15 January 2005
President of Uzbekistan is Convinced That "Color" Revolutions in his Country are Impossible
Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Viktoria Panfilova, 14.01.2005
President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov has studiously avoided interviews with the Russian media these last two years. He broke the tradition two weeks ago, in the wake of the parliamentary election, and met with this correspondent.
Question: Islam Abduganiyevich, 2004 ended in the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. There is the widespread opinion that the West was actively involved in the elections in Georgia and Ukraine. Do you think the West is capable of changing the situation here in Uzbekistan?
Islam Karimov: That's a difficult question. I think about it frequently. As I see it, revolutions of this type always include several factors, and the Western clout is not what I call the decisive one.
Domestic protest potential is the most important factor. It accumulates gradually and the process takes years. State policy in the socioeconomic sphere is the second most important factor. Stability of the government's contacts with the population and whether or not they have a normal dialogue is very important too. There can be nothing worse than the relations between the regime and the people that resemble a conversation between a deaf and a mute. This is not how relations are built between the authorities that feel their responsibility and the population that elected them in the first place.
We can talk about the external factors only when all of that is appraised. I'm convinced that external influence becomes a serious factor only when society is discontent because matters of importance in domestic life (social, economic, and political) accumulate without a solution. Sure, there is discontent in every society but this is not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the situation when protests reach the boiling point and threaten to spill out. No America or Europe can channel the events in the direction it wants or needs to if society itself is not longing for dramatic changes, if it has not run out of patience.
That is why I do not think that what happened in Ukraine or Georgia may take place in Uzbekistan. It does not even matter how I as the head of the state will take it. More importantly, citizens themselves will not want it. These are not the people arrogantly called "the grey silent majority" at congresses of people's deputies of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. They live in their own country now. They feel their responsibility for it and for the future generations. In the empire we were regarded as men of the second sort. The empire never grasped the fact that we were different or that we would never put up with what was happening in other regions of the country. We have a different mentality, if you get my drift.
It does not mean, however, that we intend to turn from the way chosen in 1990 - the way of democratic renovation and development of civic society. It's just that every people reaches this objective by its own way. Following fundamental principles of power of the people, we must align our actions with the people's mentality and traditions.
That is why any external influence will be effective only if we permit it to be effective.. It is a different matter altogether that there exist technologies of the so called "promotion of democracy". I mean the technologies that are being used in Iraq nowadays. The idea is that whenever there is certain "shortage" of democracy in any country, its people has to be helped in overcoming it. Money is always found for this purpose, and it takes serious money to topple the government that permitted this shortage to appear in the first place. This is where technologies of the so called "velvet" changes come into play. They are used when it is necessary to have the old regime to step down quietly and without a fuss and to have it replaced with a new regime that will promote interests of whoever uses these technologies.
Question: But in theory "velvet" turnovers may be too mild and the country will find itself in the grips of a civil war...
Islam Karimov: Everything depends on the preparations. Take Ukraine, for example, where preparations for the recent election began in 1995. Consider how many non-government organizations exist there and on whose money they exist, and everything will become instantly clear. By the way, we are tracking all funds and grants nowadays. We want to know what project exactly is under way so as to be able to tell truly humanitarian projects from veiled preparations to some "color" revolution.
International organizations working here do not necessarily promote noble goals, you know. Seminars like Leaders of the 21st Century are supposed to "help the government" with selection of the best gifted youths. Unfortunately, they are doing it for their own purposes. These seminars inevitably end in a series of trips abroad where the handpicked are methodically brainwashed. After this indoctrination, these men call themselves "citizens of the world" and say that there will be no borders at all soon. This is what they call "10 steps towards men in the street". Great. But it turns out later that three men conditioned in this manner organize explosions in Tashkent, the capital of their native land. So, where do these steps lead? That's what I'd like to know.
Funny, but this clearly rhetoric question was answered by a senior officer of the National Security Committee of Kazakhstan. According to the officer, all these men - shakhid, extremists, whatever - fight Uzbekistan and not Kazakhstan. Allegedly because Kazakhstan honors freedom of conscience and all other democratic norms and that this is why these radicals do not have anything to say (or do) against Kazakhstan.
In the meantime, Kazakhstan signed heaps of documents pledging not to permit on its territory bridgeheads or conditions jeopardizing is neighbors. It must have slipped the general's mind entirely.
