this week. Many observers believe the president’s own family absorbs the profits by purchasing cotton from farmers at state-controlled prices and selling it at market prices abroad, pocketing the difference. But about those lost millions, Karimov persists:
It is high time to bring the guilty managers to justice. For example, if we compare two farms, one meets the target and another one fails, thinking of its own interest first and being shortsighted. Thinking this way, he has to get rich once he got the chance and forgetting the state's interests. There are many such people. I think we should be principled in the issue and establish justice.
When life is just like the Soviet Union, how could anyone miss the Soviet Union?
David Trilling is Eurasianet’s managing editor.