Articles - 01 October 2006
04:01 - Polat: The Uzbek opposition is not united in principle, nevertheless it is strong
(Part 2. The power of opposition)
Abdurahim Pоlat
Chairman of "Birlik" Party

II. Nevertheless the opposition is strong

I am not going to speak about the time known as “perestroika”. Then the opposition had millions of supporters and was close to coming to power.

By the way, the main events, regarding the activity of the opposition in those years, recorded on the video tape and widespread in a hundreds copies long ago, become part to the history of our nation. This is history of the heroic fight of Uzbeks, who first gain official “state language” status for the Uzbek language, then, as a result of fights, a part of which is "Birlik" opposition movement, against August 1991 coup, and for independence.

Here I will speak about events after the defeat of the opposition in 1992-93 and what we have now.

A strength and a weakness are relative conceptions. Yes, Uzbek opposition is weaker than existing authorities. Yes, it is weeker than opposition in Ukraine, Georgia and Azerbaijan.

Today, the Uzbek democratic opposition weaker than the regime, which is ready to shoot its people by automatic rifle and machine-guns, what shows, for instance, on events in Andijan,. The democrats reject the way of the violence and so never would reply by identical violent acts even because of despair.

In Ukraine and Georgia authorities were never shooting down its citizens, Azerbaijani authorities have not physically crushed theirs opponents. So, comparing our power with those countries is at least illogical.

The ferocious dictatorship set up in Uzbekistan, what do not have analogue in any post-soviet state. The comparison with Turkmenistan was also not appropriate, since there never was an observable democratic opposition.

If proceed from existing reality, Uzbek opposition is strong enough. Karimov have for 17 years been trying to destroy the opposition physically, but he couldn’t do it and will not be able do it. Since Uzbek opposition has a root in nation. There is no another example in the Central Asia. It is not insult of neighbors, but one has to acknowledge that Kazah and Kirgiz oppositions are opposition of the so-called “nomenklatura”. In the fighting for the power, a part of “nomenklatura” rised against another one under the democratic slogans. It is nothing bad. I am regret that in Uzbekistan there is no this kind opposition. Because, “nomenklatura” opposition, having armed by democratic slogans, does it want or not, will have to carry out at least part of theirs slogans.

So, we have to estimate the strength of Uzbek opposition proceeding from realities existing in Uzbekistan. The reality is: one of the most terrible dictatorships of the end of 20th and beginning of 21th centuries set up in our country. The Uzbek opposition withstands against it.

2.1. From opposition to human right fighters

In 1993 opposition had lost all its chances for legal activity. First, by decision of the Ministry of Justice, activity of "Birlik" was suspended for 3 months, and then authorities deprived its registration. The same happened afterwards with "Erk" Party and it has moved to the lines of opposition.

The eternal question stands up on front us: What we have to do and how we have to do?

We, activists of “Birlik” have decided nevertheless: we shall continue our activity strictly within the frames of democratic principles and strive with the aim to return back to official political arena. For this we must, first, strive to stop repression of power against opposition. And for this, in one’s turn, it is necessary to show the world community a range of repression by Karimov’s regime and gain support of the democratic world to force a change in the policy of the government. Certainly, we understood, for this we must turn into human rights fighters.

On this field we have done huge job. Very soon whole world has heard what is going on in Uzbekistan. Here is just one example. In 1995 or 96 president Karimov has arrived with official visit in Germany. In that days Radio "Liberty" quoted one of the German newspapers: "Persons, who is interested in to see the medieval dictator, are invited to airport. The President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov arrives today". I personally read the American newspaper, which wrote: "Killers like Miloshevich and Saddam didn’t arrive to the UN General Assembly, but Karimov and Mugabe are already here".

If there were no Uzbek human rights fighters, the range of repression in Uzbekistan could compare to Stalin's period, when the world did not know what was going on in the Soviet Union until the death of the dictator.

One can say with confidence that by the effort of “Birlik” activists, the broad human rights movement unprecedented for dictatorship in Uzbekistan was created. The Uzbek human right fighters under enormous support of Moscow-based "Memorial" secured that that UN Special Committee on Torture has acknowledged Uzbekistan as country where systematic tortures are conducted. After adopting the resolution of this Committee with recommendation, actually, with requirements, Uzbek government was forced to recognize the tortures and promise to improve the situation in this area.

It is necessary to acknowledge that this fight does not passed without victims. The repressions have touched human rights activists themselves. Two of them, both activists of "Birlik" - Shovruk Ruzimuradov (the former member of Uzbek Parliament and chairman of Kashkadarya regional organization of "Birlik") and Ahmadjon Turahanov (the chairman of Namangan city organization of "Birlik") were brutally killed in the prisons of regime.

