The Tashkent mayor and city police are pressing a campaign to beautify Uzbekistan's capital -- one undershirt at a time. Apartment balconies can no longer sport washing lines, officials have mandated. Anyone who now attempts to dry laundry outside in the city runs the risk of severe penalties.
How residents are to dry their clothes remains unclear.
Mayor Abdukahar Tukhtaev actually announced the new rule early in 2008, but residents say police have only recently begun to enforce the measure. Observers say the drive is part of an effort to clean up the city in time for celebrations marking Tashkent's 2,200th anniversary, scheduled to take place in the spring.
As part of these efforts, on January 11 police throughout the capital's Mirzoulugbek District posted announcements describing beautification policies. They also visited apartments and personally informed tenants about the new rule.
The written announcement, prepared by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, contains a harsh message. Those found breaking the law will be charged according "to corresponding articles of the Code of Administrative Offences of the Republic of Uzbekistan" and will receive "strict measures of punishment according to the current legislation, [up to and including] eviction from apartments."
Many Tashkent residents are fuming over the new regulation.
"This is another unbelievable decision by local authorities. Now each time I want to wash my clothes, I must search for a drying space in my two-room apartment of 49 square meters in which all my family -- four adults and two small children -- lives. There is no free space to find room for even a small dryer," complained Mahbuba-opa, who lives in a Soviet-era five-storey apartment building. Given high real estate prices and traditionally large families, Mahbuba's situation is common in Tashkent.
Some are questioning the legitimacy of the city ordinance. Any move to evict an individual who committed an infraction would be illegal, insisted a Tashkent-based lawyer, who wished to remain anonymous. According to the country's Constitution, he told EurasiaNet, private property cannot be suddenly seized, especially for such a minor offence. But he noted the statement may have been intended to create an increased atmosphere of fear and, in that case, may indeed be successful.
At the Mirzoulugbek District police station, officers admitted the threats of eviction are intended merely to frighten residents into submission.
Alexander, a Tashkent native, remembers how police visited each apartment in his neighborhood last spring, urging tenants to dissemble the wash lines attached to their balconies. The police compelled residents to sign papers stating they had been informed about the consequences of breaking the new code.
Some fear -- that based on such dubious legal grounds -- this new campaign could fuel official corruption. "This decision may be handy for them [law enforcement bodies]. Unfortunately, the population still fears real punitive force from the police. Therefore, residents will prefer to bribe and pay off [the police], rather than argue" over the legality of new regulations, the lawyer said.
Alisher Taksanov, an Uzbek political refugee based in Switzerland, believes the new law is an inappropriate use of government's money and time, as there are more urgent issues in Tashkent requiring immediate action. "It saddens me to see local governments in Uzbekistan focus on minor issues and neglect bigger problems, like corruption in law enforcement agencies, drug trafficking, underground [monetary] conversion markets and so on," he said.
"Moreover, the government cannot issue such statements that have no legal grounds. It yet again shows the arbitrariness in the governing system of Uzbekistan," Taksanov said.
Ahror Ahmedov is the pseudonym for a Central Asian journalist.