In fact, I find this logic certainly odd. According to the general, extremists are set against us because we harass them and prosecute. I'd say that this is something we should be encouraged to continue! For the time being, however, I'm under the impression that the senior officer was voicing the official point of view of his country. It cannot help worrying us, you know.
It worries us as well that the danger of another coup is apparent in Kyrgyzstan now. Akayev said as much in his speech. He also identified the West as the source of money used to cover the "shortage of democracy". I ask him: if what you are saying is so indeed, why are you not doing something about it? He says he is helpless. What else can I say?
I hope that we are immune to it and that what happened in Georgia and Ukraine cannot happen in Uzbekistan. The people should understand what is being prepared and prevent it. They will certainly wish they did something to prevent it, otherwise.
Question: Uzbekistan is on the threshold of serious changes. A permanent and professional parliament of two houses was elected not long ago. What is awaiting the country in the foreseeable future?
Islam Karimov: Well, you yourself have answered the question. Establishment of a permanent and professional parliament shows that in the sphere of reorganization of the state we attach unquestionable importance to the legislative aspect of the much needed reforms whose necessity is dictated by life itself. In other words, we are creating an instrument with which we will improve foundations of civic society and people's power. I'm convinced of that.
Question: To what end?
Islam Karimov: A democratic state. In fact, this phrase is so abused that I'm going to phrase it differently. It will be a state that answers all demands of the 21st century, a state where dictatorship will be impossible. And this is what everyone is afraid of, meaning tyranny. As for me, I understand dictatorship as dictatorship of an individual or a single structure. Like a monopoly. Hence the conclusion: the more independent the parliament is, the stronger the system of courts is, the more autonomous the government is, the better we will answer requirements of the new century.
I believe that this alignment to modern requirements will take the form of justice in the country. Sure, absolute justice is like absolute truth, it is something that does not exist. All the same, justice is the objective value, this is something people have always longed for and counted on. We have a saying in Uzbekistan: let whoever wields power be conscientious and fair. I'd say that when every branch of the power is as just as it can become (and that requires independence), we will have the arrangement of forces in the country that will make dictatorship or monopoly impossible. People will feel themselves free.
Sure, the process is lengthy and we are but at the beginning yet. The process will take years, and someone will surely volunteer to hurry us up. That is something, however, where undue haste will be harmful. We are but working on the form for the time being, and filling this form with contents afterwards is what really counts. America has been filling its Constitution with the contents for over 200 years. That's the terms deputies of the new parliament, ministers of the Cabinet, and courts should be thinking in.
The effect of the reforms on the lives of the population is what counts. We have more than the political sphere alone to reorganize. There is also economy, social sphere, and morale to think of. That's a complex undertaking that requires a complex solution if it is to be a success. The new parliament is facing the most important task of all. It has to pass laws of proper quality for them to become a basis of the reforms. It is the lack of the proper legislation that has prevented us from putting the necessary reforms under way.
For example, we have problems with small businesses that already account for 36% of the GDP. That's a nice accomplishment, but I intend to task them to account for 50% or 60%. Small businesses help us with unemployment, they easily transform and adjust themselves. With small businesses, we will have a healthy and mobile economy fitting the world market with its rules and rivalry.
Or take the courts we are calling independent. They are not independent. No matter how great our laws are (and they are pretty much advanced indeed, quite in line with modern requirements), their fully-fledged implementation is unlikely without truly independent courts. It does not even matter that Uzbekistan is the last CIS country as far as the inmate per capita ratio is concerned (1 per every 39,000). The role of the prosecutor's office has to be corrected too. First and foremost, prosecutors must promote the interests of the people and defend them before the state. Just think of the magnitude of the task! We have to change mentality to have human rights activities and all of the national justice promoting rights and interests of the population, not the state. It must become the first priority. To accomplish that, we plan to introduce "legal culture" as a new subject at schools. We need fair and just courts but as things stand, you will not find a single person in the country to say that he or she was sentenced fairly. It was only in The Caucasus Captive, the famous movie, that the actor screamed, "Hail the Soviet court, the fairest court in the world!"
In short, the reforms we are launching aim first and foremost to remove the weights that bear down economy, justice, and state structures, that deny our people the life and prosperity it deserves. The state must set the conditions that will enable citizens of Uzbekistan to live the way citizens of the advanced countries live.
When speaking about it, I usually refer to South Korea where our young men study. There are lots of our students in Japan and Europe as well. For some reason, we kind of forgot about Moscow even though our two countries signed a strategic partnership treaty that outlines all important spheres of cooperation, economic cooperation included.
