While a mood of permissiveness has descended over some sections of Uzbekistan’s entertainment business, performers are still being warned to remain on their guard.
The head of the state-run Uzbeknavo performance agency, Odilbek Abdukahharov, told Uzbek newspaper Zhamiyat that any artists who post pictures or videos “of a pornographic bent” of themselves online could lose their performing license. This kind of behavior, said Abdukahharov, is a threat to the spirituality of the nation.
As Abdukahharov explained, in an article titled “Don’t Light Fires Under the Spirituality of the Nation,” it is wrong for performers to imagine that what they post online is their business alone.
“Every month, we work with artists on spirituality and we urge them to abide by the rules. Ever day, we monitor social media and we make artists take down improper photos and videos. If that doesn’t do the job, we are forced to revoke artists’ licenses,” Abdukahharov said.
The Zhamiyat reporter behind the piece, Nargiza Mehmonova, added her own two cents of menacing rhetoric.
“There are some Uzbek singers who, instead of trying to build audiences through their art, try to create a sensation on the internet with the help of photos and videos and through the appeal of their bodies. This fire under the spirituality and enlightenment of our people brings to mind the criminal acts of Herostratus, who sought fame by torching the Holy Temple of Artemis,” Mehmonova wrote.
Mehmonova concludes by appealing to the show business community to uphold morality and the traditions of the Uzbek people. Since their behavior is so closely followed by young people, entertainers are in a position to set a good example, the journalist argues.
There was a time in Uzbekistan when hip-hop got a bad rap for being insufficiently traditional and was de facto prohibited from the public scene.
Going by a student festival that took place last month, however, officials appear to have changed their tune. The “World Through Student Eyes” festival hosted, among other things, a competitive face-off between DJs and hip-hop artists, according to news website ut.uz.
The driving force behind the project was a fourth-year student at an Uzbek arts college, Abbos Tamatov.
“More than 100 people from various parts of the country expressed their interest in taking part in the competition,” Tamatov told ut.uz. “I’ll confess that I was only half certain that they would even let us hold the competition.”
Tamatov told EurasiaNet.org that his next plan to is bring together all the country’s top rap artists and hold major competition among them, so as to capitalize on the massive popularity of hip-hop among young people. The student’s own favorite acts are Uzbek rapper Shohruh and Russian star Basta.
The event organized by Tamatov is notable for the fact that hip-hop is a genre that has been under an unspoken embargo since around 2011. In February that year, an Uzbek youth channel aired a documentary entitled "Melody and Calamity” that leveled intense criticism at western music, and at rap in particular. The program described the musical genre as “a dark cloud hanging over Uzbek youth.” By way of evidence, the documentary asserted that “rock music originated from African hunting rituals” and that "rap was originated by inmates in prisons, which is why rap singers wear wide and long trousers.”
The late president of Uzbekistan may have died last year, but his name(s) lives on. Literally.
The day that would have marked Islam Karimov’s 79th birthday — January 30 — was marked by an outpouring of adulation, and some baby-naming to fit the theme.
In Andijan, a couple anticipated the event by giving their newborn triplets the names of Isolmjon, Karimjon and Abdugani — that last name being a reprise of the the late leader’s patronymic. The family received a visit from Andijan regional head Shukhrat Abdurahmanov, who bestowed them with gifts.
“We live in a peaceful and prosperous nation thanks to Islam Abduganievich Karimov. That is why we have decided to name the children in his honor,” the mother, Fatimahon. told Podrobno.uz news website.
Naming babies after Karimov was popular in Uzbekistan even before his death last year. There is no certain count of how many little Islams are running around the country, but anecdotal evidence suggests the number is high.
The tradition of giving multiple babies Karimov’s surname and patronymic seems to have been kicked off by Tashkent resident Gulshan Khaydarova in 2013. In September that year, Khaydarova gave birth to four boys, whom she called Karim, Islam and, less deferentially, Hasan and Husan. And in March 2015, a couple in the Karakalpakstan autonomous region gave their newborn triplet the full house, as it were. That gesture earned them three strollers and a milk cow from the local administration.
Tajikistan’s Somoni Air has scheduled a flight to Uzbekistan for February 10 — the first such commercial flight between the two nations since 1992.
Regular flights are expected every Monday from February 20 onward.
Somoni Air has said in an official statement that it will fly once weekly in the winter season, but that frequency could increase to twice a week in the summer.
“This new route and its frequency will gives the citizens of Tajikistan and Uzbekisan the opportunity to simplify their travels between the two nations,” the airline said.
Not so fast though. On the evening of the announcement on January 31, one-way tickets from Dushanbe to Tashkent were selling online at around $190 — a small fortune in local terms for a 45-minute flight. A ticket the other way cost $220.
