09.04.2010
“L’Etat, C’Est Lui!”
№1 2010 January/March
Arkady Dubnov

Political analyst at Moskovskiye Novosti newspaper.

This century is drastically redrawing the map of old
strategic priorities, moving some parts of the world into the
shadows and bringing other parts into the limelight. Eurasia has
become an arena where the diverse interests of global powers
intersect, while small and medium-sized regional countries are
turning into the subjects of big policy-making. Yet not everyone is
content with a passive role for themselves and the ambitious
leaders of a number of states are seeking to make their own game,
both with their equals, for instance their neighbors, and with the
grand players of international politics – Russia, the U.S., China
and the European Union. Uzbek President Islam Karimov is definitely
one such leader.

Karimov, the permanent head of an independent
Uzbekistan, is the doyen of the entire corps of post-Soviet leaders
both in terms of age (he is 72 years old) and time in the
presidential office. On March 24, 2010 it will have been twenty
years since Uzbekistan’s Supreme Soviet voted to introduce the post
of president in the then-Soviet republic and elected Karimov to the
job. Prior to that there had been only one president in the Soviet
Union – Mikhail Gorbachev – and even that all-Union post had just
been introduced at the time. Karimov blazed a path towards the
presidency for all other leaders of Soviet republics, formerly
ordinary local Communist party bosses who rushed to copy their
Uzbek counterpart’s example. Eyewitnesses recall Gorbachev’s
displeasure. “On March 29, 1990, during talks in the corridors of
the congress of the Soviet Young Communist League, Gorbachev said
that Karimov’s move was premature. However, he himself had lost
influence on the situation in the republics by that time, so his
attitude remained within the boundaries of personal perception,”
writes Uzmetronom.com, a website uncensored by the Uzbek
authorities.

Islam Karimov has never made it a secret that he does
not separate the notions of “Uzbekistan” and “president.” The state
that has been built there is in essence his personal project.
Karimov’s brainchild has gone through numerous harsh tests over the
past two decades, yet now the country is facing its most difficult
trial. The fundamental geopolitical shift taking place in the world
is forcing him to renounce post-Soviet practices. The challenges
are too momentous to be dealt with using the experience of
Soviet-era nomenklatura, even if bolstered by the nationalistic
vehemence that always goes hand-in-glove with the construction of a
new statehood.

CREATION OF THE FORM

“In view of age, I’m approaching the line where I
must think more about who will carry on the model of Uzbekistan’s
development that I founded in 1991,” President Karimov said more
than eight years ago, in January 2002, as he explained the
necessity of a referendum on introducing a two-chamber parliament
and extending the presidential term from five to seven years.

Since then he seems to have become oblivious to the
importance of thinking about a successor. “I’ll live for a long
time,” he said once as he was beginning yet another term. His words
were taken then as a clear signal to everyone who might aspire to
the presidency. It sounded like “You won’t live to see it happen.”
Some people did not.

Karimov stopped thinking long ago about assaults from
critics on his de facto legalized presidency for life. With the
exception of the 1990 elections, he has held presidential elections
only three times over the past twenty years – in 1991, 2000 and
2007. His powers were extended in a referendum in 1995 and one more
plebiscite – in 2002 – prolonged the constitutional presidential
mandate from five to seven years. Three years later it “appeared”
that this provision applied to the incumbent head of state,
although the questions included in the polling had not implied
that.

Back in October 1998 when the author of this article
interviewed Karimov, he claimed: “Here in Uzbekistan the
constitution clearly fixes the timeframe for the duties of the
legislature and the president and we won’t play all these games
with a prolongation or curtailment of terms of office, as this
would call into question the stability of the constitution itself.”
He said then that stability of the constitution guarantees
stability in the country as such. Karimov claimed further in the
same interview that Uzbekistan had created a system “under which
parliamentary and presidential elections are held at practically
the same time […] so that the moods of the people when they elect
members of parliament should not differ much from the moods or
problems they have when electing the president.” “I hope this
system will remain for a long time here in Uzbekistan,” he said.
His hopes have proven short-lived, since the system slid into
history soon after that.

