Who Runs The Show?

by Nathan Hamm on 8/13/2005 · 7 comments

In the last two posts, the Uzbek National Security Service (SNB from the Russian Служба национальной безопасности) entered the picture. In the former, Forum 18 says that the SNB ordered the arrest of Igor Rotar. In the latter, Arena discusses the SNB as an independent power operating parallel to the state.

Novaya Gazeta recently carried a story claiming that the SNB runs Uzbekistan. Both Scraps of Moscow and Ferghana.Ru carry translations of the article. (The former, having been translated by a native English speaker, flows better and carries an introduction worth reading.)

There’s probably no point in focusing so much attention at Rustam Inoyatov’s business dealings. Representatives of many CIS countries’ security services are involved in “entrepreneurship.” What’s more important is that in creating an arrangement that works to his own benefit, the head of Uzbekistan’s SNB has built up the entire system of government around it. President Karimov is, practically speaking, cut off from any sources of objective information. Having lost the ability to react quickly to the changing situation in the regions, the president has become a captive of his “chief security guard.” At the same time, each additional outburst of popular anger only strengthens Inoyatov’s personal power.

Interesting stuff.

I think it’s probably too much to say that the SNB runs the country, but its economic power paired with it being a filter on informaiton the state receives certainly does make it a mighty force in Uzbek politics and any potential post-Karimov power struggle.

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– 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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Olesya August 13, 2005 at 3:25 am

The saddest part is that we all know perfectly well that it is actually THEM who run the country but, strangely, we do not want things to change. So it seems like everyone’s perfectly satisfied. It is all about this ‘Middle Asian’ mindset and mentality in the end. The Soviet leaders were right to have sent Ukrainians, Jews, Koreans, and Russians to Central Asia back in the ealy 20th century. Unsurprisingly, now that they are gone the locals have ruined the country.

Matt W August 13, 2005 at 2:26 pm

Olesya– It never ceases to amaze me how otherwise educated Russians and russified populations of the FSU (including many Uzbeks) completely buy into the idea that Russia and the Soviet Union were the only good thing that ever happened to Central Asia, and all their problems now stem from the fact that the Russians are no longer there.

The Russians and in partiular the Soviets destroyed and discredited local institutions, culture, positive traditional role models, traditional law and interrupted modernizing processes. They imposed a narrow, rigid, inadequate idea of local cultural life and prevented local populations from finding their own satisfactory road to modernization. Sorry, Olesya, but the version that Russian colonizers simply tried and failed to change a self-destructive Middle Asian mindset doesn’t stand up to any kind of scrutiny– rather, they tore the soul out of comlex cultural processes and rendered the society unprepared to face many of its problems after independence (see, for example, repression of the reformist Jadid movement). The people who run the countries into the ground now are elites who were made and already in high posts during the Soviet period. Most of them had to learn the language. Who knows, maybe the Central Asians would have fared no worse than Turkey (which isn’t doing so poorly) if the Russians didn’t force them to share their unfortunate 20th century fate with all its political repressions, the G.U.L.A.G., political informants, ideological censorship, bureaucratic totalitarianism, etc. not to mention the cultural, linguistic and geographical fragmentation that was imposed from Moscow. And the highly “civilized” Russia that Olesya supposes was such a positive influence on its colonies has just destroyed its own nascent party system, eliminated local election of local leaders, quashed the excellent free press that existed there throughout the 1990s, selectively prosecutes businessmen who don’t tug the party line, rigs presidential elections (see Chechnya vote counts in last Putin election), has no functioning judiciary, a criminal police force and continues to be a hostile environment for small and medium business. The Russians merely Sovietized Central Asia– when faced with problems inherited from their “benefactors” desovietization, decolonization, environmental ruin and modernization of state and society Central Asia has, thusfar, simply proven largely unable to cope.

Matt W August 13, 2005 at 2:52 pm

As for the article itself: very strange that Novaia Gazeta didn’t mention the militsiia at all. Seems that ANY article about the power of the SNB in Uzbekistan would have to mention the Interior Ministry, even if one considers that the MVD is now comparatively irrelevant, this would have to be mentioned and backed up. But NG just ignores it, though the author obviously has some familiarity with Uzbekistan. Weird and misleading.

Brian August 13, 2005 at 3:32 pm

Well probably both Matt and Olesya have some truth to their side. The Soviets did a great deal to destroy the existing Central Asian institutions and introduce institutional corruption, however they also introducted many modernizing factors that would have taken a long time to reach the area naturally. Even introducing the Cyrilic alphabet improved literacy rates. However, since independence Russia has certiainly not helped Central Asia where it can: it still buys Central Asian gas & oil at artificially low prices, yet insists on market prices for their manufactured goods. Seems a bit unfair, don’t it?

