What is to be done?

by Laurence on 9/7/2004 · 4 comments

Lenin’s famous challenge is the theme of today’s survey by Ferghana.ru. A range of experts offer responses–all of them very interesting–to this question, and give completely different answers:

What is to be done? This is the question everybody asks in the wake of the series of terrorist acts in Uzbekistan and aggravation throughout the world. What is to be done to drive the genie of the aggressive extremism back into the bottle, the genie that does not care for life? What is to be done about the habitat that gives birth to it? The spectrum of opinions varies between two polar views promoting two different solutions to the problem.

Solution One – fight Islamists to the end (victorious, of course). I.e. try to establish control over them, jail them, etc.

Solution Two: let absolutely everyone do what he or she wants in the hope that Islamists will be lost in the general chorus, their aggressiveness spent, they themselves become more tolerant and civilized. In other words, Solution Two means letting the steam off. There is the risk here, however, that radicals may come to power legally and immediately do away with democracy.

So, what is to be done? What shall Uzbekistan do? The opinion of the government of Uzbekistan is quite clear: Islamists should be crushed. Along with other opponents, that is. It happens, you know. Shall it be done this way? We called some prominent men and asked them to answer the following question, “What is better – a state that suppresses religious extremism encroaching on democratic freedoms in the process or a state that permits everything to everybody, radicals included, upping the degree of risk to everyone?

Reading the answers, one can see that there is already pluralism of public opinion in Uzbekistan, and a willingness of people to speak their minds, that the preconditions for democracy exist. As one of my students at UWED once spontaneously remarked in our international journalism seminar, “Israel manages to fight terrorism and have a democracy at the same time, it makes the country stronger.” Not to mention the USA and England, and even to an extent, Russia, which is certainly more democratic than in its recent past.

A lot to think about in this Ferghana.ru article, and somehow reading the survey results makes one very cautiously optimistic about the future of Uzbekistan.

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Alisher September 8, 2004 at 10:54 am

In the ex-Soviet Union, as far as I remember, the question what’s to be done was always followed by another classical question..who is guilty?..

Laurence September 8, 2004 at 1:20 pm

Alisher, thank you for the comment, maybe I shouldn’t even be cautiously optimistic, then. “Who is guilty?” sounds like a purge in the making…

Alisher September 8, 2004 at 2:19 pm

No,I am sure there are reasons to be optimistic, besides right now I guess there is already a great potential for democratic change, and this potential was generated by American support of NGO movement in Uzbekistan, as the personalities of interviewed people suggest…Meanwhile,I dont think just being optimistic will help bring about this change,in my opinion, a more proactive approach is needed, though this comment is more pertinent on local level. However, international community and first of all, the USA still have a strong leverage to continue creating basis for this process. If you remember, in a meeting with Ambassador Herbst in Tashkent last year, I asked if the American committement in Uzbekistan was long-term, and he answered it was..and if it really is there is always a reason to be optimistic..or at least I see it like this.
As for the topic of the interview, I am sure the governement, on strategic level, is doing the right thing against islamic fundamentalism, though on tactical and operational level, I am sure there are things to improve, for example, in public affaires offices of the Uzbek Ministries. Dr. Jarvik, I wish you could teach your Business Communications course to the beurocrats in the Uzbek Foreign Ministry and others…

Laurence September 8, 2004 at 5:29 pm

Alisher, it is more than just a question of PR. I think what is needed is for the UMID alumni to become the “Young Turks” of Uzbekistan, as an alternative to the fundamentalists. There is an added advantage–that UMID is not something imposed by the West, it is authentically Uzbek…

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