Uzbekistan: Blogging fosters freedom of speech

Recently, the U.S. State Department has ranked Uzbekistan among “top ten” of the most authoritarian countries in the world. During almost two decades of his reign, president I. Karimov and his clan have taken control of all spheres of life in the country – political, economic and social. Civil society, which emerged and was developing in the country after the collapse of Soviet Union, has felt the severe pressure of Karimov's regime, especially after the Andijon events in 2005 that resulted in international sanctions on Uzbekistan. The state has full power over mainstream media in the country. Even though Karimov glorifies democratic values in his public speeches, there is no freedom of speech in the country. However, today, voices are breaking through via new media – blogs.

One of such cyber-activists is Gerchik, discussing sociopolitical problems in the country in his blog. In his most recent post, Gerchik writes about the reasons why people may leave Uzbekistan and lists vital social problems that his community is suffering from [ru]:

1. Electricity cut-offs in the cities for two and more weeks, even on holidays. Reason: disorganized work of the State Electricity Department staff, which collects payment for electricity. Moreover, they take bribes by “rewinding” the electricity meter back.
2. Electricity supply is limited to 4 hours a day in rural areas;
3. There is a great shortage of natural gas in public use, despite the fact that we the country is rich in natural gas;
4. An average Uzbek can't feed family doing his job in Uzbekistan, so people are forced to become migrant workers;
5. An average Uzbek family is not able to pay for utilities;
6. The state officials are impudent enough to publicly lie that an average Uzbek citizen earns 200 USD per month;
7. And these state officials are re-elected to the third term!

The post, which reflects reality in most parts of Uzbekistan, has generated lots of comments from other people, who suffer from the same problems. One such comment reads [ru]:

I live in the suburb of Tashkent [capital city]. Cuts of hot water and gas were regular during the whole winter. Electricity was cuting off repeatedly during a day… My parents live in Syrdarya. They didn't have gas for the whole winter. Even now its supply is very low. People don't have access to drinking water in their houses and are to go a long way round for it.

In another post, Gerchik opines on the politics in Uzbekistan and asks readers a question that was raised by one of his friends, who apparently tried to justify the current regime's actions [ru]:

Imagine a situation: you have been making your way up in your career for very long time. Finally, you become a president. What will you do? Will you try to make your life better by gaining enormous fortunes and taking your nation's wealth – big luxurious houses, top brand cars, yacht, house on the seashore and big businesses – or, will you try to change the situation in the country for the better by spending all the money for, say, development of education in the country?

This post provoked a heated discussion among readers. Each of them gave their own view on the situation.

It is hard to answer this question. Why? First, I will never become a president. Second, the problem is not only in the president. But if I became a president, I would first take care of myself. Who would do the opposite? I guess no one.

Khorezm writes about the recent rally of several hundreds of women in the center of Urgench. They were complaining about relocation of the city market to the suburbs and about the distribution of sales outlets on a new place. As Khoresm reports, the protesters wanted a dialogue with the governor. However, when they approached Hokimiyat [city administration building] they were stopped by a chain of policemen [ru]:

The crowd was stopped by a chain of Special Squad… Even though women had no arms, the policemen were wearing helmets and body armours… As a result, the crowd jamme up the traffic… The atmosphere was tense. A rumor that the policemen had allegedly beat up one of the demonstrators made the situation worse… There was a mobile headquarters of Special Squad nearby, which, if the situation went worse, could give orders for more drastic measures… However, police managed to split the protesters into groups and finally disperse the crowd by the noon… Demonstrators decided to address their problem to the local TV channels or to RFE/RL reporters.

Also posted on Global Voices Online.

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