Uzbek Communists Embrace Nationalism Party Leaders Find That in Order to Survive, They Must Criticize Moscow for 'Colonialism' Series: Soviet Central Asia: Rift in the Empire. Third in a Series. the Previous Articles Appeared Jan. 10 and Feb. 5

By Daniel Sneider, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, March 28, 1991 | Go to article overview

Uzbek Communists Embrace Nationalism Party Leaders Find That in Order to Survive, They Must Criticize Moscow for 'Colonialism' Series: Soviet Central Asia: Rift in the Empire. Third in a Series. the Previous Articles Appeared Jan. 10 and Feb. 5


Daniel Sneider, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


IBRAHIM ISKANDEROV's office as the vice president of the Uzbek Academy of Sciences is decorated in the style of a successful Communist official. Brocade drapes hang in the picture windows. A long dark hardwood conference table stands to one side. A dozen telephones crowd alongside his broad desk.

Above the desk, an oil portrait of Vladimir Lenin fills an entire wall. The former head of the state planning agency and ex-deputy premier of Uzbekistan peppers his conversation with references to Karl Marx's "Das Kapital."

But Mr. Iskanderov uses Marxism to make an argument no Uzbek Communist would even have whispered to his closest friends a few years ago. Uzbekistan suffers from a "colonial relationship" with the Soviet Union, he says. According to Marx's labor theory of value, he carefully explains, Uzbek cotton is sold for a mere fifth of its worth.

"We have remained a source of raw materials," Iskanderov says. "Today 90 percent of our cotton is exported to the center and the profit stays in the center."

New type of party emerges

Iskanderov is no dissident. He faithfully reflects the views of Islam Karimov, who became Uzbekistan's party boss in June 1989 and then republican president in March 1990. The former economic planner represents a new brand of Communist in this stronghold of party power - the "national Communist."

Here and in other parts of the Soviet Union, Communists are finding that to survive they must shed the rhetoric of "proletarian internationalism" and embrace the cause of nationalism. In the Baltic republics, not unlike in Eastern Europe, the national Communists have formally broken from the Soviet Communist Party, even adopting a new identity as social democrats. Others, such as Uzbekistan's Mr. Karimov or the Ukraine's Leonid Kravchuk, have more cautiously endorsed the ideas of nationalist movements while avoiding an open split with Moscow.

Anticommunists first

The nationalist cause was first championed in Uzbekistan by Birlik ("Unity"), an anticommunist movement for democratization founded in November 1988. Birlik advocated a broad program, including democratization, providing land to peasants, ending military service outside the republic, and solving severe ecological problems. But it hit hardest by exposing the systematic distortion of the Uzbek economy through the cotton monoculture.

Until recently, about 90 percent of Uzbek farmland was devoted to cotton cultivation. Under the Soviet central planning system, cheap raw cotton is shipped to mills in other republics, forcing Uzbekistan to buy clothing from outside at greater cost.

"They were telling us that the motherland should be self-sufficient in cotton," recalls Academician Tashmukhammedov, the director of the Institute of Plant Physiology and a Birlik leader. "But we lost bread and meat independence."

With a touch of bitterness, Birlik leaders say Karimov has snatched many of their ideas. Karimov has opened the door to greater private use of land, on a lease basis. Most important, he has reduced cotton cultivation by about 20 percent in the last two years and got Moscow to pay a higher price for it. And among republican leaders, Karimov has emerged as one of the most forceful advocates of republican control over resources and internal affairs, within a Soviet federation.

Yet Karimov's role divides the ranks of the democratic and nationalist movement. Some democrats say he is a Communist wolf in nationalist clothing, one who suppresses the democratic movement to retain a Communist monopoly of power.

"Karimov is a Stalinist," the bearded Birlik co-chairman Abdur Makat Pulatov says angrily, replying in part to the less harsh views of his colleagues in the poster-festooned Birlik headquarters. …

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