I'd like to point out in this light that representatives of Russian small and medium businesses are welcome in Uzbekistan. Sure, we need major businesses too but only if they come here to form independent companies or joint ventures with participation of their capitals and expansion of operations to foreign markets. Neither do we forget about the enterprises that have been in Uzbekistan ever since the Soviet era - like the plane assembly factory.
Question: There are the rumors that Russia intends to shift manufacture to Voronezh. Is there a kernel of truth here?
Islam Karimov: Not a grain of truth. On the contrary, Russian military leaders and Air Force Commander Mikhailov emphasize again and again that IL-76MF planes assembled here are the best in the world, without analogs anywhere. This here is the only factory where they are assembled. This factory cooperates with 2,000 enterprises in Russia, but this fact is usually neglected for some reason. Items like that cannot be produced in a single country any more.
Even Russia openly admits its readiness to cooperate with NATO in the sphere of arms production. Why cooperate with NATO alone and not with Uzbekistan? Why move a part of the factory to Voronezh or Omsk? It currently employs 30,000 men, most of them Russians. What about them?
We need more trust in each other. No strategic partnership treaty will work without trust. And cooperation is a must too. We have several objects working for space exploration, and we do not object to cooperation with the Russian Academy of Sciences. Even that does not matter. What matters is that this strategic partnership brings our peoples and our countries closer to each other. Our peoples and our countries have been connected for years and nobody will severe these ties. National leaders may facilitate these processes or try to stem them but nobody can hope to stop them altogether.
Question: When the strategic cooperation treaty was signed, Moscow began speculating on establishment of a military base in Uzbekistan - just like in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan...
Islam Karimov: I categorically object to militarization of the region. Every military base makes an indelible imprint on psychology of the locals. We deserve better than that. That is why the contest of world powers is not what I really like. I do not understand it when in Kyrgyzstan there are two airports, Russian and NATO's, 30 kilometers distant from each other. It is not even a display of strength. It is something incomprehensible and unnatural. And we will inadvertently become hostages of the countries that establish their military bases on our territory.
Question: Does it mean that you will oust from Uzbekistan the US AF and the airport where its units are based will he closed?
Islam Karimov: Status of the airport where they are based is not even determined yet. We are discussing it. As far as we are concerned, the Americans will be using it only while the operation aimed at peaceful restoration of Afghanistan is under way. Completion of the counter-terrorism operation in Afghanistan will render unnecessary presence of foreign AF bases on the territory of Uzbekistan. We know all too well what our sovereignty depends on and we will protect it.
Question: Presidential election is scheduled for 2007. Is it possible that you will decide against running for the president again? Do you have a successor like some of your colleagues in CIS countries have?
Islam Karimov: We have enough time to decide everything yet. What counts is that we set out to form independent branches of government including the executive branch. I would earnestly like to see our government independent indeed. These days, everything depends on me and it is hardly surprising. We have a difficult period behind us, a period when we had to rise to numerous challenges, when I was forced to take responsibility for everything. It will gradually change. The generation that comes after us... it is important for it to consist of worthy men who will continue the process of dramatic reorganization.
Question: A lot of Russians left Uzbekistan when the Soviet Union disintegrated. Do you plan to invite them to come back?
Islam Karimov: According to the census, we had 1.55 million Slavs on the territory of Uzbekistan in 1990. The figure went down to 1 million in the 15 years that followed. There is more to it than disintegration of the USSR alone. Ideologists from Arab, Moslem countries sensed appearance of an ideological vacuum here and rushed here to build mosques and bring back our religion. It scared a certain part of the non-Moslem population.
I'm a Moslem who has never betrayed the faith of our forefathers. There are, however, two schools of Islam. There is traditional enlightened Islam and there is belligerent Islam. It is this latter that is getting stronger and stronger. This school is represented by Hizb-ut-Tahrir, Al Qaeda, Moslem Brothers, etc. It is the belligerent Islam that aspires to covert the 1.5 billion Moslems of the traditional Islam. Ideologists of this belligerent school substitute faith with politics, they are trying to make all of us their adepts. They are out to transform Islam into a weapon in the war on Christianity and other faiths. These are far-reaching plans, you know. Unfortunately, very few in the world pay attention. The Americans have finally seen it and stopped dismissing the problem with a disinterested shrug. They know now that there is a war under way within Islam itself and that the future will depend to a great extent on who comes out the winner.
