Between celebration and mourning: a report from Uzbekistan

The evening of 31 August in Tashkent teahouse crowded. Tomorrow starts a three day weekend to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Uzbek statehood, which will be replaced by a three-day mourning for the founder of modern Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov. But about it nobody knows. Uzbeks sitting around relaxing before the long holidays, preventing beer and vodka, and the air literally smells of pilaf and kebab. Although Uzbekistan is a Muslim country, drinking alcohol is not forbidden; after the sunset “Allah does not see”, explains one local.

Death in Facebook

While in Moscow, are actively discussing the possible death of Karimov, which on the same day, August 31, told the opposition website “Fergana.<url>, here, it seems, no one believes it. For a country with a very young population (average age 27.1 years) Karimov has always been, and in his passing hard to believe. The more that official media insist that the leader is alive, although he was in the hospital.

“I personally do not believe that he died. Karimov could get treated in Israel some or Germany. Most of the people that doesn’t use special programs to bypass censorship on the Internet, just do not know what is happening,” explains foreign carelessness of visitors teahouse came here with me Uzbek political scientist Andrey Saidov.

Notanswering the main source of information in Uzbekistan are social networks. Specialized groups in Facebook repost publications of Russian and Western media on political life in Central Asia. In anticipation of the holidays they are filled with information about the state of health of the President.

Very popular in these days, I use public Health Karimov” that emerged after the official announcement of the hospitalization of the leader of Uzbekistan. The administrators group has published the information about the status of the President, has denied the appeared hearings about his death, wrote comments like “pray for grandpa!”, collected signatures against the site “Fergana.<url>”, which continued to insist that Karimov is no longer alive.

Tashkent-based journalist Aleksey Volosevich many here called the independent. On his page in the social network, it relays publications prohibited publications Asiaterra, whose editor is. He reveals that he has guessed about the death of the President on the eve of independence Day, when a walk in the center of Tashkent and saw police strengthen, which traditionally happen on public holidays: “We quietly walked past the checkpoint, reached the gates of the presidential residence”.

After that, he came to the hospital, which the Tashkent called “the First government hospital”, where it is suspected Islam Karimov. “No cordon was not there either. Thirty meters from the entrance stood a police car, which slept two policemen. In the courtyard of the hospital through the checkpoint freely through the people and out too. I tried to go and was stopped, but not heavily armed guards and one janitor, who said that now the hospital not,” says Volosevich . Then he suggested that Karimov is either not in the country, or to “protect just one”.

On the eve of the holiday, authorities announced that all activities involving the President and officials are canceled. Fireworks also will not be, but the Tashkent citizens can take part in the festivities, drink cold soda and eat popcorn.

A holiday without “grandfather”

In celebration of the 25th anniversary of independence of Uzbekistan, the speaker of the state television read out a big congratulations, which was allegedly written by Islam Karimov, suddenly feeling better. The city center since the morning began to fill the police and clearly being in the place for working people in civilian clothes, who were hiding from unusual for early September heat.

The squares were set scenes, the sound engineers have set up a nasty fonyaschih from time to time equipment. In the alleys Barker offered to buy the ticket for simple rides. On pedestrian streets lined merchants with huge bags of popcorn. Stand street photographers were set up almost every hundred meters, but this service was not popular, but the “selfie-stick” was in the hands of every third.

Typically, these activities will start about 11 a.m., but this time idly strolling citizens could be counted on the fingers. Many clothes were attached small ribbons in the colors of the national flag. Under their feet creaked a new paving slabs. According to local residents, the town this day was considerably cleaner than usual. Until the evening wanting to leave the dart, or throw a basketball ball in a plastic ring in the calculation of the simple prize was a little.

Came to the feast in the town center was concentrated there, where it was possible to find shade. Almost all the benches around the fountain near the national security Service of Uzbekistan were busy people, young couples looked for a good angle for a selfie. A great angle mean a solution to all known local problems in the frame were beautiful jets of water, but not got the building of the security forces, which is forbidden. Not all of it worked, so they asked passersby to photograph them.

“In fact, we have all the holidays of the last years is not very crowded. People prefer not to waste a few weekends not to get drunk somewhere in the center, and to go out of town on vacation,” explains local guide Andrew.

Although Tashkent has a modern water parks, swimming pools and even its own Disneyland, many locals prefer to go for the weekend to a very popular reservoir Charvak and Tuyabuguzskoe, also known as the Tashkent sea. To afford the bus to Tashmore can afford any — it’s worth 2000 som (44 rubles). Further rest depends on the inclinations and wallet, then have the infrastructure for tourists — cafes, water activities, etc., but you can, as most do, free of charge in own towel seized from home products.

Andrew we go through the mahalla — neighborhood of private buildings. The narrow streets go blank Adobe walls, forming a long maze, in which worn tanned children, go sheep, and at the crossroads women sit in colorful robes and sell the piece of cigarettes and other trifles. But all the real life happens inside hidden from prying eyes yards. Inside sure to be a tree, a couch where you can relax and entertain guests, and maybe even a small fountain.

