10/24/2018, 11.17
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The Uzbek spring, after years of quasi-Stalinism

by Vladimir Rozanskij

For nearly two years, new President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has been liberalizing the country, opening the economy to foreign investments from the East and West, granting amnesty political opponents. There is a cultural and tourism renaissance. A model of inter-religious coexistence between Muslims and Christians.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - On 18 October a monument was inaugurated in Moscow in honor of the first president of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, one of the great Eastern "satraps" inherited from the Soviet regime in Central Asia. On the same day, Russian President Vladimir Putin flew to Tashkent for an official visit; the last visit was two years ago on the same days, right at the funeral of Karimov. Russia’s interest in this country is not negligible, given the great geo-political game that is being played in the region together with China and the United States.

Apart from the major international strategies, it is interesting to compare the development of Uzbekistan and that of the surrounding countries, including Russia. The Soviet past played a fundamental role here, and it is only now that a transition to more open dimensions of politics and the economy seems to be beginning, while Russia is increasingly closing in imitation of the twentieth century regime.

The former first secretary of the communist party in Uzbekistan, Karimov, led the country without interruption from 1989 to 2016, preserving the Soviet economic system and imposing a very authoritarian regime, leaving to the opposition and to every form of dissent a single choice : that of exile. All attempts to manifest any alternative thought resulted in the imprisonment of hundreds of people.

In the last two years, the climate in the country has definitely changed, so much to talk about a "thaw" as in the days of Khrushchev in the USSR, or even "Uzbek spring": the use of the dollar was liberalized, political prisoners were granted amnesty, there has been development in tourism and foreign investment in the country. Uzbek liberalization has been praised by many Western media organizations, including the New York Times. From various countries, expeditions are organized, by the Uzbek authorities themselves, in search of gold mines, which seems to lie in abundance underground.

One of the leading Belgian billionaires, Patokh Chodiev, is a citizen of Uzbek origin, who at the time of the collapse of communism dealt with the trade relations between the Soviet Union and Japan. Having accumulated a fortune abroad in the Karimov years, doing business mainly with Kazakhstan, today he is one of the protagonists of the rebirth at home, having refounded the Pakhtakor of Tashkent, one of the most glorious formations of Soviet times. Chodiev is building a new stadium for fans, but has also opened an intellectual club, where successful Uzbeks from all over the world gather to discuss the future of the nation. One of his classmates, Alisher Usmanov, has become one of the richest men in Russia, and is building a giant tourism group in Bukhara, home to the ancient Mongolian khanate, and a large Islamic educational institution in the capital Tashkent.

The new president Shavkat Mirziyoyev received power almost by dynastic succession from Karimov, after having been his prime minister for 15 years. Without criticizing his predecessor, he quickly set up a major program of change, opening up to external influences of East and West. The turning point has aroused amazement because under the Karimov regime, Mirziyoyev had never allowed any liberal orientation to appear, while remaining rather on the sidelines.

The reforms are always accompanied by praise for the late leader, in whose honor a solemn memorial was built in Samarcanda, the oldest city in Uzbekistan, the center of the legendary Asian "silk road" that today many want rebuilt. Even the Muscovite monument is part of this exaltation of the past, necessary to disguise the present renewal.

Among other things Uzbekistan is home to an important model of religious tolerance. Alongside the Muslim majority, 10% of Christians, mostly Orthodox, but also Protestants and Catholics coexist peacefully, having their own independent apostolic administration since 2005, run by the Franciscan Jerzy Maculewicz. The government is committed to defending the borders from the attempts to penetration by ISIS fighters, fleeing from Syria, who are seeking to regroup mainly in the countries of Central Asia.

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