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Uzbekistan: Daily Life Continues In The Shadow Of Andijon

  • Daniel Kimmage --> Uzbek troops still patrol the streets of Andijon (file photos) In the nearly three months since Andijon exploded in violence on 12-13 May, Uzbekistan has found itself at the center of a debate couched in the grand terms of great-power politics. Will President Islam Karimov be able to hold his ground? Why exactly did Karimov ask the United States to give up its air base at Karshi-Khanabad? How far will the rapprochement between Uzbekistan and Russia go? Meanwhile, daily life goes on for ordinary Uzbeks. And RFE/RL's Uzbek Service has continued to cover it.

For many Uzbeks, the bazaar remains a key barometer. As RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported on 29 July, the prices of basic goods have risen. For example, 1 kilogram of beef now sells for 2,800-3,000 soms (1,000 soms is roughly equally to $1), while a kilogram of lamb sells for 3,000-3,500 soms, an increase of 500 soms over last year. (For context, the World Bank defines Uzbekistan as a low-income country, with gross national income per person of $420 in 2003.) The prices of other agricultural products have increased approximately 30 percent over the past year. Queried about the cause of rising prices, a farmer told RFE/RL: "Transportation prices are high for farmers. Fertilizer, fieldwork, equipment, fuel, and seeds are expensive. This is why the produce is getting more expensive."

Despite a presidential decree in February banning unreasonable price hikes for basic services, some of those services have become costlier, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported on 5 August. The price of gasoline has risen twice, going up five soms in January and five soms in July. One liter now costs 330 soms. Bakhtiyor Muqimov, an official at the O'zneftmahsulot oil and gas company, told RFE/RL: "The price of gasoline hasn't changed at all since last August. But the consumption tax on gasoline went up by five soms in January and in June." The price of electrical energy has also gone up about 20 percent.

How does this affect the lives of ordinary Uzbeks? RFE/RL's Uzbek Service recently reported on the daily life of a 40-year-old woman from Andijon. Her husband is in prison, she works as a teacher, and she has seven children, five of her own and two from her husband's first marriage. The oldest is 17, the youngest four. The woman's salary from the school where she teaches is 15,000 soms a month, and she receives 13,000 soms a month in subsidies for her children. She described her family's efforts to supplement this meager budget of $28 a month:

"I don't teach many hours at the school because I need to look after the kids. The most basic thing for our family is bread. After that it's hot meals. Because of these difficulties, my oldest son was forced to work during the summer vacation. At first, he worked with his friends loading meat in a freezer. He would work from evening until noon the next day for 6,000 soms. After working like this for five or six days he started to cough. When I saw this, I didn't let him go to work anymore. It was costing more to buy medicine than he made working." The woman's son now works as a bricklayer for 2,000-2,500 soms a day.
"The 28,000 soms I get each month isn't enough for bread. Each month, bread alone costs 60,000 soms."

At one point, the woman tried to augment her earnings by engaging in the petty trade that is the mainstay of many family budgets. Following a friend's advice, she hired an old woman to look after the children and acquired some goods to sell. She recounted: "In the winter, I went to Qorasuv [on the border with Kyrgyzstan] with a friend who does some trading. I brought some goods that I wanted to sell -- children's pants. I bought them for 450 soms and wanted to sell them for 500. Along the way, customs officers took my goods away and confiscated them."

The family fell on hard times. "The 28,000 soms I get each month isn't enough for bread. Each month, bread alone costs 60,000 soms," the woman explained. "I keep us afloat by selling things around the house. We've been living in these circumstances for three years now. Even if my husband were released from jail on an amnesty, would that solve our problems?"

When there simply wasn't enough money, the woman began to buy goods at a nearby store on credit. Her debts now total at least 300,000 soms, money that went to feeding her family. In order to pay the debt, she is now contemplating selling her house and moving in with her mother or mother-in-law.

(Written in conjunction with RFE/RL's Uzbek Service)

For more on the mid-May events in Andijon, see RFE/RL's dedicated webpage "Unrest in Uzbekistan"