It is worth recalling that Karimov’s remarks were in
response to a decision by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev to
hold an early presidential election in January 1999.

One more mishap typical of the Uzbek legal system and
demonstrating the way in which “stability of the constitution as a
guarantee of stability in the country as such” is understood
occurred in 2007. Under the country’s basic law, presidential
elections are held the same year that the term of the incumbent
president expires – on the first Sunday between December 20 and
December 31. The last time Karimov took the presidential oath
before that was at a session of parliament on January 21, 2000.
This meant that holding an election in December 23 (the first
Sunday between December 20 and December 31) would contravene
Article 90 of the constitution, which stipulates a seven-year
presidential term. Karimov’s powers were thus extended for eleven
months.

Human rights activist Djakhongir Shosalimov attempted
to call the Constitution Court’s attention to the fact. He never
got an answer, although the law obliges the Court to answer
citizens’ petitions within a period of ten days. The Uzbek
opposition, and many international observers in their wake, sized
upon the extra eleven months of Karimov’s stay in office as an
illegal usurpation of power. But the presidential administration
did not bat an eye, all the more so that the accusations went
politely unnoticed by the leading global powers – in Washington,
Brussels, Berlin and Moscow.

Whether intentional or not, Karimov himself brought
up the collision several months later in February 2008 when he
visited Moscow just a month before the presidential election in
Russia. Speaking in the Kremlin he said that he had “always
advocated a situation where Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] would
agree to a proposal coming from – among others – him [Karimov] and
bring up his candidacy for a third term.” “I feel satisfied before
my own consciousness knowing that an option like this could
materialize and I am confident that nobody would have any regrets
about it in the future,” the Uzbek leader said as he shared his
emotions with the audience. “If someone were to say something about
it, they would realize everything over time and this would be the
most acceptable solution,” he added.

It seemed that everyone sitting in the hall felt
somewhat confused, since it was clear that Karimov was speaking
more about himself than about Putin. He himself needed a
justification for the previous year’s decision to run for a third
term in spite of the constitutional ban.

In Uzbekistan Karimov has had no one to report to for
quite some time. He had to listen to “instructions from the voters”
only once – in the city of Namangan in December 1991. That city in
the Fergana Valley in the country’s south has a deeply-rooted
Islamic tradition. On the eve of the first election Karimov made a
courageous and almost unguarded trip to the city that had been
virtually under the full control of the Islamic movement Adolat
(Fairness), led by Tohir Yoldoshev and Juma Namangani. The two men
would later command the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

Karimov later would never admit that he had had to
kneel together with other Muslims while Yoldoshev recited a surah
from the Koran. The talks were held in the regional committee
building of the Communist Party that had been seized by Islamic
fundamentalists. Karimov listened to ten demands, including
guarantees for declaring Uzbekistan an Islamic state. Whatever one
may say, he did fulfill at least one condition – he placed his
hands on both the constitution and the Koran when he took the
presidential oath.

On the other hand, the Uzbek president no longer
needs support to prove the legitimacy of his rule, since he is
confident that he is the only person capable of maintaining
stability in the country. “Everything closes on me and that’s not
accidental,” Karimov told Nezavisimaya Gazeta in 2005. “We’ve gone
through a fairly difficult period of development when we had to
respond to many knotty challenges of the time, and I simply had to
carry all of the burdens on my shoulders,” he said. “Yet the
situation will be changing gradually and we must generate a
generation of people who will replace us.”

