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Uzbekistan: Poll Says Youth 'Satisfied' Despite Scarce Jobs

  • Farangis Najibullah --> Many Uzbeks have gone to Russia to find work (file photo) (ITAR-TASS) November 26, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Askar Mamadaliev is a 21-year-old from the southern Uzbek province of Surkhondaryo.

Speaking from Russia, where he is a migrant laborer, Mamadaliev says his salary allows him to support his family and he hopes to even save enough money to pay for his wedding. "There is no other choice [except to work in Russia]," he says. "We are resigned to our fate and work here."

Despite that fact that tens of thousands of Uzbeks like Mamadaliev have had to leave their home country to find work, a new state-run opinion poll indicates great optimism among Uzbek youth about their future, job opportunities, and social protection.

The survey -- conducted recently by Uzbekistan's Center For Social Opinion and released last week -- claims that more than 80 percent of the country's young people are content with their lives and satisfied with the country's social and political systems.

Not Quite So Happy

Speaking to RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, many young Uzbeks dismissed the survey as pure government propaganda weeks ahead of the December 23 election.

"First of all, the Center for Social Opinion is an organization that is linked -- although not openly -- to the Uzbek government," says Tashkent resident Muhiddin Abdurasulov, who studies in Turkey. "Every opinion poll that has been conducted so far by this center has confused the public. Secondly, the poll results which say, '80 percent of the Uzbek young people are extremely pleased with their lives,' it's just ridiculous."

Unemployment remains widespread in Uzbekistan, although the authorities do not acknowledge the problem. According to the Uzbek Ministry of Labor, unemployment in the country is about 3 percent.

However, independent experts and international organizations, including the World Bank, put the jobless rate at 30-50 percent.

Because of this, Abdurasulov says thousands of young Uzbeks -- who, according to the poll, are "satisfied with their opportunities and social protection" -- have migrated to Russia, Kazakhstan, and even poverty-stricken Tajikistan to find jobs.

Russian migration officials say that after Ukrainians, Uzbeks make up the second-largest number of migrants working at Russian construction sites and markets. Most of the migrants are young men from their late teens to their early 30s.

Many Uzbeks say there are not any young men left in some Uzbek villages, having left the country to search for jobs and only returning for a few weeks or months during the winter.

President Islam Karimov is seeking another term in the December 23 poll (ITAR-TASS)

Orifjon Ahmedov, an 18-year-old Andijon resident, says he has joined his father to work abroad as a baker. Ahmedov says he has no clear plan for his future and that he could not afford to complete his education.

"My circumstances did not allow me to finish school. I had to drop out after the sixth grade," he says. "Life was difficult. I think life was easier in Uzbekistan when I was a child. Life was so much better for the previous generation. It has become very difficult now."

Adburasulov -- who was fortunate to be admitted to an Uzbek university before going to Turkey to complete his studies -- adds that although there are some educational opportunities for young Uzbeks, they are few and difficult to obtain.

"We have to acknowledge the fact that a young person with proper knowledge has a chance to enter a university -- although it is very difficult. In well-known, good universities money and contacts play the crucial role," he says. "However, a few really smart people -- who have tried hard -- entered these universities on their own merit."

Fear Factor

Paul Quinn-Judge, the Central Asia Director of the International Crisis Group, says opinion poll results in countries like Uzbekistan should be viewed with "extreme caution."

"This is due to a number of factors," he says. "One is, obviously, the prevailing atmosphere of fear. This is a regime which has a highly developed security structure."

Quinn-Judge says that when someone is stopped on a street in Uzbekistan and asked to give his or her opinion about government policies or living standards in the country, there is a very slim chance that they will openly criticize the government without fearing the possible consequences of their action, which could include being detained or even jailed.

(RFE/RL's Uzbek Service correspondents Mehribon Bekieva and Alisher Sidikov contributed to this report.)

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