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A Capital New Idea for Uzbekistan?

1 Apr

Following his visit to Kazakhstan’s glitzy capital Astana last week, Uzbek president Shavkat Mirziyoyev, Sheva to his mates, has decided that he wants a bling-bling capital for himself and has set his sights on moving Uzbekistan’s capital from Tashkent to Uchkuduk, in the centre of the country.

Uchkuduk:  set to change from this…                                      … to this?

Uzbekistan’s rubber stamp parliament is set to give its approval to the move in a special session called for today. Moving the capital is being seen as a further consolidation of Sheva’s power – he has certainly been ringing the changes since his predecessor, Islam ‘Butch’ Karimov, died last year.

Uchkuduk, founded in 1958 as a Soviet ‘secret city,’ is in an ideal location for the capital as it is in the dead centre of Uzbekistan. It is at the heart of gold and uranium mining in the country and can be reached, with some difficulty, from all the main towns and cities.

President Mirziyoyev first heard about Uchkuduk at young pioneers’ camp in the 1980s via Yalla’s smash hit ‘Uchkuduk’. The president craves a Trump Tower as a centrepiece of the ambitious new capital and is keen on getting Mr Trump’s money men in the Kremlin on the case when Sheva and his boys visit Moscow later this year. Russian PM, Jimmy Bear, always on the lookout for a canny investment, is sure to be one of the first in line with a sackful of freshly laundered cash.

 

 

Uzbekistan’s Brave New World?

5 Dec

Lord Venal is just back from his latest election monitoring mission in Uzbekistan. He was part of the unofficial Non-Aligned Observation Missions International (Naomi) group which visited the country as it prepared to anoint Shavkat Mirziyoyev as Islam Karimov’s rightful heir.

He’s kindly contributed this piece to kazaxia.

Ah, Uzbekistan! What a show it put on as the reins of power passed to Shavkat Mirziyoyev. I was part of a group of assorted Lords and bigwigs that were flown in to legitimise the transfer of power. As usual, the Uzbeks pulled out all the stops to make our stay a comfortable and memorable experience.

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A polling station in Tashkent, Uzbekistan

We were kitted out with regulation observer rose-tinted spectacles and whizzed by train to Samarkand to pay our respects to two tyrants. The more recently deceased one was doing a roaring trade compared with the earlier model, Amir Timur aka Tamerlane, who in comparison was receiving a modest trickle of visitors.

The local flower sellers were doing good business – a possible opportunity for Britain’s gardeners to exploit in these post-Brexit times. Indeed, there could be many opportunities in Uzbekistan for Britain’s exporters as the new president looks like a character we can do business with.

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Mr Miriziyoyev has good contacts with figures from the world of alt-business in Tashkent – this enthusiastic alt-businessman even shared a photo of himself on social media,  squeezed into a tee-shirt proudly displaying the president’s image.

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The election saw a campaign to eradicate the ancient local tradition of “one man, all the family’s votes” with the novel concept of “one person, one vote.” Unfortunately, I was feeling a bit under the weather on polling day, after having over-indulged in plov and local  beverages the night before, so I am unable to confirm the success of this initiative as the polling station had closed by the time I got there.

As to the result, once again, in the year of the monkey, the pundits got it wrong  – our very own Gary Kefali had predicted a win for Khatamjon Ketmonov. Instead, Uzbekistan will venture into its brave new world with Mr Mirziyoyev at the helm. Maybe next time Theresa May’s in town, she could pop in for a cup of tea and discuss some mutually-beneficial trade deals with the new boss.

 

 

 

 

Is a Trump-style Upset on the Cards in Uzbekistan?

2 Dec

2016 has been a year of surprises in the political sphere, and could we be about to see another shock as Uzbekistan goes to the polls on Sunday to elect a successor to its late president Islam Karimov?

As the year comes to a close, kazaxia’s politics guru, Gary Kefali, has been in Tashkent to gauge the mood and he’s found some astounding evidence that another upset could be on the cards.

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Repairing the presidency in Uzbekistan via a four horse race

While all the experts are predicting a walkover for former prime minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who is acting president, Kefali’s  straw poll of people he’s bumped into indicates a victory for dark horse candidate, Khatamjon Ketmonov, despite all other signs pointing to red-hot favourite Mirziyoyev.

