Uzbekistan — Buyuk kelajak bo'lgan Davlat!

This blog is dedicated to providing rigorous analysis of current events in Uzbekistan. Debate and criticism are welcome, please inform me if you would like to offer a correction.


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Gas Shortages in Toshkent City

Lines stretching around city blocks; angry shouts as station after station is forced to closed prematurely; gas prices doubling or tripling as desperate citizens shell out everything to get home: this is not the gas crises of the 1970s, but a reality of life in metropolitan Toshkent. Even without an OPEC embargo, gas shortages are an unfortunately regular occurrence in Uzbekistan. The most recent panic in Toshkent City in the week of 20 October highlights another unfortunate side effect of the byzantine administrative division between the capital territory of Toshkent City and the rest of the country. Despite being total self-sufficient in oil production and refinement, and expected to remain so for at least another 30 years at current levels at petroleum production, Uzbekistan consistently faces issues of temporary oil and gas shortages in Toshkent City. This consistent issue is not so much an issue of inadequate petroleum production, although infrastructure in that process does tend to be outdated and wasteful, but a combination of the difficulties inherent in accommodating market forces in a planned economic model, the administrative complexity of importing fuel into Toshkent City, and widespread hoarding by Toshkentchi eager to secure their own daily commutes.
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Border Controls Liberalized in Farg’ona Valley

The utterly lack of obvious natural barriers from one end of the Farg’ona Valley to the other belies a fiendishly complex system of territory division that carve up the flat expanse in defiance of geography, infrastructure, migration patterns, and logic. A mere 25 years ago, the Farg’ona Valley was traversable from Xujand to Jalal-Abat without obstructions of any kind, a situation enabled by the free movement allowed within the constituent republics of the USSR and reflected in the crumbling infrastructure of the modern republics. Even since the deteriorating security situation in Tajikistan and the Kyrgyz Republic raised the prospect of armed groups operating across the still porous borders — a danger highlighted by high profile kidnappings in Batken in 1999 — Uzbekistan has been the primary force in constructing and enforcing borders in the Farg’ona Valley, setting up arduous requirements for entry and trade, and even resorting to extreme measures such as land mines to prevent illegal crossings in high altitude areas. As pointed out by the Center for Preventive Action in their visit to the Valley, the intense securitization of the borders has caused numerous hardships to befall the already disadvantaged communities of the Farg’ona Valley, particularly those living in the border towns of Osh and Xujand. Under the temporary administration of Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the norm of strict border control that has lasted for nearly two decades appears to be eroding as the caretaker government has taken tentative steps towards normalizing border relations between Uzbekistan and the Kyrgyz Republic.
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XDP Recruitment Drive Fails to Deliver

At the end of September, the Xalq Demokratik Partiyasi (XDP) initiated a recruitment campaign to attract new registered party members in preparation for the presidential elections in December. These efforts, however, have been largely unsuccessful, as registered party members remain a tiny minority of the voting population. The chance of the XDP to usurp electoral power in Uzbekistan, particularly in the upcoming elections, has always rested on the party’s ability to successfully mobilize remaining support networks from the Communist Party of Uzbekistan, meaning that the failure of these recent recruitment drives cast doubt on the ability of the current XDP to successfully challenge Mr. Mirziyoyev’s drive towards the presidency. The lackluster picture painted by the party’s recent performance, however, may be deceiving because of the significant exigent circumstances during the recent campaign, and overall lack of centralized coordination. The registration campaign was undertaken on local initiative and thus lacked the resources and connections which the central XDP leadership might be able to bring to bear in an election, moreover the campaign occurred contemporaneously with the national drive to collect the hundreds of thousands of signatures needed to officially register the party, limiting the scope of the project and the party resources that could be devoted to registering new members.
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Uzbekistan Takes Bold Step Towards Protecting Private Enterprise

