The Early Days of a Better Nation

Monday, October 27, 2003

Freedom under socialism and capitalism

Report on Uzbekistan from yesterdays's Sunday Herald:

Like a scene from a bad movie, the CIA men and off-duty US military personnel sat slumped watching scantily-clad Russian women gyrate in front of them.

An American businessman leaning on the bar explained lazily that the girls had been classically trained in dance schools that survived the end of Communism.

But with no more state-sponsored culture, the only way to earn a living is dancing in seedy Tashkent nightclubs. He pointed out one woman whose idealistic parents had escaped from Greece to live in the proletarian paradise of Soviet Russia, then another sad-faced girl in a thong whose parentage was Korean - her family was deported by Stalin and dumped in Soviet Central Asia.

There were two kinds of Americans: shaven-headed agency men with trademark goatee beards relaxing from missions in next door Afghanistan, sitting quietly in a corner; and noisy young airmen, mostly from the Midwest, on weekend leave from the giant military base in the south.

And in the FM bar, as in the rest of central Asia, it’s the Americans who call the shots now. The Russian gangsters have learned to sit at the back and make do with less attention, like the expatriate entrepreneurs losing their shirts in Uzbekistan’s faltering economy.


One foreign observer said: 'Most Uzbeks are thoroughly fed up with Karimov, fed up with the hopeless economy, and fed up with being poor.

'For most people things were better in the Soviet days. They could travel where they liked within the USSR and prices for basic commodities were cheap.

'Now they can’t travel anywhere because they can’t afford to.

'They would like to organise into political opposition but they can’t - anybody who tries to set up an opposition is persecuted.'


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