What do you get when you put together a U.S. diplomat, a septuagenarian Central Asian dictator, and a giant public celebration of the New Year?
The answer, at least in the eyes of state broadcasters in Uzbekistan, is great television. (Watch the video above.)
March 22 marked Uzbekistan’s observance of Norouz, the Persian New Year, a holiday kept not just in Iran but all over Central Asia
. For the occasion, Uzbek President Islam Karimov threw a big party in a Tashkent arena, replete with choreographed performances, giant balloons, and spontaneous dancing from officials who normally keep a tight lid on their public personas.
Uzbek state television was on hand to capture video footage of President Karimov -- who turned 74 in January -- rising from his chair in the viewing stand to clap his hands, raise his arms and cut a rug. The leader’s energy was apparently infectious: as Karimov’s dance moves became more enthusiastic, the aides around him waved their hands and shook back and forth with greater gusto.
A festive spirit also took hold of the U.S. ambassador to Uzbekistan, George Krol, who could be seen dancing at various points during the celebration. Krol has been on the job in Tashkent since June 2011, and previously served as America’s ambassador to Belarus.
The ambassador didn’t shrink from shaking his hips and moving his feet with the best of them, and he proved more audacious than the officials seen behind him, who stuck to clapping with the beat.
For his part, Karimov -- whose jogging-in-place move really isn’t half-bad -- has much to celebrate this Norouz.
His rule as Uzbekistan's strongman president turns 22 years old on March 24. Upholding his reputation as a wily operator, Karimov rang in the New Year by announcing that a presidential election scheduled for December 2014 would be delayed until the middle of 2015.
Hat-tip to RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service, Radio Ozodlik
, which spotted the event and edited video coverage down to the clip you see above.