Unfortunately, Islam is misunderstood by very many. Hence the attempts to associate it with terrorism as though bin Laden represents all of Islam. This misunderstanding pushes the world of Islam away from the rest of the civilization and aggravates tension in the relations between them. If you ask me, it is necessary to help traditional Islam in dealing with the reactionary schools. It will only make terrorists all the more helpless. By this way, this is precisely what we established the Islamic University and lyceum for 5 years ago. We want the believers to study true Islam, a religious of peace and mercy.
Back to your question. Literally the other day I signed a decree granting citizenship to 70 Russians who opted to return to Uzbekistan.
Question: Joint efforts of countries and their secret services are needed in the war on international terrorism. Is there any specific mechanism of cooperation between Uzbek and Russian secret services?
Islam Karimov: The term "international terrorism" became fashionable after September 11, 2001. Long before that, however, there had been Red Brigades in Italy, Baader-Meinhof group in Germany... Remembering it is something Europe will gladly do without. For some reason, it dawned on everybody only now that Afghanistan is not merely a source of drugs, but also a vast training camp for all sorts of terrorists. I used to say so long ago and the disinterested "This is your problem..." was all I ever heard by way of reply.
Our position on the matter of international terrorism does not change. Meeting of the Organization of Central Asian Cooperation in Dushanbe opted to make a list of terrorist organizations operating in the Commonwealth and in countries of the Organization. In order to outlaw them, you know. It is effective. Germany, Pakistan, and 16 Arab states have outlawed Hizb-ut-Tahrir. Russia did so too. Other countries of the Organization subscribed to it at a later date.
Uzbekistan is a member of the international coalition that played an important role in the counter-terrorism operation in Afghanistan. We decided to make the airport available to forces of the coalition even before the operation in Afghanistan began. It was on October 8. Very many countries including Russia objected then and condemned us. When the operation was a success, our neighbors began talking that they were members of the coalition too, that they were facilitating Afghanistan's return to peaceful life... And that the airport in Kyrgyzstan was practically the only means of Afghanistan's development in the direction of democracy and revival.
By the way, this base appeared after completion of the operation. Moreover, it is closer to China than to Afghanistan.
Ideology of terrorism is born of the refusal to accept other all faiths. Hizb-ut-Tahrir is a vivid example of that. Once an organization preaching peace, it transformed into a provider of terrorists, murderers, and rapists. That is why we are determined to resist the ideology that draws youths into illegitimate activities.
Unfortunately, major geostrategic players in the world use the war on international terrorism as a smoke-screen for the battle for clout with the Central Asian region. It may eventually result in abandonment of the war on terrorism altogether. Not a single conference within the framework of the Commonwealth ever fails to pass a document on the war on terrorism. Hundreds of them have been passed already. All words and no deeds. All of that discredits the efforts of whoever actually strives to improve the situation. All of that makes even more difficult the war on international terrorism which is a ruthless, cunning, and experienced enemy.
Question: What do you think of the future of the Commonwealth?
Islam Karimov: Formally, the Commonwealth exists. I will be able to answer the question when the positions of Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, and some other countries are finally made clear. The Commonwealth cannot pretend anymore that nothing has happened.
The Commonwealth as it is cannot made decisions independently and there are forces in the world that find this state of affairs convenient. The Commonwealth has never made a statement explaining its position while the confrontation in Ukraine lasted. At the same time, just about everybody was there, in Ukraine, trying to turn the tables. We cannot help being interested in what is happening in Ukraine. Ukraine is a fully fledged member of the Commonwealth. Only months ago its President Kuchma was chairman of the CIS Council of the Heads of State. Why did not we met, at least once?
Question: Did Kuchma himself appeal to the Commonwealth with the request to take a look at what was happening in his country?
Islam Karimov: He appealed to everybody but the Commonwealth. He appealed to Poland, Lithuania, Brussels... I'd say that he does not view CIS countries as serious partners to discuss matters of importance with. On the other hand, we did not react to the events in Georgia either. The Commonwealth could exert its clout but never tried to. In fact, there are too many organizations in the post-Soviet zone - Eurasian Economic Cooperation, Organization of the CIS Collective Security Treaty, United Economic Zone, etc. They talk big, but that is all they ever do...
Viktoria Panfilova (Tashkent - Moscow)
Nezavisimaya Gazeta (Moscow), January 14, 2005, pp. 1, 10