2.2. Fight for publicity/glasnost

One of the main principles of democracy is publicity. There is no democracy where is no independent from the authorities mass media. I am sure that mass media must be independent both from the authorities and from opposition. But same time I realize that in conditions of the dictatorship, only opposition can break the government monopoly on mass media. This is one of the duties of opposition.

The Uzbek opposition have been discharging this duty. Beginning the “perestroika” time "Birlik" was starting to publish the newspaper with the same name. Then the newspapers "Erk", "Independent weekly", "Democratic Uzbekistan", "Tumaris", "Erkin yosh" and others are appeared.

First, these newspapers had published in Uzbekistan. Then they were forced to be published abroad, but they were always circulated in Uzbekistan. Later all these publications have been stopped of printing.

In 1997 “Birlik” created the first Uzbek language web site. Then the sites of other organizations are appeared. Though a small number of people have the access to Internet in Uzbekistan and authorities block opposition sites, however, democrats are using the opportunities of the worldwide web for propaganda of democratic values among Uzbeks.

But it is necessary to acknowledge that in this sphere the special role belongs to the journal "Harakat", which is published abroad and circulates mostly in Uzbekistan since 1995. In these days, the 60-s issue of this bimonthly journal printed.

The Journal was organized by activists of “Birlik” living abroad, Presently, journal have been made with participation of opposition activists living in Uzbekistan. It is public-political and human rights publication.
Its circulation is insufficient for such country as Uzbekistan - 3 thousand per issue. But it is important that practically whole circulation spreads in Uzbekistan.

However, the journal "Harakat" has played the prominent role in the life of democrats at the end of the past centure, when opposition and human rights activists were leading not easy fighting for survival in conditions of the cruel dictatorship. Exact, this journal has played decisive role on the rebirth stage of the main opposition organization - "Birlik" Party during 2001-2005.

2.3. The registration of parties - an obligatory stage on way to the normal activity

The aim of any democratic party is either gain power by participating in elections or participate in the governing of state through their own representatives, elected to the organs of power. In order to participate in elections, it is necessary to be a registered organization. But purpose of the dictatorship is to prevent opposition a role in the political life; it means the authorities will try not to register them.

On this reason, registration of the political party, being routine formal step in democratic country, becomes almost main problem in un-democratic countries.

It is necessary to say, the authorities of Uzbekistan from the very beginning tried to create insurmountable on their view obstacles on the way of the registration of political parties. For example, at the early 1990s, Russian laws required 5 thousand members for registration of the political party, but in Uzbekistan, with its more than six times smaller population, 3 thousand members required.

However "Birlik" Party, then functioning in the structure of the Popular Movement of "Birlik", was able easily to collect 3,5 thousand members. The authorities have immediately enlarged this number to 5 thousand.

After beginning the broad-scale repression in 1992, the problem of registration "Birlik" as political party was dropped from main agenda.

The process of rebirth of opposition was beginning in 2001 after 10 years of forced lulls. Colossal organizing work was made and the regional conferences were held during two years. Finally, the convention to "Birlik" Party in 2003 took place. Then the work on its registration was resumed.

The Ministry of Justices returned back our documents 4 times under absolutely far-fetched arguments. Apropos, we have presented to Ministry the list of 5,5 thousand party members. When we have fulfilled all requirements of the powers regarding our documents, they have changed the Law On Political Parties in several days and raised the number of the necessary party members to 20 thousand.

In three next months we have raised the number of the party members to 21 thousand. The authorities turned out to be in dead end. The truth, after bloody Andijan events, registration process stopped, but we soon will resume our fight for registration.

I want specifically to emphasize that the presence of 21 thousand party members of the "Birlik" clearly demonstrates our political power. One must understand, if in such country -- where president openly lies on television, declaring that "Birlik" is a terrorist organization, its government shoots up the peacefull demonstrators -- if the opposition party has 21 thousand registered members; this speaks about a lot of.

I want to answer immediately to our malevolent, who are already declaring: why with so many members, you cannot make the large scale protests and force the authorities to execute the laws of the country.

They forget that in front of us we have a power, which is not stopping before anything to perpetuate the dictatorship. It has clear shown in Andijan that it is ready simply to shoot up its folk. We are democratic party, but not party of suicide. We do not raise our members by so as they not thinking dashed on death, for the sake of even bright future or other world, as the communists did, or as presently do the fanatics.

We shall go to democracy using only democratic methods of the fight, seeking not to allow the loss. The life of the person - the main value for us.

2.4. Passed parliamentary election

As it was already spoken, participation in elections is one of the main goals of democratic political party. Therefore just to prevent our participation in elections, authorities refuse to register our party.

But Uzbek laws actually allow participating in elections for unregistered organizations, using possibility of the nominating independent candidates both to parliament, and to presidency, on behalf of so-called initiative groups of the electors.