It would be no surprise if this happened – the year of the monkey has already delivered many shocks – its first surprise was in March when Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, was returned to power with 98% of the popular vote – he’d been widely tipped to get 97%. Then in June, the UK voted to leave the EU, a move that the pollsters and pundits missed.

Fast forward to the USA in November and the cheeky monkey had another trick up its sleeve as Donald Trump lost out to Hilary Clinton in terms of votes cast but still won the presidency, an upset hastened by America’s arcane electoral college system. Again, the pollsters and pundits called it wrong giving Trump little chance of victory.

Lord Venal, who is in Tashkent as an unofficial election observer, has been gauging the mood in the nightclubs of Tashkent – Lord Venal’s impeccable source for keeping his finger on the pulse (literally at times) – is showing an increasing likelihood of a Trump-style upset in Uzbekistan’s 4 December presidential poll.

Lord Venal has heard repeated whingeing about an out-of-touch, self-serving political elite, intent on amassing ever-greater wealth at the expense of the hard-working masses. They have seen their standard of living fall relentlessly as the rich get richer. The elite simply don’t understand the ordinary guy – and even show contempt for him, is the constant refrain. The elite is backed by the Mainstream Media (known here too as the MSM), which relentlessly backs its own.

Calls are growing to “drain the swamp” in Tashkent’s government district. Proposals are increasing heard to build a wall on the border with Kyrgyzstan to keep illegal migrants out. Some have even gone as far as to call to lock up some of the leading candidates.

Lord Venal points out that few correctly predicted that Brexit would triumph in Britain, let alone that Donald Trump could prevail in the US over a tried and tested candidate with years of political and government experience. But if the word in the Tashkent nightclubs can be believed, a similar upset in Uzbekistan is not out of the question.

(Lord Venal adopts a policy of strict neutrality in all elections he monitors. Any hospitality offered by governments plays no role in any assessment he issues. A careful reading of his conclusions on earlier elections will show no influence from visits to restaurants, casinos and nightclubs, or gifts of carpets, caviar or jewellery designed by presidential daughters.)

 

Panto Season Opens Early in Central Asia

23 Nov

Along with extreme snowy weather, the pantomime season has arrived early this year in Central Asia.

That veteran performer from Uzbekistan, GooGoosha, will recreate one of her most famous roles on the Tashkent stage – Sleeping Beauty. The audience will no doubt revel in shouting “Oh yes she is!” and “Oh no she isn’t!” as it ponders whether she is dead or merely sleeping.

There will be plenty of opportunities for shouts of “Behind you!” with a host of suspects lining up to surprise the slumbering princess – such as the ugly sisters (played by Security Service head Rustam Innoyatov and his sidekick, presidential hopeful Shavkat Mirziyoyev) and the real life figures of her estranged mother and  her younger sister, Lola.

Across the border in Kazakhstan, there are plans for a revival of ‘Carry on Cleo‘, with the infamous line “Infamy, infamy. They’ve all got it in for me!” The past year has seen trouble on all sides for Astana with land protests metamorphosing into a coup plot led by a beer baron, and religious militants on the rampage in Aktobe, so it seems apt that this comedy classic will get a fresh lease of life.

 

SCO “politically unhealthy” film ban

10 Jun

With Tashkent making last minute preparations for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit on 23-24 June, Lord Venal came across this enlightening memo from his recent trip to Tajikistan.

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Tashkent: Sprucing up the Palace of Forums for the SCO summit

Having caught his breath after the crammed programme of his referendum monitoring visit to Dushanbe (frankly the hosts’ generosity – particularly with alcohol – left some parts of the programme rather a blur), Lord Venal found he must have somewhere picked up another interesting document.

This appears to be a proposed secret ban on a number of foreign films, which the SCO considers promote a “politically unhealthy attitude to elected leaders”. The document – which asks that the six member governments back the ban and implement it with no publicity – lists the first batch of what are likely to be a growing list of films, together with a brief description. It calls on the films to be banned from showing in cinemas and on television and blocked on the internet.

