12/23/2004, 00.00
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Christmas in Tashkent after the wounds of Soviet atheism

The country's few Christians celebrate the birth of Christ whilst the majority of the population knows little of its meaning.

Tashkent (AsiaNews) – In a country that is predominantly Muslim with a history of 70 years of Soviet atheism, Uzbekistan's small Christian community is getting ready to celebrate the birth of Christ full of joy and hope. Most Christians are Orthodox.

For most Uzbeks, Christmas has no religious content and its celebrations blend with those of the New Year.

Under Soviet rule, all religious traditions, be they Christian or Muslim, were neglected. The current regime, fearful of Islamic terrorism, has limited religious freedom and maintains a close watch over all religions.

For local mass media religion does not exist and rarely speak of it. Christmas time is no different. When they do mention it, it is devoid of its religious aspects and only to show how it is celebrated around the world.

Christmas symbols and decorations like those found in Europe or the US adorn the streets of Uzbekistan's main cities, including the capital Tashkent, but for most people Christmas, which the Orthodox celebrate on January 7, is just part of New Year celebrations. For this reason Christmas is just an occasion for get-togethers with friends. But for some it so closely associated with Christianity and foreigners that they reject it altogether, Christmas tree included.

For the country's small Christian community, December 25 remains never the less the birthday of Jesus and a time of joy.

In spite of the limited and non religious-oriented media coverage, local Christians are not discouraged and see the positive side. For some, ever the hopeful, even the limited exposure of religious events is important because things might change and mass media might start to talk about religious celebrations of all the country's religious communities.

Christians in Uzbekistan are mostly descendants of immigrants from Russia and other East European countries. Out of a population of 25 million Christian Orthodox are about 1 per cent. Catholics are but a few thousands. (LU)

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