The activists of "Birlik" Party used this possibility during parliamentary elections at the end of 2004.

It is necessary to note first of all, some other opposition groups, including some human rights organizations, has declared their intention to boycott the elections in the early stage of election campaign. But, because of absence of the independent mass media, this action had zero effect. Authorities didn’t even noticed it.

But when "Birlik" has declared about its intention to participate in elections using mechanisms of election law for putting forward nominees through initiative groups of electors, the authorities immediately began to stir. The Election Law was changed immediately. If earlier, for putting forward candidate to the parliament, it was necessary to hold meeting of 100 persons, now the meeting should gather at least 300 electors.

Even this small feature of the struggle between opposition and the authorities, I see as an important element of the fight between them in legal space. But the main battles, naturally, have occurred in electoral districts.

The authorities didn’t limit themselves just to increasing the necessary minimum number of the people in ithe nitiative group. In all districts where our activists had began organizing meetings of the initiative groups, employees of the local administrations, officers of the special services and polce literally went house-by-house and warned the people that they did not dare to go on meetings, organized by “Birlik”, which is an enemy of the state and personally of president Karimov. The most active people were brought, often on night, to police and were threatened with arrest and other large troubles for members of their families.

In spite of frantic resistance of the powers, we could hold meetings of initiative groups of electors in 10 electoral districts. So, 10 activists of “Birlik” were put forward as candidates to lower chamber of the Uzbek parliament, among them 2 vice-chairman’s of the party - Pulat Ohunov (Andijan region) and Ismail Dadazhanov (Fergana area).
After that the fighting went to the level of the election commissions, which were to register the candidates. In majority districts, where our candidates were put forward, election commissions simply scattered, they did not appear on work offices before the end of the registration period. Our appeals to Central Election Commission remained without consideration.

Regrettably, OCSE, its Bureau on Democratization and Human Rights, and embassies of the western countries, including the USA, remained deaf against our request to help us, at least only for the level on what they rendered aid for democrats in Azerbaijan.

However, I consider that our attempts to participate in those elections did not pass in vain. We have demonstrated to the skeptics not only from the other organizations, but also internal: in modern conditions it is possible to fight in legal field even with dictatorship.

It is necessary to note one more important moment. We have demonstrated that we are major opposition party, which is ready to fight for power with existing regime by constitutional methods, we have gained the priceless experience, which we will use in the following presidential elections.

2.5. Strength of the opposition is in its aspiration for the future

According the rates of the undertaking political and economic reforms, Uzbekistan occupies the last place among all countries of the former Soviet block, with the exception, even that arguably, of Turkmenistan. And as effect of this, population of our country, deprived any political and civil rights, additionally, is found on edge of poverty. The Uzbeks, who have been defining the face of the whole region, a skilful farmers and businessmen by nature, have to work as a farm laborers in nearby and distant countries.

All opposition parties offer nearly similar measures for improving current disastrous situation.

In the political sphere, they call for separation of three branches of power, transition to parliamentary-presidential system of the rule, provision to publicity, respect for the human rights, free elections etc.

In the economic sphere, they advocate the creation and maintaining of a truly market mechanisms, confession of the right for private property to the land, serious reforms in financial-banking system, supporting small and middle business etc.

These measures cover the problems on the nearest future; moreover, they are oriented on solution of the problems resting on surface.

Yes, these measures obligatory and there is no fundamental obstacles on the way of their realization. For this It is possible to use the experience of the other countries of the CIS in overcoming these problems, if current authorities have political will, instead of just thinking about perpetuation of their power.

However, they are not enough for solving the main problem: sharp improve of the well being of the people, by following reasons. First, the per capita natural resources of the country, absolutely insufficient for solving the strategic problems of the economy. Secondly, because of sharp increase of the population in the last decades and ignoring by the current government the problem of the creation new worker places, the jobless rate reached the unprecedented high level.

These two interconnected problems can be just solved in combination both economic and political decisions.
What kind of political decisions we are talking about?

We are talking about political decisions of deepening regional integration processes.

First. Central Asia, particularly Caspian seacoast, is rich by natural resources as oil and gas. Countries, adjoining seaward, are not capable to master them alone. So more distant from region countries are hastening snatch here luscious piece for itself. Uzbekistan can and must participate in the process of the mastering this wealth.

Second. The participation all Central Asia countries in mastering general wealth of region will be efficient when integration process deepens. It is necessary to take into consideration the fact that surrounded such big powers as Russia, China, Iran, India and Pakistan, Central Asian countries will not be able effectivly use the fruits of the independence by acting alone. It is obviously, the integration only in economic sphere insufficient for solving strategic problems. We have to move on the way of political integration, orienting on making the structure, similar to the European Union. In spite of all this:

- It is necessary to be oriented on western (democratic) values;

- Considering cultural-historical roots, it is necessary in every way to consolidate the line Central Asia-Azerbaijan-Turkey;

- It is necessary to achieve that Central Asia becomes not ground for rivalry, but maydan (square) for cooperation of super and regional powers.

