Tensions Remain in Uzbek Bazaars

by Nathan Hamm on 11/8/2004

I think that I mentioned early that the smart money is on a high risk of new riots and civil unrest in Uzbekistan because the decree that triggered that Kokand and (much smaller) Ferghana riots has not been withdrawn.

The BBC’s Monica Whitlock reports that tensions remain high in bazaars, particularly in the Ferghana Valley.

The decree appears to be aimed at eliminating the largely unregulated and untaxed trade that dominates Uzbekistan’s bazaars by requiring new licenses (and some reports mention cash registers). Rather than bringing trade into the light of day (which is a fairly admirable goal–even if largely for the purposes of taxation), the decree threatens to squeeze many merchants who are barely making ends meet out of business altogether.

People are so angry and upset that many are close to despair.

At one bazaar, traders torched cars and chased the tax officers out of the market.

We have heard, too, how traders arranged plastic bottles of petrol around one bazaar, threatening to torch them if officials came in.

These scenes are unprecedented in Uzbekistan, where demonstrators run the risk of huge trouble with the police, and it seems the local authorities are alarmed.

Across Fergana we heard that they had suspended the decree, even though it was issued at the highest level.

They say the bazaars can work normally for now, perhaps until the end of Ramadan in a week’s time.

The bazaars in Uzbekistan are of the utmost importance. They are the centre of economic and social life, and, in this tightly controlled country, they are the main public places where thousands of people meet and talk freely every day.

If the authorities lose the support of the bazaars, there could be serious consequences throughout the country.

That is, to say the least, an understated assessment of the risk the government is running.

P.S.–This story came from our newsfeeds. If you know of more feeds that we should add, please do let us know.

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This post was written by...

– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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