“The Uzbeks are a people who can hardly come out to do street politics, and protesting in the squares to Express all their opinions and even more discontent. Talk to them on the street difficult, especially to a stranger. If in Tashkent people is rare, but may have something to say privately, looking around, in the regions it is possible. There is enough to show Scarecrow policeman to have all fled,” says Andrew.

He added that many remember the bloody events of 2005 in the Fergana valley. Then in the largest city in Eastern Uzbekistan Andijan crowd of local residents gathered for a rally demanding the release of those arrested on charges of involvement in radical Islamic business organizations. Captured the building of the prison and the regional administration. The next morning in Andijan went heavy machinery, which opened fire on everyone in the centre, including women and children. Killed a few hundred people, thousands managed to flee to neighboring Kyrgyzstan as refugees.

“All power here in the hands of the security forces. The powers of the police are boundless, so never argue. People are afraid of. Here the high level of self-censorship,” says Andrew, right after we have a few times in ten minutes, checked things with a metal detector.

Police checks at the entrance to the subway or public places here a usual thing. Local at the sight of the patrol automatically reach for the bags to show that there is nothing forbidden.

Unwanted information

If the center of the festive city was relatively uncrowded, in residential areas I have lived. There are its own infrastructure — shops, markets, cafes: all that can be found in the centre, but much cheaper.

“Earlier before the weekend and holidays, the representatives of the authorities, so to speak, warned merchants that it was better to pack up and leave for a few days. Otherwise, there is always a reason to suspend the operation of the store. Now to warn you don’t even need all and leave”, — said opposition filmmaker Oleg Karpov.

The last time he worked on a series about the presidential motorcade, which twice a day passing under the Windows of his apartment in the panel Khrushchev. According to Karpov, first to him often came to the precinct because of the fact that he is the only one not to shut the Windows during a motorcade. But then he waved his hand.

But in General with freedom of expression in Uzbekistan, the situation does not seem rosy. Independence Day in the Park named after Bobur, the police detained the journalist said Yanyshev, who filmed the festivities. “I was approached by people in civilian clothes, and then in uniform. The chief among them raised voice began to ask me who I am, why are you taking pictures, called two operas, gave them a mandate: to accompany me to the police Department and “check me”. However, at this time there were no check — already approaching the police Department, one of the opers has received from his superiors instructions — machine turned, and Yanyshev drove almost to the house.

Analyst Andrey Saidov said that over the years of Karimov’s Constitution has acquired numerous written exceptions and limitations of freedom of speech, which allow the officials to declare any unsolicited information threatening to the constitutional order or confidential for reasons of state interests.

“Survived the media whose editorial was outside the country and they could not get, — says the journalist Volosevich. Until 2005 the country had more than 100 Western and independent journalists. After the Andijan events, the West has imposed some restrictive sanctions, and the Karimov regime began to clamp down on everything that is possible. In 2010, six of the most active journalists summoned by the Prosecutor of Tashkent, was threatened with different punishments. Against all criminal case for slander and insulting the state. One of the six was tried, soldered a large fine — 9 or 10 thousand dollars — for cooperation with the radio “Voice of America”, but the case has caused an international outcry against other vessel was not.”

The analyst Saidov says that early critics of the regime could “sew” criminal charges for domestics. Now can award a large sum or condemn conditionally. “In General, for the whole society here is characterized by the marginal information protection. This is due both to public policies and national mentality. Uzbeks are generally ashamed of any publicity, prefer to find a compromise behind closed doors, but outward show is extremely streamlined result” — explains the analyst.

Import substitution in Uzbek

Uzbek business lives in the same gated mode, and the media. To agree with someone of the owners, takes several days. One of those who agree to talk, in the end suddenly a cold, the other ceases to answer calls, someone honestly says that he changed his mind. Finally near the hotel meet with the representative of a medium business, as he calls himself, asking only that works in the field of trade and services. Long interrogates what exactly is the text that fills me?” We get in the car and going a roundabout way in an inconspicuous café. My companion chooses the farthest table and staring intently into the faces of all of the cafes.

“Medium-sized businesses in Tashkent is possible to do. Please. You can open a shop or cafe. To us, for example, the checks do not come often. There is a setting to check in once in five years. Naturally, we are preparing for it. I don’t understand those who went from here to Russia and thinks that will sweep the yard and get a thousand bucks. He just doesn’t want to think with our heads here, don’t want to work. Although the state gives land rent and fertilizer,” explains the source, for the thousandth time, taking the promise of not mentioning his name and even the city where we met. Later I understand that his opinion about “lazy wiper” is almost a verbatim quote of one of the speeches of President Islam Karimov.

