Thursday, September 12, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Revolution in Uzbekistan Won’t Be Velvet and May Be Led by Taliban, Blogger Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 12 – The Fergana News site in recent months has been surveying the views of various people about the prospects for radical change in Uzbekistan. Now, a prominent blogger has delivered what is likely to be the most disturbing prediction of all: A revolution there, he says, will be bloody rather than velvet and may be led by the Taliban.

            But he says that no revolution is likely over the next two years, indeed, until the United States withdraws its forces from Afghanistan, freeing Taliban elements to move north, although he does suggest that a putsch from within the regime is possible if President Islam Karimov later this year declares that he intends to rule for another term.

            In an interview with the portal posted online yesterday, Yadgor Norbutayev says that because of the current correlation of forces in Uzbekistan it will not be possible, as some hope, to organize “a velvet revolution” in Tashkent.  Moreover, he suggests, the violent turnover ahead may very well be led by the Taliban of Afghanistan (

            Drawing on theorists ranging from Vladimir Lenin to Crane Brinton, Norbutayev says that most Uzbeks today would just like to see things get a little better rather than try for something more, a result of a popular passivity reinforced by the regime’s suggestion that whatever one thinks of Karimov, almost anyone else would be worse.

            Many groups in Uzbekistan are dissatisfied, he continues, but their dissatisfaction is directed at their immediate superiors or competitors rather than the regime as such. Moreover, thanks to the efforts of Karimov, the country lacks an intellectual class that could refocus that anger on Tashkent. And the regime isn’t interested in pursuing reforms that might threaten itself.

            Consequently, “in the near term, a change of power in Uzbekistan is not possible,” the blogger says.  But he adds that revolutions are always unexpected and that they often appear to come out of nowhere, a reflection of “irrational and unreal” phantoms that no one took notice of before the revolution broke out. 

            In looking for this “mysterious X-factor” in Uzbekistan, Norbutayev says one needsto recognize that the majority of the population is “without qualification subordinate to any power” that may be in office, Karimov’s or anyone else’s.  Those who might oppose it have been compromised or suppressed by a highly-effective coercive apparatus.

            Consequently, the regime has managed to convince most observers that it is stable and in any case the best on offer.  But an inventory of the country’s problems: “total corruption, rural over-population, the progressive collapse of all financial structures of the state, the final collapse of social structures ... education and medical service at a dead end, the chronic budget deficit, etc., etc.” leads to another conclusion.

            Any one of these could bring down a government if there were to be an occasion.  Two such occasions are ahead. The first, later this year, will arise when Karimov has to announce whether he will remain in office.  That could trigger a coup from within his own entourage but not yet a revolution.

            And the second, which could lead to a revolution, albeit a bloody and not “velvet” one, can even be said to be expected when the US forces leave Afghanistan and the Taliban has a chance to extend its influence into Central Asia and transform Uzbekistan from “a sunny republic” into “a Muslim” one.

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