· May, 2023

People campaigning for the constitutional referendum in Bukhara, Uzbekistan. Photo from Manba Official Telegram channel. Copyright free.

As a continuation of the wide-ranging reforms implemented since his arrival to power in 2016, Uzbekistan’s president Shavkat Mirziyoyev has promised to build a “New Uzbekistan.” So far, it remains a vague political concept described with the help of grandeur statements of “a free and fair society that cares about every citizen.” This political project is also helping Mirziyoyev to differentiate his regime from the dictatorship associated with the rule of his heavy-handed predecessor, Islam Karimov

The promise of “New Uzbekistan” came in handy when promoting the constitutional referendum that took place on April 30. In an overwhelmingly ‘yes’ vote, people supported constitutional amendments that declare Uzbekistan as a social state, adopting the principle of “human-society-state”, which prioritizes the interests of ordinary citizens”, and ensures that honor and dignity of a person are inviolable. 

Another constitutional change, which is difficult to fit into the model of a “New Uzbekistan”, was the annulling of Mirziyoyev’s previous two presidential terms and allowing him to run for two more seven-year-long terms. On July 9, 2023, Mirziyoyev exercised this newly secured right and won in snap presidential elections

Uzbekistan may be stepping into a new era in its history of domestic affairs, but its foreign policy challenges remain and are increasingly worsening. Perhaps the most pressing issue of them all is the war in Ukraine, which has placed Uzbekistan into an uneasy position of trying to balance between close ties and dependence on Russia and the threat of Western sanctions for helping it bypass them. Domestically, the war has divided society as over 1.5 million Uzbek migrant workers find employment in Russia since unemployment rates are high in Uzbekistan.

In addition, the country has to keep a close eye on the situation unfolding in Afghanistan, its neighbor to the south, and engage with the Taliban. China’s growing presence does not seem to be a cause for concern for Uzbek leadership, which has taken its cooperation with China to new heights in the last few years. Ordinary citizens are starting to feel this presence even more as Chinese car manufacturers are flooding the Uzbek market

A completely “New Uzbekistan” may lie many years ahead; however, some noteworthy changes are already taking place. The “Open Budget” program is galvanizing people in the country by giving them control over their local budgets and facilitating grassroots democracy. The country’s prioritization of the tourism sector has led to the promotion of tourism in regions previously unknown by foreigners, with Karakalpakstan being the prime example of this development. 

Activists and government officials are working together to put an end to the widespread problem of domestic and sexual violence against women and children. In this regard, a crucial legal framework is now in place. Artists and musicians are taking advantage of the loosening of censorship and raising awareness about social issues through their work. At the same time, people in Uzbekistan are celebrating the cultural heritage of movie stars and music icons who fell short of reaching their full potential due to strict censorship present during Karimov’s rule.   

In this Special Coverage, we focus on the political, social, and economic changes taking place in Uzbekistan. Our selected articles explore how people in the country are finding their footing in a new political reality that is starkly different from the previous regime, which was characterized by repression, censorship, and isolation, and trying to make the most of the new opportunities to create, campaign, and criticize their government.  

Stories about What will the 'New Uzbekistan' look like? from May, 2023