Karimov tried to convince the audience and himself
that the formation of a professional two-chamber parliament would
furnish the authorities with an instrument enabling them to
“strongly foster people’s rule and the foundations of civic
society, which will result in the emergence of a democratic state.”
The last option would allegedly “rule out the possibility of a
dictatorship,” which in turn implied “a tyranny” and “a diktat by
one person or by one element of power.” The president dwelt on
justice that should be sought and quoted a popular saying that
suggests: “Let the one who has power have a conscience and be
fair.” Then he uttered a passage that can be viewed as the
quintessence of Uzbekistan’s philosophy of state construction:
“We’re still creating the form and the main thing is to flesh it
out with content. The same way that America has been filling in its
constitution with content for over 200 years.” And he immediately
issued an instruction to his state apparatus: “These categories of
thinking should be assimilated by the members of the new
parliament, ministers and judiciary officials.” Uzbekistan’s ruling
elite has learned Karimov’s categories by heart over the past
twenty years as it realizes that the creation of all of these
“democratic institutions” does not go beyond the form. The MPs,
ministers and other administrators seem to feel undisturbed in
expectation of an order from the top to start molding the content.
The task has been set for 200 years after all.

Karimov shared his reflections on “the internal
protest potential that has been building up for many years” and on
“the importance of a durable contact between the government and the
population and the evidence of whether or not they keep up a normal
dialogue.” “The worst happens when relations between the
authorities and the people come to resemble a conversation of the
mute… when the protest moods reach the extreme point, or when the
vapor is hot enough to rip off the valves.” He rushed to add: “No
kind of America and no kind of Europe are able to target the events
correctly if society itself doesn’t crave abrupt changes.”

THE ANDIJAN TURNS

Where did all these wise conclusions disappear to
three and a half months later when the “overheated boiler” exploded
in Andijan, where the authorities had failed to heed the voice of
the people demanding justice and fair treatment by the officials?
The sentence that the authorities passed on the popular rebellion,
albeit somewhat controllable, was unequivocal: all the people who
took to the streets in protest against the unabated arbitrariness
of local bosses were categorized as “terrorists and criminals
trained in camps outside Uzbekistan and paid by its enemies.” All
the journalists and human rights activists who told the world about
the manslaughter organized in Andijan by the Uzbek forces of law
and order were portrayed as “the stooges of Western secret
services.”

Karimov, who visited Andijan at the time, claimed:
“Not a single peaceful civilian was killed there, just gangsters.
Firearms were always near their bodies.”

The official death toll of 187 that the authorities
made public several days after the tragedy was never corrected
afterwards. Either the government in Uzbekistan never makes any
mistakes and was able to establish the exact number of casualties
right at the peak of events or else it is afraid to name the actual
number of the dead. In the meantime, human rights activists and
independent observers say that no less than 500 people were killed
in Andijan.

Islam Karimov has never recognized any mistakes on
the part of the authorities, including the regional bosses in
Andijan. This is quite logical: if “everything closes on him” he
bears personal responsibility for everything. Karimov’s personal
authority simply cannot be subject to doubt.

Yet the rest of the world was shocked. Even Moscow,
which traditionally did not let itself criticize its CIS allies
except for Georgia and Ukraine, aired notes of criticism. “A
complicated social and economic situation and a certain weakness of
state power… plus the presence of the Islamic factor and people’s
discontent with living standards predetermines the volatility of
the situation,” Moscow-based Mayak radio said on May 15, 2005,
quoting Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Valery Loshchinin. It is
true, though, that the tone of assessments changed after a
telephone conversation between Karimov and Vladimir Putin. Foreign
Minister Sergei Lavrov, who admitted that “many civilians died as a
result of an incursion into Uzbekistan and we don’t have
information about how this happened,” threw the responsibility on
external forces. “It’s important to conduct a most thorough
investigation over who gathered the group of people and told them
to create a situation of this kind in Uzbekistan,” he said. These
words were targeted at the external factor, but if you think about
them, they could also have been addressed to the people who had
been steering the country for many years.

The events in Andijan brought about a sharp turn in
Uzbekistan’s foreign policy. The UN General Assembly issued a
resolution condemning the government’s reluctance to view the
incident from any other angle than that of the country’s internal
affair. Tashkent vehemently turned down U.S. and EU demands to
conduct an independent international investigation of the May 2005
tragedy. Washington and Brussels implemented sanctions against
Uzbekistan, accusing its leadership of the disproportionate use of
force while suppressing unrest. In contrast, Moscow and Beijing met
the situation with understanding at the top level and that is why
China was the first country Karimov visited after May 25.