By February 1, prices had dropped somewhat, to around $300 for a round trip. By way of comparison, a return flight between Tashkent and Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan, which is twice as far away as Dushanbe, costs around $320.
The cheaper way to get between the two cities in by car. A taxi from the Tajik capital to the Uzbek border typically costs around $15. The cost of taking a car to Tashkent is about another $20. The cost obviously goes down for travelers willing to share their ride, so the whole trip can be for as little as $20.
Still, there is a premium on comfort and avoiding the nine hours of driving and the time it takes to negotiate the border crossing.
The high cost of tickets is down to airport taxes. Tashkent international airport levies $76 off each flier — flying out of Dushanbe incurs a $48 charge.
The price of an air ticket sparked a lively discussion on social media. People who had dreamed of making the trip since the imminent resumption of the route was announced last year have had to downgrade their expectation.
Uzbekistan has embarked on a campaign to popularize the rearing of chickens as a way to combat poverty in rural areas.
The state broadcaster reported in its evening bulletin on January 29 that President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has given orders for a large and high-tech bird farm to be built in the Khorezm region, some 800 kilometers west of the capital, Tashkent. The farm will churn out 51 million eggs and breed 1.5 chicks every year, the news program predicted.
This is the first firm result of an initiative announced by Mirziyoyev earlier in the month as he was touring the city of Nukus, in the capital of the economically depressed Karakalpakstan autonomous region. Chickens, Mirziyoyev predicted, will be the key to solving poverty in Uzbekistan.
“Every family in rural areas should keep at least 100 egg-laying hens. From that amount, you could get at least 50 eggs daily. Suppose a family keeps 10 eggs for itself and sells the other 40, then we would have no more poor people any more,” Mirziyoyev said in a speech broadcast on state television.
Not that officials in Uzbekistan like to talk about the poor. Instead they prefer a euphemistic term meaning “disadvantaged.” Minimum salaries are at present around 150,000 sum per month (around $45 at the official rate).
Mirziyoyev has urged civil servants and bankers to assist the chicken program in any way that they can by enabling credits to families that take up the challenge.
According to state-produced statistics published on January 1, Uzbekistan’s stock of fowl stood at almost 66 million heads and the country produced around 6 billion eggs last year.
A movie hitting the big screens in Uzbekistan this week is a fresh attempt at driving home the risks of terrorism and religious extremism.
Speaking at a preview of his movie, “Dadam Betob" (“Dad is Sick”) director and screenwriter Zulfikar Musakov told reporters he had presented the idea to state-run film company Uzbekfilm five years ago.
“My script only got the green light last year. This is my personal statement on the theme of religious extremism. I wanted to make a movie about the people that I love and that I don’t love,” he was cited as saying by news website Podrobno.uz.
At the center of the movie is Aziza, a mother to several children who decides that to raise funds to pay off the medical bills of her ill husband she must go work as a cab driver for a day. Her final customer of the day turns out to be Pokiza, who the film shows as having embraced religious extremism. Needless to say, it all ends in tears, kidnappings, gas pipelines being blown up and declarations of jihad.
The trailer for the movie — set most oddly to the music of Tanita Tikaram’s 1988 hit Twist in My Sobriety — indicates filmgoers are in for a deeply melodramatic affair.
Film critic Aziz Matyabulov told EurasiaNet.org that Uzbek cinema rarely touches on the issue of religious extremism, so this should be considered something of a rare event.
“Movies like these have a good budget from the state and are filmed with professional actors, unlike [privately funded] movies,” he told EurasiaNet.org.
Then again, while films about religious extremism might be rare, “Dadam Betob" is the second on the theme made in 2016 alone.
Mir-i Arab Madrasah in Bukhara, Uzbekistan. Photo: Asian Development Bank via CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/eLwt7i
Uzbekistan has performed a shock about-face on its tourist visa policy by cancelling plans to allow citizens of 27 countries to travel to the country visa-free as of April.
A document posted on the government legislation portal Lex.uz on January 9 stated that the visa-free regime will only come into force in 2021. Nations eligible for visa-free travel under the now-cancelled initiative had included the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, South Korea and Canada. Citizens of 12 countries, which included the United States, were also to be granted visa-free travel provided they were 55 years and over.
It is not wholly clear what has motivated this sudden change of heart on a policy, unveiled in early December, that appeared to indicate Uzbekistan was bracing to pursue a line of greater openness to the outside world. The decree making the announcement claimed it was motivated by a desire to pursue a "sustainable and balanced development of tourist activity” and create conditions to “ensure the safety of life and health of foreign tourists.”
The zig-zagging in decision-making suggests, however, that even with the increasing consolidation of freshly elected President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, tensions within the ruling elite remain in place.