On 5 October 2016, interim President Shavkat Mirziyoyev signed into being easily one of the most significant reforms in recent Uzbekistani history. The Presidential Decree, whose long official title I will not write out here, severely curtails the discretionary ability of the Bosh Prokuratura — translating to the General Procuracy, a term I will use in lieu of the more common, but misleading, translation of Prosecutor-General — to conduct investigations of illicit business activity, effectively abolishing one of the major forms of administrative abuse and malfeasance in Uzbekistan. For years, the Procuracy has been the bane of Uzbekistani entrepreneurs, using the threat of short-term imprisonment or temporary cessation of business activities to coerce business owners to pay the significant bribes demanded by the Procurators. The new measures to limit the discretionary ability to conduct inspections and create an ombudsman system to report abuse will cripple this system of extortion, hopefully making life a little easier for Uzbekistan’s struggling middle class. On the flip side, making the Procuracy has been one of the major institutions beating back the trend of oligarchy so dominant elsewhere in the former USSR. A major test for whatever administration inherits the new situation next year will be its ability to protect the small businessman while making sure that Uzbekistan’s wealth disparity does not become a power disparity.
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Remittances from Russia Continue to Decline

The effects of the current economic crisis in Russia have been felt throughout the region, often reaching Central Asian nations through the sudden crunch in the value of remittances being sent from migrant workers in Russia. The original shocking numbers were released in June of 2016, when the Central Bank of Russia announced that the value of remittances for the first quarter of 2016 were a paltry $27 million, less that 20% of the remittance value for the previous year’s quarter. This precipitous decline continued in the spring of 2016, with remittances for the second quarter further declining to $21 million. The values of individual measured money transfers have only declined slightly in the past year, meaning that the decline in remittances reflects not only decreases in earned wages, but major job cuts and a rapid exit of Uzbekistani migrant workers from the Russian labour market. This Central Asian exodus from Russia is driven by a combination of economic and social factors which make young men less likely to seek out work in Russia and existing migrant workers less likely to stay there.
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Shavkat Mirziyoyev Halts Regional Purges

A set script for regime change in undemocratic countries — the dichotomy between free and unfree being set by the scrupulous standards of the advanced democracies of Western Europe, North America, and the Antipodes — is clear: a new strongman steps into the old strongman’s shoes, uses whatever means are available to punish those who argued against his ascendance, and gradually replaces disloyal cronies of the old guard with his personal cronies. As usual, this typified dictatorial picture utterly fails to predict or encompass the realities of government transition in Uzbekistan. The newest surprise on the predicted trajectory of Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the interim President, is that the purges of the old guard appear to have stopped less than a week after starting. In the first two weeks following the death of Mr. Karimov, Mr. Mirziyoyev seemed surprising ambitious, making major plays against institutional rivals in the presidential apparat — especially Mr. G’aniev — and descending upon areas of industrial development like an angel of death come to reap the souls (and jobs) of incompetent or corrupt officials. On the 21 September 2016, however, this behavior suddenly changed; the purges abruptly ended. All other aspects of Mr. Mirziyoyev’s government remained intact, but the dismissal or punishment of corrupt officials neither characterized neither government in metropolitan Tashkent nor the tours of the provinces. Assuredly the officials overseeing a tire factory in Angren are not less corrupt than those responsible for cotton procurement in Jizzax, meaning that there is larger political reason that local officials were fired on 20 September and retained on 21 September.
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Labour Minister Speaks on Employment

On 30 September 2016, Aziz Abduxakimov, the Minister of Labour and the Social Welfare of the Population, presented his report on employment to the Qonunchilik Palatasi, the lower house of the Oily Majlis. The report confirmed two facts about the government’s employment policies: that they are struggling to keep pace with population growth, and that they are focused towards creating new jobs for the young rather than helping to reemploy older workers. The statistics aside, the relationship between the Minister and the Qonunchilik Palatasi demonstrated in this review reaffirms the influence of the Oliy Majlis in Uzbekistani politics; this will be especially true for whatever government succeeds the Karimov administration.
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