The Uzbek authorities retaliated to Washington’s
harsh reaction by forcing the U.S. to pull its troops out of the
Karshi-Khanabad military base that was set up in September 2001 in
the run-up to the campaign in Afghanistan. As regards Russia’s
support, Tashkent had to pay for it. The withdrawal of the U.S.
forces was followed by the signing on November 14, 2005, of a
Russian-Uzbek agreement on an allied relationship that envisions
the reciprocal allotment of military installations. In January
2006, Uzbekistan joined the Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC)
and finally, after a long t?te-a-t?te meeting with Vladimir Putin
in Sochi in August 2006, Karimov signed a protocol On the
Resumption of Uzbekistan’s Membership in the CIS Collective
Security Treaty Organization. Karimov signed the document after it
was ratified by parliament.

It must be said, however, that the word ‘resumption’
is somewhat inappropriate, since Uzbekistan has never been a member
in the strictest sense of the word. The CSTO formally came into
existence in 2002, but three years before that Uzbekistan – along
with Azerbaijan and Georgia – had refused to sign a protocol on
prolonging its affiliation with an organization uniting the
countries that signed the May 1992 Tashkent Treaty on Collective
Security in the CIS. The Uzbek leadership explained the decision
then by its disapproval of Russia’s policies in the South Caucasus
(unilateral supplies of weapons to Armenia) and Central Asia (the
increased Russian military presence in Tajikistan), as well as
Moscow’s willingness to attend a unified position among CIS
countries on all the issues – from NATO expansion to the situation
in Kosovo to the war against Iraq. “Why should we unite again under
one cap?” Karimov asked with indignation. “We’re a sovereign
country and we have our own position on each issue.”

Uzbekistan’s joining EurAsEC and the “resumption” of
its membership in the CSTO was met by many with a mixture of
skepticism and enthusiasm. Its regional neighbors, above all
Tajikistan, hoped this would lead to the opening of their borders
with Uzbekistan for the free movement of commodities and people.
Tashkent had promised to sign relevant agreements in the framework
of EurAsEC by the end of 2006, but this has not taken place to
date. Moreover, some sections of the border still remain mined.
Tashkent said in November 2008, less than three years after joining
EurAsEC, that it was suspending its membership in that
organization. Karimov explained this position by saying that
EurAsEC’s operations overlapped in many ways with those of the CIS
and the CSTO. Also, it had contradictions with other members
regarding the Customs Union, Karimov said.

There is a different explanation for this move, too.
It had become clear by the end of 2008 that the EU was getting
ready to lift the sanctions it had imposed on Uzbekistan in the
wake of the Andijan events, and signs appeared of a thaw in
relations with Washington, which inspired hope for an improvement
in relations with the West on the whole. Consequently, Tashkent had
to decrease its slant towards Moscow in a bid to restore the
balance.

As for the “resumption” of Uzbekistan’s membership in
the CSTO, one would see quite clearly in two years’ time, or at the
beginning of 2009, that this had been a forced move on the part of
Tashkent taken amid a complicated geopolitical situation after the
events in Andijan. Uzbekistan refused to take part in the setting
up of the Collective Rapid Reaction Force (CRRF) in the format of
the CSTO when the organization decided to set it up at Russia’s
initiative. Specifically, Uzbek officials found it impossible to
agree to the principle of decision-making on deployment of the CRRF
by a majority vote rather than by a consensus. This reaction,
though, was quite natural if one recalls the level of hostility
between Uzbekistan and neighboring countries. Hypothetically, a
majority of CRRF countries may want to use armed units to interfere
in developments inside Uzbekistan.