Karimov’s Uzbekistan stakes on import substitution. According to the businessman, now the proportion between imported goods and local is about 30 to 70. “Another five or seven years ago, those proportions were reversed. We now produce fertilizers cheaper and no worse than Europeans. We have provided the automotive market, and the public are given interest-free loans on cars. We cooperate with China and Korea. Foreign investors interested in Uzbekistan,” — said the businessman. He said that the pressure today on business there. There is a tacit monopoly of the state, but in the strategic directions as, in his opinion, necessary.

“You know, there’s a problem with the currency conversion. The official rate now almost two times lower than on the black market. Therefore, those who have the opportunity to buy cheaper and sell more, and people from the bureaucracy, feel good,” says my companion, again looking around. The conversation ends almost immediately after at the next table sits a young couple.

More talkative to those who practically lost everything. But you can lose everything in Uzbekistan is possible in one day. And it will not depend neither from market nor from exchange rate fluctuations. “I had earlier micro. I had a video store. In the culture house I rented a few square meters under the stairs. Since 1990-ies it was all good, and I earned no less than a thousand dollars. This is quite enough to life. But at some point came representatives of the authorities and just said at noon, here come the workers and the premises must be free. None of the tenants did not even argue,” says former businessman Oleg.

What is called business in Uzbekistan is the sphere of trade, says the entrepreneur Elena Agibalova. She was for 15 years engaged in trade in the market. A few years ago, she said, lost everything. She’s not especially worried about the fact that her someone can be overheard, so we meet in a crowded café. Rather woman, on the contrary, wants to be heard. Under the overpass is located chaotic Parking of minibuses, the exchange hired workers, money changers and merchants samosa. Near rubbed bright Tashkent prostitutes, which is difficult to confuse with an ordinary resident of Tashkent.

Agibalova brought a thick packet of documents and first start rattling off the names of the officials, to which she unsuccessfully sought help. After five minutes of conversation the head to boil it mass details. “I long ago moved from Russia to her husband. We all went to the market to trade. I went to Russia, to Turkey, brought the product to tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars. I had not yet started to change the system of taxation and the cost of the outlet. We changed supervisors, had proposed some new conditions. Each time getting harder and unprofitable,” — says Agibalov. Mechanically her fingers with Oblivskiy manicure countless a stack of documents.

According to her, at some point the market at the racetrack, where she had several points, started to charge people from the interior Ministry. Began to take “point” on false pretexts.

“Against me staged provocation. Some women provoked a scandal. The police arrived and took away all the goods, without explaining the reasons. I even took the mobile phone. I lost $200 thousand and some years can’t find the truth. On the excitement of the Uzbek people can not provoke a change of government, but such history. Now the markets only traders not less than 50 thousand persons” — does not hide anger Elena Agibalova.

The last journey

That Islam Karimov died, even before the official announcement of this information to users of the Uzbek segment of Facebook said administrator loyal to the authorities of the country group “Health Karimov”. He wrote that the heart-lung machine was disconnected. “I offer my sincere apologies, but I have to tell you. Sorry, I can’t keep you in the delusion of knowing the truth”, — reported in social networks.

The morning of the following days, the official sources said that Karimov is in critical condition.

A few hours after the official announcement of the death of the President, in the morning, before sunrise, along the Central streets of Tashkent lined its inhabitants. Waiting to pass by the funeral cortege, they clutched in the hands of a small rose. Before people lined up by the police. Behind them people in the civilian. The President’s body was transported from the hospital to the airport. From there a special flight to deliver to Samarkand, where he wanted to be buried near relatives and near the tomb of Tamerlane.

Making sure that the permanent leader is no more, the country started to discuss a successor. According to the Constitution in the next three months the government should take over the Chairman of the Senate of Nigmatulla Yuldashev. However, the fact that he will become the second President of the Republic, in Uzbekistan almost no one believes. Much stronger, local analysts assess the chances of Shaukat mirzijaeva, Rustam Azimov, who oversees the financial-economic sphere, and the head of SNB Rustam Inoyatova.

“When I was asked about a successor, I would like to say that they will be the one who will instead Karimov to read the greeting nation on independence Day. Good thing I didn’t say anything because then it would be a new President was to be the announcer of the state television — said political analyst Andrey Saidov. — Now seriously, everyone talks about the candidacy of the current Prime Minister mirzijaeva. It seems to me, despite the fact that he was very close to Karimov, in power, he can’t get up. For this he is not popular among the people. Karimov, as an authoritative ruler, equal beside him, not tolerated”.

According to Saidov, the last word in determining the shape of a successor to Karimov will remain with the security forces of the national security Council — the real power in the Republic in recent years. “Who now will support the head of SNB, Rustam Inoyatov, he probably will be the next President,” says the analyst, while standing with him in the crowd outside the cordon. It shows men in civilian clothes who stand behind a pillar. They behave relaxed, joking with the police. Next to them is a tough guy in a tracksuit who is constantly looking around. According to Saidov, these people are called “posboni” — the local designation of informants, informers. I’m watching with interest “posbon”. He carefully scans the grieving residents of Tashkent, throwing flowers after the departing funeral procession.