News of this reversal will be greeted with dismay by the country’s tourist operators, who were heartened by Mirziyoyev’s stated intent to overhaul the leisure sector.
As part of an agenda of economic liberalization, Mirziyoyev’s government is looking to diversify the economy, attract greater foreign investment and, perhaps most importantly, transform Uzbekistan’s image as an isolated and inward-looking hermit nation.
Young man shown in YouTube video in which he is attacked by mob of young men in the city of Andijan, Uzbekistan.
Social media in Uzbekistan was set abuzz this week after a video appeared online showing a young man in make-up and a wedding dress being jeered and assaulted as he walked through the Ferghana Valley city of Andijan.
The incident has sparked lively debates online about homosexuality and tolerance and given vent to much dismay at the actions of the mob shown in the clip. It has not been ascertained, however, that anybody shown in the video is, in fact, gay, despite widespread assumptions to that effect.
As far as can be divined from the footage, the victim of the attack is dressed as the Russian snow maiden fairy tale character Snegurochka and is accompanying another individual in a Father Frost (Ded Moroz) costume in what appears at first glance to be a poorly thought-out festive season stunt.
As the mob crowds around the target of their attacks, some people are heard demanding to know why the man is wearing the dress and wig. In reply, the young man replies that he was attending a New Year’s party.
Undeterred, one man rips the wig off the man and another strikes him in the face. One person shouts for him to go back to his hometown, nearby Asaka, while another suggests he should leave for Namangan, a nearby Ferghana Valley city popularly believed in Uzbekistan’s homophobic street lore to be a hotbed of homosexual activity. Later on, the young man is again kicked repeatedly, at least once in the face.
Within a few days of appearing online, the video has been viewed ten of thousands of times, on YouTube and on Facebook. Social media users deluged comments boards with their thoughts.
One circulating theory was that this may have been a stunt for money. Many, however, expressed their disgust at the abuse on show.
Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev delivering New Year address on December 31, 2016.
In the run-up to the New Year, many in Uzbekistan were wondering whether their new president, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, would appear on television to deliver seasonal greetings.
Over the 25 years of independence for which he was in charge, the late Islam Karimov eschewed the custom, adopted by most leaders of post-Soviet states. Instead, Uzbek television viewers received their official declarations of seasonal cheer from newsreaders. Indeed, it has been customary for many to turn instead for words ushering in the New Year from Russian television and President Vladimir Putin.
Defying the predictions of naysayers, Mirziyoyev duly appeared on television at 23:45 on New Year’s Eve against a backdrop showing the Uzbek Senate building. First he spoke in Russian and then in Uzbek to congratulate his countrymen on the arrival of 2017.
In his brief speech, Mirziyoyev recalled what he described as a time of hardship — a reference to Karimov’s death — and called on Uzbeks to pool their efforts in future in the interests of achieving prosperity.
“We have declared 2017 the year of dialog with the people and people’s interests. Upon this we are basing a hugely important principle: The interests of the people prevail over everything else. I am sure that all of us, our leadership first and foremost, will unite our efforts and pool our potential to carry out the tasks lying before us in the coming year,” he said.
Judging by the reaction online, the address seems to have gone down well.
“This address is a show of respect to the people. It was unexpected and pleasant,” well-known TV journalist Elmira Tukhvatullina wrote on her Facebook account.
A number of websites long blocked in Uzbekistan have been made available for internet users in the past few days, just the latest development in an apparent wave of liberalization sweeping the country.
Among the outlets whose websites can now be viewed without use of proxy servers are the BBC, RFE/RL’s Uzbek service (Ozodlik), Moscow-based Ferghana.ru and EurasiaNet.org. Perhaps even more strikingly, blocks on the websites of organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International and the People’s Movement of Uzbekistan opposition group have also been lifted.
Quite what prompted the authorities to adopt this measure is not yet known. And the permissiveness has not been universal.
The editor of opposition news website eltuz.com, Germany-based Umida Niyazova, said most of the formerly banned sites became available for viewing on December 29.
“But our site is still blocked. It will take a week or so before we can draw any conclusions [about what is happening],” Niyazova told EurasiaNet.org.
eltuz.com is a particularly popular resource for its regular output of topical and controversial news stories, much of which focus on the everyday problems of people in Uzbekistan. The website is also well-known for its coruscating caricatures of political figures.
Uzbek political analyst Rafael Sattarov was doubtful that the websites of independent media or opposition movement would remain unblocked for long in Uzbekistan.
“The websites for Ozodlik or the BBC have not always been blocked in Uzbekistan, and as far as the international organizations are concerned, what is most likely is that the special services have simply changed the jamming system,” Sattarov said.