President Karimov denounced the events on Uzbek TV, explaining that they "were carried out by those forces that hate in their very souls our country, the peaceful life of our citizens and their achievements. Their aims are to disrupt peace, destabilize the situation, sow fear and panic, disrupt faith in our policies, disrupt our good thoughts and creative work."
True, they were carried out to "destabilize the situation" and "disrupt faith in our policies", but as for the rest...
Privately the recent murders of the militia are seen by many as just deserts for a force that is omnipresent, eager to supplement their meager wages with bribes, notorious for using torture against people, and always "solving" any crime by finding an appropriate criminal, whether or not s/he is guilty. In the past, a murdered militia head was gruesomely stuck on the local city hall fence spikes in Fergana valley, a particular hotbed of anti-government feeling. This is the first time the hated militia have been the target of unrest beyond the independent-minded Fergana valley, a truly worrying sign.
As for "our policies," read "IMF dictates." Yes, Uzbekistan finally made its currency, ironically called the sum (but pronounced soom), convertible, after years of procrastinating, despite daily exhortations and pressure by the IMF, the US and the WB. In the process, all basic goods prices were ratcheted up to an unbearable level. Meanwhile, the government soaked up sums by selling dollar reserves, pushing down the exchange rate to less than 1000 sums per $ (it once was 1800) as inflation continued to eat away at real wages. This effectively halved people's pitiful savings (in $ as no one can trust a bank here to return one's deposits). Imported goods have doubled in price, including most medicines. Not infrequently they are phony, nicely packaged by a local petty swindler, a would-be New Uzbek.
In a word, the atmosphere of "freedom and democracy" based on IMF wisdom has created a tinderbox. The president's reference to "our policies" and "the path we have chosen" sticks in the craw. It is the path the IMF chose, as it turned a blind eye to the devastation wrought on the average Farhad and the new ease with which corrupt officials and mafia deposit their ill-gotten gains abroad.
The latest straw for the hand-to-mouth Farhads has been the inexorable increase in public transit charges - each month a 10% increase. Now at 140 sums, that may not sound bad to a westerner, but it is a major cost for most people, and if you commute to work and must transfer and return the same day, as most do, that alone will absorb half a normal salary. The last increase was met with outright protest on the bus I was in, the first time I've witnessed this. The babushka shouting at the conductor was hardly a terrorist.
And what does one read in the local press? About the great future, the happy contented citizens, the approval of the IMF for the wise policies of the president, the lack of inflation, the creation of a bicameral parliament, the construction of the new senate building... The only TV programs that are watched avidly are the Indian movies and Mexican soap operas. And thank God for them.
President Karimov noted with disapproval in his speech that "before, we did not witness the situation where the criminal blew himself up. This shows the imitation of terrorist acts taking place in other countries." Ah yes, those cursed Palestinians and Iraqis. He goes on to add, ominously, "extremist centers with big financial means are behind them," though a few guns and some ammonium nitrate don't cost an awful lot (correct me if I'm wrong).
Is he perhaps trying to connect this with the tragedy of the Palestinians or the criminal invasion of Iraq (which he enthusiastically endorses, even THESE days)? If so, he puts himself in the shoes of the Israeli and US occupation forces in their respective missions, hardly desirable bedfellows for a Muslim leader.
Finally, he calls on the traditional community organizations, mahallas, and their members, to be extra vigilant in exposing suspicious activities. "May they be brave and decisive, not stinting in their duty to preserve order in the mahallas."
That's the spirit! In the tradition of 911, encourage people to inform on each other, and don't dare question what grievances the desperate individuals have that might prompt them to blow themselves up. Of course, they are mere dupes of some nebulous religious "fanatics" (thousands of whom are languishing (or worse) in Uzbek jails). The fact that life for most Uzbeks is close to unbearable is never mentioned.
But beware Mr Karimov. The US can be a fickle ally. The shiny new FBI office you so graciously allowed them to open here, the huge military base you so magnanimously handed over, packed full of hardnosed soldiers and covert operations experts - they aren't necessarily to protect YOU. And you can't fool all of the people all of the time.
Simon Jones is a Canadian freelance journalist living in Uzbekistan. He writes for Peace Magazine (Toronto) and has published pieces in Counterpunch and YellowTimes.org. He can be contacted at email@example.com
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