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Qishloq Ovozi

Despite his being dead for more than seven years, a brand of vodka bearing the name and visage of former Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov is still hugely popular in the Central Asian country.
The Vienna-based Turkmen opposition website chrono-tm.org (Хроника Туркменистана) posted an article recently which noted that -- while the process of removing the numerous, and at one time ubiquitous, statues, portraits and other items bearing the resemblance or name of former Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov continues in Turkmenistan -- there is one product associated with the former dictator that is thriving, namely vodka.

At one time, the name "Turkmenbashi" (Head of the Turkmen), which Niyazov preferred to be called, could be found everywhere in Turkmenistan -- in streets, factories, villages and, of course, in the country's biggest Caspian Sea port, which is still called Turkmenbashi City.

But Niyazov has been dead for more than seven years and his successor is trying to carve out his own despotic legacy without any competition from the memory of the founder of Turkmen isolationism.

For that reason, much of the cult of Turkmenbashi is gone now but not, according to chrono-tm.org, the gift pack of a variety of vodkas called "Beyik Turkmenbashi Sovgadi" (The Gift of the Great Turkmenbashi). The article claimed vodka with Turkmenbashi's name "not only isn't disappearing, but it is showing up more and more often in various types and names."

And it must be good because, according to the article, the "Gift of the Great Turkmenbashi" is selling for some 152 manats, or $53. For many in Turkmenistan that is a month's salary.

On a more sober note, the website, which by its nature is generally critical of the Turkmen regime, offered the opinion that the popularity of Turkmenbashi vodkas is "probably because many people in the country think that living standards were better in the days of Turkmenbashi."

If $53 seems too much, there are other options.

I was shocked to learn that last week Kyrgyz border guards found a hose stretching across the bottom of the Chu River that was carrying petroleum from Kazakhstan, on the north bank of the river, into Kyrgyzstan.

Shocked because I thought those hoses were only used to smuggle alcohol from Kazakhstan across the Chu River into Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgyz border guards found one such "import route" across the bottom of the Chu in August, bringing "spirt," or grain alcohol, into Kyrgyzstan.

In February they found another hose crossing the Chu in a different area, this one 500 meters long, pumping alcohol from Kazakhstan.

Reports did not say what "river-bottom" booze is selling for in Kyrgyzstan.

-- Bruce Pannier
Uzbek authorities have been taking steps to ensure they keep a tight hold over all TV broadcasts. (file photo)
The headline says it all.

Uzbekistan's cabinet of ministers met on April 14 and sent out the word -- all the country's television and radio stations have to rig their facilities to be blown up.

Not the whole complex, however.

According to RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, Ozodlik, broadcast media has until May 14 to place "self-destructing devices" on transmitter apparatus so that, in the event of the station falling into hostile hands, all broadcasting can be cut immediately.

The Uzbek ministers know about the recent captures of broadcasting stations in eastern Ukraine by pro-Russian forces and this is perhaps the ministers' way of pre-empting similar events in Uzbekistan.

Only a small group of people would have access to the detonation device for an individual station, hopefully no one who easily gets disgusted with the quality of television or radio programming.

The National Security Service (SNB) is tasked with overseeing every step of this last resort in censorship.

As of when this article went to print, the SNB is also checking ventilation ducts in broadcast buildings and I think everyone sees where this is going...

Indeed, ventilation chutes, ducts and shafts leading toward studios are not permitted to be big enough for anyone to crawl through. Studios cannot be connected to other rooms either, such as a bathroom.

So it seems no studios can be seized in Uzbekistan.

No more live programming either, even news programs.

At least two policemen from the Interior Ministry must be part of every station's security force.

And before we wrap this up, other recent rules require journalists to submit all questions they intend to ask at a press conference, in advance for approval.

Also, no travel abroad without prior approval and in this, journalists join a growing number of professionals who are essentially trapped in Uzbekistan (Qishloq Ovozi will look at that list soon).

Additionally, Ozodlik colleagues said it has been standard practice for years now that everyone entering a broadcast station is checked, their documents checked, sometimes more than once.

There is a also list of topics and people, some of them historical, that are not to be mentioned and guests on programs are reminded of this list of taboo subjects continually from the time they enter the station grounds until the program they are on starts.

So, Central Asia's "Ukraine Fall Out" scorecard now includes; Uzbekistan putting explosives on station transmission equipment, Kazakhstan's new regulation on media during a state of emergency that essentially delays dissemination of news by up to 24 hours; and authorities in the Tajik capital Dushanbe ordering all old and spare tires taken to a dump 40 kilometers outside the city.

It will be interesting to see what's next.

-- Bruce Pannier with contributions from Shukrat Babajanov, Farruh Yusufiy, and Oktambek Karimov of RFE/RL's Uzbek Service

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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 the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change.

Content draws 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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