Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Uzbekistan Pursuing Hybrid De-Karimovization

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 3 – Authoritarian leaders feel compelled to denounce their immediate predecessors in order to build up their own standing with the population. When they act against truly horrific predecessors, they are celebrated; when they do so against those who are no worse or perhaps even better, they are criticized.

            But this process of denouncing the past in order to celebrate the present is an inherent feature of such systems, one that none of them seem capable of escaping even if they adopt new means of achieving their purposes and one that contains within itself the seeds of the destruction of positive change.

            That is because the wholesale destruction of the reputation and policies of the predecessor of an incumbent authoritarian carries with it the near certainty that those who do not like what he is doing will seek the wholesale destruction his reputation and policies when he dies or is ousted in some other way.

            That in turn promises to institutionalize uncertainty about the longer term and thus undermine any possibility for gradual change.

            Since the death of former Uzbekistan strongman Islam Karimov in September 2016, such a process has been taking place in his country; but in the best traditions of Eurasia now, it is occurring in a “hybrid” fashion, one in which the new rulers appear to be pursuing contradictory policies.

            On the one hand, as the Uzbek Service of Radio Liberty reported 10 days ago, the new regime has ordered Uzbek television not to mention Karimov’s name, has taken down his picture in many public places and has sponsored often-savage criticism of the former leader’s policies and personnel decisions (rus.ozodlik.org/a/29447946.html).

            But on the other hand, the new powers that be continue to officially honor his name and even open monuments and museums to his memory, Askar Maminov of Kyrgyzstan’s Central Asian Monitor reports (camonitor.kz/31539-prikazano-zabyt-v-uzbekistane-unichtozhayut-pamyat-ob-islame-karimove.html).

            Given how repressive and isolationist Karimov was, many in Uzbekistan and the West have celebrated the changes his successor Shavkat Mirziyoyev has introduced, seeing them as giving Uzbekistan a chance to escape from its repressive stagnation and isolation. But that makes the divided message his regime is sending all the more curious.

            Uzbek political analyst Bakhodir Safoyev says that this process is not at all surprising: “In the East, there can be only one khan, and he can’t have any competitors, even from among the dead.”  Each new ruler must thus attack his predecessor because “the powers that be must be associated [by the population] with only one man.”

            “When Mirziyoyev became president,” the analyst says, “he felt the distrust of society as a whole to the system of state power” Karimov had built. “Consequently, he had to extinguish any memory about Karimov so that he would not be identified with him, even though he was a Karimov cadre.”

            Moreover, by doing this, Mirziyoyev killed several birds with one stone, Safoyev continues.  He strengthened his own position and he set the terms for the upcoming election campaign, one in which he can separate himself from the crimes connected with the Karimov period.

            But as Nadezhda Atayeva, an Uzbek human rights activist now living in exile in France, says, this separation does not mean that Mirziyoyev and his regime will recognize those actions as crimes. And it may not mean that in time, he and his people will not repeat them, given that they were involved with them in the past. 

            Kamoliddin Rabbimov, a former researcher at the Tashkent Institute for the Study of Civil Society, agrees.  Mirziyoyev in the course of his rise under Karimov changed his tune as the leader changed his.  When Karimov was harsh, so was Mirziyoyev; when he was less so, so too was the new man.

            Despite that and despite the attacks on Karimov now, Rabbimov says, “authoritarianism has been preserved because the political elite of Uzbekistan still does not have sufficient intellectual and value resources in order to make the transition to democracy.”  That remains very much the task of the future.

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