Third. There is well-known wealth of the Asian part of Russia. The question about their joint use together with Uzbekistan should be put on the top of agenda. Russia does not possess the necessary human resources for their mastering. In this region, China, Japan and Uzbekistan possess surplus human resource. Russia will certainly prefer to be oriented on Central Asia, on Uzbekistan, in front of inevitable expansion of China and Japan in the future.

These are strategic landmarks, for the first time declared in official documents of the "Birlik" Party, clear demonstrates our apiration into future, as these problems of the future, will dare us. But already now we must create the base for it.

III. Close prospect - a presidential elections

If we look at nearest prospect, obviously, our purpose - a participation in 2007 presidential elections.

Speaking about these elections, it is necessary to understand vital necessity of the appearance of the whole opposition by united front. Moreover, it is necessary to acknowledge that united actions are possible.

I do not disagree with myself, when simultaneously speak about fundamental splitting of the Uzbek opposition on the one hand, and about need and possibility of uniting the whole opposition before elections on another hand.

As I know, party "Erk" is in crisis now. Its ordinary members have begun to understand fatality of political line of the leaders of the party during the period between its congresses. The majority rejects unprincipled policies of earlier elected leaders, who let themselves to cooperate with religious extremists. Several large regional organizations of the "Erk", for instance, Kashkadarya, Surhandarya and Buhara regions, nearly in full composition already have long ago altered to "Birlik".

Additionally, on the last convention (in October, 2003) "Erk" split. The majority has elected its new chairman Samad Murad, who fully stands for democratic norms and principles. He was supported by the suppressing majority of delegates of the convention. Consequently, only this majority has a right to emerge on behalf of party.

Yes, approximately quarter delegates has organized separate convention and reelected its leader Salay Madaminov, but following several months this group further split into several independent groups.

I am sure, "Birlik" will be able to be united with all groups of "Erk", and with other political parties, in the matter of putting forward united candidate of the opposition in the presidential elactions.

We, “Birlik” members do not hide that we whould prefer to see a representative of our party as united candidate of the opposition. But this question will be decided, most likely, within the framework of already existing Round Table of opposition parties and other democratic organizations of Uzbekistan - Davra Kengashi.

When will be an election? The Constitution of Uzbekistan on this count contains obviously inconsistent positions. According to the Article 117, the election of the President is conducted in the year, when the constitutional term of its authority ends - in the first Sunday of the third decade of December. By Article 92, President is considered as assumed the position since moment of taking of the oath on meeting of the Oliy Majlis (Supreme Council, Parliament) of the Republic of Uzbekistan. But according to Article 90, President is elected for 7 years. Since, the previous elections took place in January 9 (2000), but president has entered his last term on on January 21, the next election must be held before January 21 2007, but Article 117 orders another date - December 23, 2007.

Since in Uzbekistan authorities do not follow laws, they can make the election date at own discretion both at December 2007, and earlier. And we must be prepared for any surprises.

Certainly, going to elections, we must think about victory and we think about victory. But considering situation that has been developed, and political and non-political alignments, in the country, we also must clearly understand how events will turn around.

If we will be able to register the candidate of the opposition, we have to think about real victory in elections. However, acting authorities have enough possibilities for refusing to register our candidate under far-fetched pretext. I mean not only Central Electoral Commission, which according to law is in charge of undertaking elections. More important is the role of the authorities, since it is well-known that this commission does not possess independence, but only follows the directions given by authorities.

According the law, only conventions of political parties registered at least half-year before the beginning of the election campaign or initiative group of the electors in composition of not less than 300 persons can put forward a candidate for presidency of Uzbekistan. Herewith, putting forward of candidacies begins 65 days and ends 45 days before the vote.

If elections will be hold in December of the next year, we have enough time to register "Birlik" Party and put forward a candidate on behalf of the Party. Now, formally, Ministry of the Justice has no legal bases to refuse us registration. Just because of this fact authorities can go to setting early elections already this year, then we will not have a possibility even to think neither about continuation of the registration process, nor about putting forward a candidate on behalf of the party.

In this case, then, we shall have to immediately come into play on the second variant and prepare the meetings of several initiative groups on putting forward a candidate for the presidency. I think, we can do it.

In any case, fortification of positions of Party will be a victory, which is inevitably during the political process, such as elections. We must demonstrate the society our power and achieve a position that authorities were to regard us a serous force.

Our pre-election slogan is “We obtained the independence, We will obtain both prosperity and liberties!"