Ethnicity and Regionalism in Uzbekistan
Maintaining Stability through
Uzbekistan has enjoyed political stability since attaining independence in September 1991. There have been no major incidents of ethnic violence, and it has remained insulated from the ethnic- and clan-based political eruptions that took place in neighboring Tajikistan. And yet, despite this surface semblance of stability, there is a pervasive sense that ethnic and communal violence could easily erupt. Uzbekistan was the scene of several particularly nasty rounds of ethnic violence in 1989 and 1990, the first major outbreaks in Central Asia during the Gorbachev period. The political and psychological legacy of this brutality has been used to justify authoritarian government in the name of avoiding violence, and the government's domestic concerns center on preserving stability.
When independence was declared in 1991, scenarios of possible violence in Uzbekistan coupled a potential Islamic revolution with an uprising against the non-Uzbek population. The republic's leadership set itself on a political course designed to prevent instability and explosions of ethnic violence at all costs, and Uzbekistan began a crackdown on its domestic opposition. The key turning point was May 1992 when Tajikistan's President Nabiev was forced to accept a coalition government that included the opposition. As the situation in Tajikistan accelerated into civil war at the end of 1992, Uzbekistan's domestic crackdown intensified, until by 1994 most of the key figures that were identifiable as sources of potential challenges to Tashkent had been silenced—beaten, arrested, or driven out of the country. At this point, no active opposition forces are capable of challenging the government.
Local, state-controlled newspapers in Uzbekistan are full of praise for President Karimov and for political policies that have maintained stability, arguing that stability will attract foreign investment. 1 To this end, the government has established a form of authoritarian control, suppressing certain basic rights such as freedom of assembly and freedom of the press. Its resort to the use of violence against dissidents has given the government of Uzbekistan a series of black