Lord Venal remembers seeing several of these at the Rutland Odeon when they first came out in the 1970s, and points out, with some modesty, that he was often told that he bore a passing resemblance to Edward Fox in his youth.

“Films to be banned from presentation (as of 12.04.2016):

October (USSR, 1928) – glorifies the violent overthrow of an established government and turns rebels into heroes.

The Great Dictator (USA, 1940) – encourages unhealthy ridicule of elected leaders and slander over their character and leadership.

Day of the Jackal (UK/France, 1973) – unacceptable presentation of the idea that assassinating an elected head of state is feasible or desirable.

All the President’s Men (USA, 1976) – encourages a cynical attitude to politics and applauds the removal from office of an elected leader.

Primary Colors (US, 1998) – normalises the concept that the outcome of an election could be uncertain.

Downfall (Germany, 2004) – its presentation of the psychological breakdown and encouragement to suicide of an elected head of state promotes an unhealthy attitude to political leadership.

Valkyrie (USA/Germany, 2008) – normalises for viewers the unacceptable idea that organising a coup and removing elected political leaders could be honourable.

Leviathan (Russia, 2014) – depicts an elected politician in an unfavourable light, thus breeding unhealthy cynicism among viewers.”

 

GooGoosha’s Gilded Cage

1 Apr

Gulnara Karimova, who has been under unofficial house arrest since March 2014 in Tashkent, is set to be moved to a gilded cage in the centre of the city as part of a deal brokered by Lord Venal on his recent visit to Uzbekistan’s capital.

Tashkent's Palace of International Forums - GooGoosha's new home?

Tashkent’s Palace of International Forums – GooGoosha’s new home?

Karimova, better known by her stage name of GooGoosha, is the eldest daughter of Uzbek pensioner Islam Karimov, Under the new deal she will be housed in the grandiose Palace of International Forums, which was built at the height of her power in the late 2000s. Since then she has had a spectacular fall from grace.

In her new surroundings, GooGoosha will be able to shop to her heart’s content in a private shopping mall in the palace’s basement – modelled on Barbara Streisand’s personal mall.

GooGoosha and Gerard in happier times

GooGoosha and Gerard in happier times

The complex will also include a medical centre for botox and other cosmetic surgery needs, along with a dedicated yoga ashram. A private nightclub will host holograms of her pals Sting and Gerard Depardieu for impromptu duets.

Residents of Tashkent are happy that a use has finally been found for the imposing white marble edifice, considered by many to be a white elephant.

Uzbekistan: Joy as Missing Pensioner Becomes President (again…)

30 Mar

There was unbridled joy in the mahallahs of Uzbekistan as the pensioner who went awol earlier this year swept to a landslide victory in the presidential poll on 29 March.

Lord Venal was in Tashkent to observe the proceedings and here are his findings.

The plucky voters of Uzbekistan braved chilly conditions to re-affirm their allegiance to the man who has run the country for the last quarter of a century. Support was down slightly for the septuagenarian leader at 90.39 % (he got 90.76% of the vote in 2007), but overall he remains the only show in town.

His backers took to twitter to take the wind out of the neigh-sayers’ sails:

The Uzbeks sure know how to organise a good election – we observers were wined and dined at every turn during our all too short visit. Election day began early with the traditional Osh Plov, platters of the national rice and meat dish served alongside three types of tea – green, black and white (or vodka to the uninitiated).

Then it was onto a new shopping centre in Tashkent’s old town to see pensioners picking up free loaves of bread and subsidised, rationed staples such as rice and cooking oil. In the run up to the election the president remembered his fellow senior citizens with this largesse. It reminded me of the food bank Lady Venal has set up for the poor of the parish back home.

After this strenuous morning, it was time for a lengthy lunch of more Uzbek delicacies and some cheeky wines from the chateaus of the Parkent Valley. I remember snippets of a fascinating conversation with the guys from the North Korean observer mission, but not enough to repeat here unfortunately.

After lunch we visited a polling station but alas there were no voters to be seen as the turnout at this station had hit the 100% mark by lunchtime. Time flew past and before we knew it, we were off for a farewell meal after a long day of observing.

Let’s just hope Kazakhstan can match the Uzbeks for hospitality when it chooses its president on 26 April.