GOOD-NEIGHBORLINESS IS STILL A DREAM

The pitiful experience of Tashkent’s membership in
EurAsEC was not a surprise. Most officials, and not only Russian
ones, thought that Uzbekistan’s accession would bring all regional
problems into the organization, as Tashkent had not built relations
of trust with any of its neighboring countries over the two decades
of its post-Soviet existence. There are numerous reasons for this.
The lack of experience for an independent existence among the
former Soviet Central Asian republics within the borders randomly
drawn by the Soviet government was augmented with ethnic egotism.
One of the acute problems of the region is the integrated economic
and water-distribution complex that was built during the Soviet era
and that is extremely difficult to split into five independent
parts. The difficulties could be settled in some manner were it not
for a subjective but crucial factor – a rather thorny record of
Karimov’s personal relations with the leaders of practically all
Central Asian countries (this refers to a lesser degree to
President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, who recently came to power in
Turkmenistan).

The vast majority of experts believe that a real
opportunity for cooperation will surface no sooner than the rule of
the incumbent leaders of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan
becomes an asset of the past. Until then, Tashkent will continue
responding with a categorical “No” to any integration proposals.
For instance, Karimov said in Astana in April 2008 in response to
the Kazakh president’s proposal to set up a Central Asian Union
that the potential of the member-states “should be comparable at
least to some degree.” Besides, he said, “the politics and
guidelines the leaders of the states promulgate should be
comparable but not conflicting with each other, especially when it
comes down to reforms and the envisioning of national development
prospects.”

The validity of these statements can hardly be
challenged and yet the “politics and guidelines” promulgated by the
leaders of regional countries, given all the differences of their
economic potentials, differ mostly as to the degree of
authoritarianism. Regimes of this type have practically zero
negotiability as they destroy the culture of discussion. Instead,
they cultivate reciprocal suspicions and spy mania. A ridiculous,
but quite typical, feature of the atmosphere generated in
Uzbekistan is the long jail terms for espionage for Tajikistan that
were issued a couple of years ago to women who wormed out Uzbek
defense secrets “under the guise of prostitutes.” The situation in
Tajikistan mirrors that of Uzbekistan. In February 2010, the Uzbek
authorities passed an unexpected decision limiting visits by Kyrgyz
citizens to no more than once every three months.

MENTALITY AND POLITICS

At the president’s behest, the Uzbeks have developed
a habit of making references to the age-old mentality of the Uzbek
people as a substantiation of current policy. A recent example is
the court case of the famous Uzbek photographer and documentary
filmmaker Umida Akhmedova. The case had a resounding international
impact. The accusations against her claimed that her films The
Burden of Virginity
and Men and Women in Rites and
Rituals
, as well as her book of photographs Women and Men:
From Dawn to Sunset
, slandered and insulted the Uzbek nation.
Akhmedova showed in her film the tragedies women suffer due to the
centuries-old tradition of hanging up in public the sheets stained
with virginal blood after the wedding night.

Akhmedova’s camera exposed not only the official happiness on Uzbek
faces, but also their hard and far from happy daily life. The
judges established that the details of the private lives of
individuals were insulting to the whole nation, which incidentally
consists of the very same individuals. International public
protests saved Akhmedova from a prison term – the court found her
guilty of all the offenses she was charged with, but granted her
amnesty because it was the 18th anniversary of Uzbekistan’s
independence. Quite in line with the Soviet tradition, which the
ideologists of the Uzbek regime reject so rigorously, the artist
was charged with parasitism – she allegedly “did not engage in
socially useful labor.”

As the country’s main ideologist, the president sees
his task in rebuffing the influences contradicting the Uzbek ethnic
mentality and the people promulgating them. Whom official Tashkent
has in mind can be seen from the official explanation given in 2008
for the ban on Igor Vorontsov, a representative of Human Rights
Watch, to return to Uzbekistan and get accreditation. The
authorities claimed Vorontsov was “unfamiliar with the Uzbek
people’s mentality and was unable to estimate the reforms carried
out by the country’s authorities.” Unofficially, the organization
received a tip from Tashkent saying the authorities might consider
a different candidacy, but he or she “should not be an ethnic
Russian.”

