Books on Uzbekistan
Update No: 321 - (26/09/07)
The Kazakh Rival prevails
Uzbekistan has a much larger population than Kazakhstan and is on the old Silk
Road, with historic cities galore, Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva, Khokand, Andizan
and more, while it has most of the fertile Ferghana Valley. It was also the
central Asian capital for Tsarist Russia, which was run by a military governor
with his HQ in Tashkent. Similarly it was the de facto administrative capital
for Soviet central Asia and has nursed ambitions to dominate its now independent
But Kazakhstan has the inestimable advantage of having 60% of the FSU's mineral
resources, including an abundance of energy. It is eclipsing its old rival as
the natural leader of Central Asia, using its oil wealth to buy influence.
Moreover, the Kazakh regime, authoritarian though it undoubtedly is, is also
rather popular, since it is delivering the goods. The Uzbek regime is not,
because it is not.
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev's recent trips to neighbouring countries,
significantly omitting Uzbekistan, are part of Astana's policy to establish
itself as a regional leader. Astana wants to be a centre of influence --
actually it has already become one. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are willing to
cooperate with Kazakhstan, in a way that they are not with Uzbekistan. They have
received Kazakh loans and investments. They have gained some advantage from the
Uzbekistan is cautious about Astana's initiatives. There has been undoubted
rivalry and jealousy between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Tashkent has often
criticized Astana's actions. It demonstrates an old, traditional antagonism.
Uzbekistan is Kazakhstan's rival for regional leadership, but it lags behind
Kazakhstan in economic development. Astana introduced free-market economic
reforms shortly after gaining independence in 1991, whereas the Uzbek economy
remains state-controlled and still bears resemblance to the Soviet
command-administrative economic system.
Uzbekistan could strengthen its position in the region in a decade or more. But
Kazakhstan undoubtedly has taken a leading position in Central Asia for the time
A poor country
At the root of Uzbekistan's many problems is that it is a poor country, not
quite so poor as Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan, but much poorer than Kazakhstan.
Even though some Central Asian countries increased public-sector wages recently,
the average salary in the region -- less than $100 per month, with the exception
of oil-rich Kazakhstan -- is still barely enough to buy basic foodstuffs. The
meagre wages contribute greatly to the syndrome of widespread corruption and
bribery that exists in Central Asia.
Ziyodullo Razzoqov, a school teacher in Uzbekistan's Jizzakh region, says that
with his salary -- around $80 a month -- he can only afford the most essential
foodstuffs such as bread, oil, and vegetables, as well as essential clothes for
his family of five. But the family has to cut down on many other things.
Razzoqov's children attend school, and "they need food, clothing, and
school supplies. But we cannot afford all those expenses. Our salary is not
enough for those clothes and the other stuff they sell in the market," he
Razzoqov's situation is not unique in Uzbekistan and the rest of Central Asia.
Most public-sector workers in the region struggle to make ends meet with their
miserably low wages. Average official monthly salaries in these countries,
excluding Kazakhstan, range from around $35 in Tajikistan to about $96 in
Higher Wages, Without Great Changes
The Tajik government has promised to increase public employees' wages by 50
percent in October, while teachers in Turkmenistan received a 40 percent pay
rise with their September salaries. Kyrgyzstan started to gradually increase
public wages earlier this year.
During Independence Day celebrations in Uzbekistan on September 1, Uzbek
President Islam Karimov announced that his government is considering major
increases in pay for state workers. "In the next three years it has to be
our duty that our workers' and public-service employees' wages, as well as
pensions and student stipends, will be increased 2 to 2 1/2 times," Karimov
However, many people in Central Asia do not believe that such salary increases
will change their lives dramatically. People complain about the
disproportionately high prices compared to their incomes. Often when governments
announce plans or even intentions to increase wages, merchants in local bazaars
raise their food prices.
In addition, many teachers and doctors -- especially in rural areas -- do not
receive their wages on time and sometimes get paid only after a two- or
People try to find solutions elsewhere. Many people have to do gardening and
farming on tiny allotments and sell fruit and vegetables in the markets.
Orchards, vegetable farms, and livestock have become additional sources of
income and food for many families. This is how they manage to live.
Seeking Work Abroad
Miserable salaries have forced hundred of thousands of Uzbek men -- professional
doctors, engineers, and teachers among them -- to spend several months a year as
migrant labourers in Russia.
Many women in Central Asia have learned new skills, such as dressmaking and
Merime, a 62-year-old Bishkek resident, recently retired after almost three
decades working as a doctor. Merime says Central Asian family traditions have
helped many people survive the economic hardships. She says Central Asian
families are usually large and everyone -- including children and pensioners --
try to take part in earning their families' living. Elderly people count on
their children's and relatives' support.
Merime sells vegetables in a Bishkek market to supplement her meagre pension.
"As a former doctor my monthly pension is nearly $25. This money is hardly
enough to pay for utility bills. If I didn't have children and didn't earn some
extra money, I wouldn't survive," she said.
Low wages have contributed to the widespread bribery and corruption in the
region. Even teachers routinely charge their students for every test and exam,
citing their small wages. While medical treatment is officially free in public
hospitals, it is a common practice in Central Asia that patients give money to
doctors for services performed.
Police -- including traffic police, customs officials, airport workers, and tax
authorities -- almost all over the region have become notorious for extorting
Transparency International (TI), a Berlin-based group that fights corruption
worldwide, placed four Central Asian countries -- Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan,
Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan -- among the 20 most-corrupt countries in the world
in its 2006 report.
Shokirjon Hakimov, the head of the Law Department at the University of
International Relations in Dushanbe, in neighbouring Takiistan, says that
bribery has become an everyday reality -- a part of the region's culture.
Hakimov says that if the situation does not change in the next few years, the
four poorest Central Asian countries could plunge further into corruption, with
people completely losing faith in their governments and leaders.