Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Ethnic Russians in Uzbekistan Under Pressure to Leave

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 3 – The approximately 900,000 ethnic Russians still living in Uzbekistan feel themselves to be “second or even third-class” residents of that Central Asian country and thus under increasing pressure to leave, according to new journalistic investigations reported in the Moscow media this week.

            In an article posted on the “Svobodnaya pressa” site yesterday under the title “Who Will Save the Uzbek Russians?” Vitaly Slovetsky suggests that most of the Russians in Uzbekistan are now in such a desperate situation that they dream only of the day when they will be able to return to the Russian Federation (

            They increasingly are fired without cause or explanation, lose their apartments, and face prison if they make any “attempt to raise the issue about the status of ethnic Russians” in that Central Asian state, the Moscow journalist says. Many left for political reasons after 1991 and for economic reasons later, but now they want to go because of open discrimination.

            At the end of Soviet times, there were 1.66 million Russians among the 20 million people of Uzbekistan. Now, there are only 900 thousand among the 30 million of that country, with most concentrated in Tashkent, its immediate environs, and in “small ‘Russian islands’ in Fergana, Samarkand and Navoi.”

            Many of Uzbekistan’s Russians are angry about Vladimir Putin’s suggestion that “those who wanted to left long ago, and those who remained are only those who were happy” with their situation.  That is simply not the case: They mostly remain because they cannot afford to move and because Moscow has not provided them with enough assistance.

            One indication of the problems they face is their demographic behavior, Slovetsky continues. Officials in Uzbekistan say that ethnic Russians there are marrying much less often and having fewer children, a reflection of their lack of hope for their own future and that of their community.

            According to one Russian woman in Tashkent, “the Uzbeks consider us to be ‘guests’ or ‘colonizers.’”  And both Uzbek officials and ordinary Uzbek citizens routinely complain that the Russians are still there and occupying housing or jobs that should go to Uzbeks.  Moreover, and in contrast to some other countries, the status of the Russian language is declining there as well.

            Most Russian-language schools have been closed, she says, and getting work, “even if you speak Uzbek not badly,” is often extremely difficult.  And if a Russian does get a job, another Tashkent resident complains, he or she is likely to be paid less than an Uzbek would.

            But it is the actions of government officials that are most infuriating, Uzbekistan’s Russians say.  Uzbekistan is the only Central Asian country to have a museum in memory ofhte victims of communist repressions.  “In fact, this is an occupation museum,” one says, to which Uzbeks are brought to inculcate anger about “Russian conquerors and oppressors.”

                Another adds that streets are regularly renamed to eliminate “’non-Uzbek’ names,” boks in Russian and Tajik “are destroyed, and “the leadership of the country not openly but clearly demonstrates that [in its opinion] Uzbekistan is for the Uzbeks” and not for anyone else.

            Specialists like Aleksandra Dokuchayeva agree, noting that this propaganda has had its effect not only in increasing negative views about Russians among Uzbeks but even their feelingss about the Russian language, which in contrast to some other post-Soviet states has lost its former attractiveness in Uzbekistan.

             Moscow does not appear to understand their plight, the Russians of Uzbekistan say, and its programs to resettle them are entirely inadequate because as housing prices are so low in Central Asia, Russians cannot hope to buy an apartment anywhere in the Russian Federation from what they would receive for selling their residence in Uzbekistan.

            A second article yesterday, this one prepared by the news agency and already being repeated on Russian portals, makes similar points. It says that ethnic Russians and Russian speakers across Central Asia are under pressure to leave but nowhere more than in Uzbekistan ( and

            One Russian resident of Tashkent, who refused to give her last name because she said she “has to live here for awhile yet,” said that Uzbekistan officials had been conducting “a broad and very harsh” effort to “drive out ethnic Russians from all spheres of life” and thus leave them with little choice but to move away.

            This special pressure against ethnic Russians is sometimes missed, Nikolay Polyakov of the Memorial human rights center says, given the surrounding “corrupt, extraordinarily harsh, and authoritarian regime” in Tashkent which because of its “arbitrariness” has left all residents of that country “defenseless” against its depradations.

            And the special problems of ethnic Russians there have been ignored by Moscow which in the pursuit of short-term goals has sought to establish good relations with Tashkent, other Russians living in Uzbekistan say, pointing to the diplomatic help the Russian government offered Tashkent in the wake of the Andijan rising.

            Only when relations between Moscow and Tashkent are bad, Aybek Sultangaziyev, an expert on the region told, does Moscow display much concern about what is happening with the ethnic Russians in Uzbekistan, a pattern that the Russians there and elsewhere fully understand and resent.

            That pattern will cost Russia dearly in the future Sultangaziyev says, because the ethnic Russian diasporas could be an important lever for Moscow to promote its influence. The Russian government should change course, he says, adding that those in the Russian capital should “learn from the Chinese” in this regard.

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