The sensitive ethnic issue often emerges under the
most unexpected pretexts. You may get the impression that it
pertains to the personal emotional experiences of the president, an
extraordinary, temperamental and sincere person (if the notion of
“sincerity” applies to a professional politician at all) rather
than to interstate relations. “The Empire [the Soviet government]
looked at us as if we were second-rate people,” Karimov said in an
interview. He remembers perfectly well how humiliating the
so-called Uzbek cotton case, exposed by Moscow-based investigators
Telman Gdlyan and Nikolai Ivanov at the end of the 1980s, was for
public opinion in Uzbekistan. Many years ago Karimov told the
author of this article that the events related to the case produced
a profoundly traumatic impression on him back then. Along with
this, he complained that accusations of Russophobia were deeply
insulting to him. “I grew up amid Russian culture, I attended a
Russian school and I could recite Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin by
heart.” Karimov only began to speak fluent Uzbek once he became
president.

Russia’s long-time popular pop singer Iosif Kobzon
told me how Karimov explained the banning of his concerts in
Uzbekistan. “Your songs make me feel as if I were a Soviet man
again and I don’t want that.” At a ceremony in Tashkent in January
2010, when the Oath to the Motherland monument was unveiled in
central Tashkent in place of the Monument to the Defenders of the
Southern Frontiers of the Motherland, the president said that the
old monument, built in 1975 to mark the 30th anniversary of victory
over Nazism, “reflected the ideology of the old regime.” On the
contrary, the new, purely Uzbek monument, the design of which was
produced with Karimov’s personal involvement, “will remain here
forever and unto the ages of ages.”

The dismantling of a monument to Soviet soldiers in
Tashkent on a November night last year got resounding coverage in
the Russian media. Moscow decided to stay away from official
condemnations – contrary to what it did in similar situations in
Estonia and Georgia, but the pro-Kremlin youth movement Nashi
picketed the Uzbek embassy in Moscow. The situation forced the
Uzbek ambassador to Russia to make a statement that the old
monument had been taken down for reconstruction and that it would
be returned in early May when post-Soviet countries would be
celebrating the 65th anniversary of the victory of Nazism. Barely
two months had passed, however, when the obvious was confirmed –
the ambassador’s promises were but a mere diplomatic hitch aimed at
cooling off the scandal that had started gathering pace in
Russia.

One can only wonder what Karimov was guided by when
he launched this demarche. There may be many root causes – from
displeasure over a somewhat vague and disloyal stance that Moscow
had taken on the fresh water supply and energy problems of the
Central Asian region to irritation with the Russian leadership’s
indifference towards Uzbek initiatives on a peace settlement in
Afghanistan.

Tashkent has always found the Afghan issue to be
sensitive and central in terms of formulating its foreign policy
course. Karimov considers himself a savant of Afghan realities and
he tries to demonstrate his knowledge in conversations with any
high-ranking official. His last initiative was aired at the NATO
summit in Bucharest in 2008. It suggested a resumption of activity
of the contact group on Afghanistan in the Six-Plus-Two format
(Afghanistan’s neighbors or friends – Iran, China, Pakistan,
Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Russia and the U.S.) and its
subsequent transformation into a Six-Plus-Three formula (with the
inclusion of NATO). The idea did not get any clear support, above
all due to the absence of Afghanistan itself in it, although the
Afghan government is recognized by the rest of the world. One
cannot rule out that by putting forward this initiative Tashkent
sought to reaffirm its role of a major country in the transit of
cargo to Afghanistan and a party claiming to have special interests
in Afghanistan’s north.

Quite possibly the demarche with the monument
signaled another turn in foreign policy, this time towards the
West. First, the complete lifting of sanctions by the EU last
autumn could not but inspire the Uzbek president. Second,
cooperation with the U.S. on the Afghan problem is picking up pace.
Tashkent is getting commercial orders for building railways in
northern Afghanistan and has been invited to join other projects
too.