Olesya August 14, 2005 at 3:14 am

If you had spent enough time in Uzbekistan you would have understood what kind of “Middle Asian” mindset I was actually referring to. I am not saying that the communist ideological path was the best development model for Central Asia. Take some extensive travel through the Uzbek rural areas or talk to any of those government officials and you’ll quickly grasp the meaning of the concept.
All I am saying is that the locals would have ruined any ideology, be it communism or democracy, because the dominant idea in our societies is that of unjust personal enrichment and profound inequality. Our mentality is that of slaves, something that the Soviets failed to eradicate despite their massive educational efforts. The true cultural norms the complexity of which you mentioned all call for humiliation and subordination of ordinary people to some bay, khan, or generally any higher authority and are so ugly and dehumanizing in their nature. The Jadid movement was too insignificant both in its size and “agenda” (smth they did not really have) and would not have sparked any popular reaction since the people were too uneducated and severely repressed. Plus, the khans and bays would have never supported any such education that would go contrary to their economic interests. They mercilessly exploited the poor population.
At the time the Soviets ‘colonized’ Central Asia (although this word is not quite appropriate to objectively describe this process) my grandfather was a slave/batrak (an ethnic Uzbek, btw). He as well as millions of slaves and outcasts like himself was elated to see the Soviets come and LIBERATE them.
You brought up the example of Turkey to back up your claim that the Russians should have stayed away from the region and “let the nature take its course” but I only see this as a proof of the fact that civilization can only be imposed by force. Ataturk never gave a damn about the complexity and uniqueness of Turkish culture when he conducted his reforms but rather strove to violently twist the system to fit his own ideals. Hence, the Soviets failed simply because they were too tolerant and way too supportive of the local traditions and customs. The brotherly spirit of cooperation among the Soviet states and corruption is what failed us. When Andropov came to power, he knew the system would eventually collapse unless the party organs faced the reality and committed themselves to some serious structural reforms. Unfortunately, he had died before he could implement his vision.
You are right though. The Soviets should have stayed away and let the British colonize the region instead. In that case, Turkestan would have probably turned into a nice democratic country by now. The British would have pumped out all of our natural resources and leave us with problems of “decolonization, environmental ruin and modernization of state”. We would have resembled India, Pakistan, or Afghanistan. It is not too late though and we are gradually following in their footsteps and generally moving in the right direction. Our education system has already collapsed, our healthcare is designed to kill but not heal, our economy is yielding benefits for a chosen few, etc, etc. Wow, it turns out we managed to preserve our precious traditions and unique culture. Hey, the evil Russians failed to conquer us.
One good thing though: my grandfather is no longer here to see the ideals he worked for so hard collapse and the people and the county he loved so much sink back into slavery and barbaric chaos.

Matt W August 14, 2005 at 9:10 am

First of all, I have lived in Uzbekistan (and not just in Tashkent), worked with government officials and traveled around the country long enough to understand a few things about it– but thanks for playing the “you see things differently, so you are obviously uninformed” card. That’s part of the “Middle Asia mindset” too– “you’re an outsider, and you need a Central Asian to tell you the score.”

Second of all: I didn’t mention democracy, you did. I was talking about modernization, a society finding its own path to modernization, rather than having it imposed from the outside– adapting. Ataturk was pivitol to modernizing Turkey– incidentally, one of the things he helped do was put it on a path to democracy through institutional reform, though he never saw this democracy himself (however, his rule was more inclusive than that of his predecessors). He was the Turks’ Louis XIV: NOT a democrat, but the guy who put a lot of the pieces together for organic development as a modern society and as a nation. Some Turks still hate him, but all in all he is wildly popular. What’s important here is that the society reformed itself when faced with an outside threat (the best stimulus for societal reform)– this went way back and in many ways could not have happened without the Ottoman reformist movement that had been gathering strength among the elite of the Empire for almost a century. A reformist movement is always a narrow, elite phenomenon at first. Jadidism didn’t have a clear “agenda” as you point out because it was a bona fide intellectual movement with diversity of ideas– not Bolshevism, which regularly purged deviant thinkers. Central Asians had their reform movement destroyed and it was replaced by a soulless state ideology.

Third: Colonization. Central Asia was, by any objective definition, a colony. French colonialism differed from British colonialism, British colonialism differed from Russian colonialism and Tsarist Russian colonialism differed from Soviet colonialism. It’s hard to say that colonialism does not improve the colonies at all, but the balance sheet is usually quite negative and certainly interrupts and local processes that were going on. Central Asia was forced to grow cotton and lost food independence– it already couldn’t feed itself in WWI when trains stopped going there, and the cotton-food balance only got worse under the Soviets. Slavs were poured into the area, especially the plains. Outsiders ran the show both through direct ruling and by playing kingmaker among local elites. National borders were drawn carelessly and from afar. Those that embraced the colonizer’s language and culture, russifying, anglicizing or francofying, gained an advantage. Much of what was true for England and France as colonizers is true for Tsarist Russia and Soviet Russia as a colonizer.

In addition, Soviet Russia infused the region with a bloated bureaucracy, a planned economy mindset, a habit of expecting the government to provide anything and everything. Far from, as you indicate, “managing to preserve precious traditions and unique culture”, rule from Moscow really did gut a lot of local culture and replaced it with nothing. Morality, accountability, a complex system of traditional law and social norms that had limited corruption before were washed away. Positive role models such as the benevolent bay and the just qozi (judge) were destroyed, and so now people of course do not know how else a judge or rich person could act except in a corrupt manner. And the Soviets treated Central Asia as a back yard– they freed some slaves, but simultaneously turned much of Central Asia into a prison camp (prison slang has found its way into normal speech much more than in Russia). I can’t think of any one thing the British or the French did that was as singularly horrible as the destruction of the Aral Sea. And you rarely find a Frenchman or Brit who would seriously say that “it’s a good thing Europe brought civilization to that backwater Indochina/India”– Russians and russified local elites like to believe, however, that they were the best thing that ever happened to this “inferior” culture.

One could go on endlessly, but this is already a painfully long and pedantic post (sorry).

Brian August 14, 2005 at 6:31 pm

In any case, it doesn’t really matter does it? I mean it’s just an academic exercise to debate these points, and those points can never be proven right or wrong because what’s passed is passed.

The original article is about cronyism and corruption in the here and now, not about that past. And I tend to be a bit more optimistic than Olesya about this “Middle-Asian” mindset as I don’t think it’s terribly different from the East-Asian or South-East Asian mindset… and despite these similar mindsets some nations have been able to prosper, while some have not. Maybe it’s more than just being Asian?

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