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A Bad Sign From Karimov's Inauguration Speech

Autumn of the patriarch? President Islam Karimov at a Norouz celebration in March

Autumn of the patriarch? President Islam Karimov at a Norouz celebration in March

Uzbek President Islam Karimov, what were you talking about?

Karimov was sworn in for a fourth term on April 10, and there were some disturbing signs during his inauguration speech. For those of you familiar with Uzbekistan, I have a good idea what you're thinking and it's worse than you think.

As one would expect, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, known locally as Ozodlik, paid close attention to the Karimov speech and noticed that the 77-year-old president appears to be showing signs of age (here and here).

State print media featured copies of the the written version of the speech from which Karimov read. That version was 1,295 words in length. But the speech as delivered ran more than 2,000 words, and in those moments when he chose to stray from the script, to ad lib, he often rambled.

The following translations of excerpts of his speech are as faithful to Karimov's precise language as possible.

Karimov has often spoken of the unseemliness of boasting. It's been a theme of his speeches for years and usually follows comments about how well the country is doing.

"We never brag. The growth of our GDP is 8 percent. For that there were preparations, every day preparations since we became independent, we've been making plans. Only in our five principles, we never and nowhere, from a big or small tribune, never showed off. If needed, I'll say it again and again, bragging, whoever is bragging, bragging is about just a country, which just has its name and we don't go that way."

Scared? You haven't heard anything yet.

Addressing members of parliament as "My Dear," Karimov continued, "Today I'm meeting with you and if you ask why -- first of all, you became partners and if needed today in such an open manner, if the president is revealing secrets and if you become the holder of these secrets, you become closer to me."

There was thunderous applause after Karimov finished this confusing sentence, but it was never clear what "secrets" he meant.

Turning to the diplomats attending the inauguration -- nearly all of them ambassadors, since the inauguration had only been announced some 24 hours before the event -- Karimov said: "I'm always surprised with diplomats, they have a way, they are taking respect out of me and never, never say good-bye in a bad mood. First of all these diplomats, ambassadors, when they finish their terms a person feels like he's saying good-bye to an old friend because in these two or three years they've become friends. This has become a rule because no ambassador wants to say good-bye. If needed, I would convey the respect of my people to all the ambassadors working now, and second, if someone asked me what to you want when we say good-bye, what if we issue a medal and call it 'I Love Uzbekistan.'"

The audience applauded enthusiastically. Personally, I'm trembling writing this and I'll probably be sleeping with the lights on tonight.

Karimov continued, seemingly meandering in out of his script, speaking of a telegram from U.S. President Barack Obama that everyone "already read" and that all the newspapers published.

He repeated many times that the future of country was in the hands of Uzbekistan's young people. He spoke of a "need to introduce democracy" -- strange words since Karimov has been president of independent Uzbekistan for nearly 25 years, just won a constitutionally illegal fourth term, and is now saying "don't be behind others in this sphere and I urge you all to this."

He told his countrymen that "foreign investment is good, we must leave our prejudices behind."

Karimov went back to the youth topic. "If we say the future generation is deciding the future, we will never be behind."

I can't decide if that's a Zen saying or what.

And among his closing remarks he exhorted everyone: "The president tells you now, don't be afraid!"

An ironic finish since Karimov, his corrupt officials, and brutal security services are the greatest sources of fear for the people of Uzbekistan.

This is a bad sign. Karimov has just been reelected to a five-year term. While print media confined themselves to the official speech (accompanied by photographs of Karimov in much younger days), state TV and radio were in a quandary about whether the comments not included in the official speech were incoherent babbling or the product of some wisdom only Karimov seemed to see clearly. State TV reran the entire speech, no doubt for fear Karimov might watch and wonder why his unique insight had been edited out.

There have been many rumors about Karimov's health, and lately they are coming more frequently. Most assume Karimov's presidency will expire when the man himself expires.

Constitutionally, that would be the easiest way to transfer power to someone else.

But there is another option, and it requires certifying that the president is no longer fit to execute the duties of the office of president. However, there are few actions more dangerous than trying to declare a longtime dictator incompetent to remain head of state.

-- Ozodlik director Alisher Sidikov helped to prepare this report​

About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect some of the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change. Content will draw on the extensive knowledge and contacts of RFE/RL's Central Asian services but also allow scholars in the West, particularly younger scholars who will be tomorrow’s experts on the region, opportunities to share their views on the evolving situation at this Eurasian crossroad. The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.


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