There was an intriguing coincidence in time. On the
eve of the January 12 speech at the unveiling of the Oath to the
Motherland monument where Karimov rebuked “the ideology of the old
regime,” he signed a plan of action for strengthening Uzbek-U.S.
cooperation in 2010. The meticulously specified list of 31 items
envisions measures “in the sphere of politics, security, economic
development, human dimension and in ensuring peace and stability in
Afghanistan.” The document provides for visits to Tashkent by U.S.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, members of Congress and U.S.
Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard
Holbrooke. Uzbek officers will train in the United States, and some
U.S. military hardware will be shipped to Tashkent. Consultations
will be held on repealing the Jackson-Vanik amendment as regards
Uzbekistan. On top of all that, Tashkent will assist the U.S. in
the latter’s participation in the summit of the Shanghai
Cooperation Organization (SCO) that Uzbekistan will host in
June.

The last item spotlights the evolution that has
occurred in Uzbek-U.S. relations since the SCO summit in 2005 in
Astana where the member states, backed by Karimov’s strong support,
demanded unambiguously that the U.S. pull its military bases out of
Central Asia. Given the fact that Uzbekistan has the SCO’s rotating
presidency this year, its plans to throw a rope to the U.S. may
challenge Beijing, especially if one recalls the aggravation of
Chinese-U.S. tensions.

Incidentally, Uzbekistan’s presidency strangely
coincided with the absence of the SCO Secretary General, former
Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Muratbek Imanaliev, from a high-level
international conference on Afghanistan that was held in London at
the end of January. Uzbek Foreign Minister Vladimir Norov did not
turn up there either. Unlike the Iranian government that ignored
the conference as well, the Uzbek authorities did not offer any
explanations at all.

The next day, after the media had published the plan
for Uzbek-U.S. cooperation signed by Karimov, U.S. Ambassador
Richard Norland had to make it clear that Secretary of State
Clinton was not going to visit Uzbekistan – if ever – on the dates
specified by Karimov. Another few days passed and the Uzbek Justice
Ministry removed the almost strictly confidential plan from its
open database where the document had been mysteriously
uploaded.

* * *

“Islam Karimov is a typical Central Asian politician.
His sophisticated mind of a discerning psychologist, ability for
subtle mathematical calculus and the will that paralyzes the suite
combine with the limitless personal ambitions of an individual who
is confident of his historic mission. Hence Tamerlane as the
historical symbol of today’s Uzbekistan,” the well-known Uzbek
journalist Sergei Yezhkov writes about Karimov. “Over the past
twenty years, powers from both the West and East have more than
once stumbled over Karimov. He does not let anyone step over him.
He makes them reckon with himself and with the country he stands at
the helm of.”

“A classical tactic of Karimov’s foreign policy: he
first brings relations with an inconvenient partner to the boiling
(freezing) point and then comes up with an initiative to cool them
off to an acceptable level, or to warm them up to it,” Yezhkov
writes.

However, it is well known both from physics and human
experience that a sharp change in temperature badly affects the
things subjected to it and may bring about a lethal finale.

A truly historic responsibility rests with the
generation of leaders to whom Islam Karimov belongs. The unexpected
breakup of a huge empire forced the leaders of the newly
independent states to seek methods of survival for themselves and
for their nations. Looking back it is easy to find deficiencies and
fatal blunders, yet it is far more difficult to make correct
decisions during a general collapse. They created what they could,
drawing on their own experience, knowledge and understanding of the
ongoing developments.

But the post-Soviet era has come to an end. Global
politics is getting less and less controllable and this poses an
unprecedented intellectual challenge to all countries and their
leaders. The countries that fairly recently were called “the newly
independent states” are again facing the problem of survival – in a
completely different environment and due to totally different
challenges. Previous experience, especially as peculiar as that
characteristic of Soviet-era leaders, is not just useless; it is
often detrimental for an appropriate perception of reality.
Particularly if an equal sign is placed between Personality and
Statehood.