Jennifer Murtazashvili: Sh. Mirziyoyev is a reformer, but…
The guest of project “Face-to-face” is Jennifer Murtazishvili- director of International Development Program at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA) of the University of Pittsburg. Her research reflects on administration, matters of safety and development in Central and South Asia. Murtazashvili gained a Bachelor Degree at Georgetown University in 1997, and a Master’s Degree in agriculture and the practical economy at Wisconsin- Madison University in 2006. She became Doctor of Philosophy in 2009. She did research into politics, living in Central Asian countries for 5 years. Journalist Khurshid Dalliev spoke with her.
- 15 years ago and now: To what extent was the issue of human rights tackled and how is it being addressed now?
- 15 years ago the situation with human rights was difficult and things have become a lot easier. Many human rights organization I used to work with 15 years ago, for example, Shukhrat Ganiev, it was difficult for him. I am sure you know his organization from Bukhara. They had a very difficult time. Now they partner with the government and work with the government monitoring labor rights and child labor in different parts of the country. For me, this is very surprising. I never expected to see this. I did not expect to see so many human rights organizations partnering with the government. This is a huge first step for the improvement of human rights in the country. That is not to say, everything is perfect. A change is never quick in this area; it takes a long time.
- What do you think about the policy of Shavkat Mirziyoyev?
- President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has unleashed very ambitious reforms. Reforms are in every sector, whether it is economic, human rights, educational reforms or labor reforms. Reforms are moving quickly. I think, in some areas, it is more complete than others. For example, in economic reforms, there has been a lot of changes and those changes seem to happen more quickly, that in areas democratization allowing citizens’ participation in government. President Mirziyoyev has spoken about it himself. For example, he talked about the importance of having khokim elected. He suggested this in his own speeches, At the end of May, there will be elections for “mahalla raislari”. This is the first time there will be a more open election. There will be a parliamentary election in December. Having this kind of election is important because it gives citizens voice into what government does and it also gives citizens oversights into government’s action. if these elections are competitive, really competitive, it will be good for the country.
- What do you think? Could Sh. Mirziyoyev change Uzbekistan?
- People of Uzbekistan have changed the country. President is giving people space to change what they want to change. So in this sense, the president has changed. One person has changed the country so much. He gives people opportunities that they did not have before.
- Uzbekistan has been an important country for both the Russian Federation and the USA for a long time. Both of these countries are interested in Uzbekistan. In your opinion, how is Uzbekistan’s attitude towards them?
- I think, in this situation, Uzbekistan is making a smart decision. It is embracing all partners. It is working with Russia; it is working with the US. It is also working with China. It is also working with Afghanistan. So there are many partners that Uzbekistan is interested in learning from and working with. This kind of neutral strategy is allowing the country to learn modules and benefit from investments from many different countries. I think it is a very smart strategy.
- One of the serious problems on the way to development is corruption. What do you think about measures being taken against it in Uzbekistan?
- It is a very serious problem. It is not just a problem in Uzbekistan, it is a problem in many countries in the world. I see corruption occur when there is a big gap between de facto rules of the lass and de jure what people are doing. When the gap is big between de facto and de jure, we tend to see lots of corruption. Uzbekistan made an important stride to fighting corruption. The media plays a very important role in this. One of the biggest changes I have seen in Uzbekistan is that everybody has a phone, everybody can take a video of a police officer who asks them for money. People have a camera on their cars now, they record what the police are doing. So this kind of corruption decreased in Uzbekistan. You no longer see a police officer stopping a vehicle and asking for money. This was common a few years ago. This is what I think, the country made a lot of progress in that regard. But there are other kinds of corruptions that are difficult for us to see. Because we do not experience them every day. They occur at the highest level, in government. They occur in businesses. The less transparency in government and accountability to citizens, it will be difficult to eliminate this kind of corruption. President has done some work using courts and the Prosecutor’s Office to target corruption. But using the Prosecutor’s Office to target corruption is only one way. Another way is to make de facto laws closer to de jure practices. This will decrease corruption more a lot and give people more freedom.
- Sh. Mirziyoyev is making reforms. He has been implementing a new policy. Do you think government officials are working well?
- President Mirziyoyev has made a lot of change with government officials in Tashkent. You see a lot of new faces and a lot of young people with different perspectives working in government. They are bringing with them new ideas, new technologies, new ways of governing I have not seen in the past. What you see in Tashkent is different from what you see in provinces. In provinces you still see the old system, you do not see a lot of new faces. Because government officials are selected by Tashkent and these officials are not accountable to citizens. There are thinking about what Tashkent wants. I spoke with one government official in Fergana valley nor long ago. He said to me: “Our new president is amazing, we love him. But he tells us we should show all the problems we have in our communities. The old president told us to hide our problems, not to show people. And for us, this is very hard because we are not used to showing our problems, talking about our difficulties. I do not know, maybe we show our problems too much, we will get fired tomorrow. I want to keep our jobs; we want to show people our problems. But we are afraid, we do not know what will change, what to expect” I think this can only change if officials at local levels are more accountable to citizens. If citizens at the local level can have a voice, we will see those attitudes change. You are seeing them change in Tashkent, and it will be good to see them change around the country.
- I want to ask you about our people. How was Uzbek people’s attitude to politics 15 years and how is it now?
- In my mind, people have been receptive to reforms. They like the reforms; I have not talked to a lot of people who are disappointed with reforms. Maybe there is the sense, they are not going fast enough or the government is not following its promises it made. For example, on the issue of ‘’snos’’ (buildings that are being demolished), this is the one area that people become upset with the government. When your property is taken away from you without warning, it is difficult for people to support these kinds of reforms. If there is the ability of citizens to give feedback to the government, this will reduce those tensions.
- You are seeing a lot of reforms in the country. As an experienced specialist, what can you say about the future of Uzbekistan?
- Sh. Mirziyoyev has done a wonderful job opening the country up. I think he could do much more. He has talked about it as well. He said he needs to do more, and there have been problems implementing reforms. Continued corruption is one problem. Giving people property rights, real property rights is important that they are not going to worry about someone knocking their house down tomorrow. They can own their land. But there is not one path, Uzbekistan is going to find its own way. It can’t copy anyone else’s model, because it has its unique problems. I am very optimistic. With so many young people, so much energy, so much excitement, I think, the future is very bright.