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The first "hudjum" in Central Asia dates back to 1927 when the Soviet government forced women to stop wearing scarves, veils, or burqas. (file photo)

A new chairperson for Uzbekistan’s state Women’s Committee was appointed in January -- Deputy Prime Minister Elmira Bosithonova -- and she has certainly made her presence felt since assuming the post.

RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service, known locally as Ozodlik, and Qishloq Ovozi have been reporting this year that Uzbek authorities are developing an obsession with fashion, more specifically “objectionable” clothing, and Bosithonova is leading the campaign.

The list of “objectionable” attire runs from one extreme to the other. Uzbek authorities frown upon Islamic clothing that is perceived as too conservative or of foreign derivation. The “hudjum” campaign has hit several cities in the Ferghana Valley , and the capital Tashkent, and I’ll mention here there was some hudjum in Andijon in June also.

But Bosithonova has returned to her other target recently: revealing clothing. Singer Lola Yoldosheva has already been singled out for her revealing attire on stage (and later for a ballad sung with another female singer that some in Uzbekistan felt had lesbian overtones). Bosithonova did not mention Yoldosheva by name when addressing members of both houses of parliament, notables from culture and the arts, restaurant managers, and singers in June. But she was clearly outraged by the choice of garments some popular female singers have been wearing for stage performances and videos.

“How can one explain the fact that some of our [female] singers are dressed in a more than revealing style, completely divorced from the national [style], and [appear] on television channels intended for family viewing, singing songs with messages that aren’t subjected to any criticism and [in] frivolous [video] clips?” she asked.

The chairman of the Development and Coordination Council for the National Performing Arts, Ikbol Mirzo, was at the event. He said it was time to instill some morality in staged productions “with the help of the law.”

Others noted there were more than 140 “toyhona” in Tashkent, restaurants that cater specifically to large parties, usually weddings, and these “toyhona” had turned into “festivals of vanity,” where people spent far too much money on food and entertainment just to impress others.

Bosithonova told the gathering, “Uzbekistan is not Robinson Crusoe's island. If anyone thinks today there is democracy, that they can do as they see fit, they are mistaken.”

Following Bosithonova's remarks about discipline and morality, three singers were banned from stage and television and 11 other performers received warnings. Well-known singer Anvar Sabirov lost his license to perform after he regularly ignored meetings held by Uzbeknavo, the state agency in charge of giving licenses to performers -- or banning them from performing. Esmeralda "Tamila" Rahmatova was banned from performing on stage after nude photos, allegedly of her, appeared on social networks.

Ozodlik director Alisher Sidikov and Shukrat Babajanov of Ozodlik contributed to this article
Tajik President Emomali Rahmon instituted a new measure in June to boost employment in his country.

The governments of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are moving to head off a potentially large problem caused by the shrinking market for migrant laborers in Russia.

For the last decade, millions of citizens from the two countries, and many from Kyrgyzstan, have been making the journey to Russia to find work due to lack of jobs at home.

The prospect of huge numbers of migrant laborers returning home with little chance of finding employment raises fears about social unrest.

So in Dushanbe and Tashkent authorities have been pondering how to absorb this native influx into the domestic labor market. They both hit on the same idea -- redistribution -- but what is more interesting is they are both looking to the same country as a release valve: South Korea.

RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service, known locally as Ozodlik, reported that Uzbekistan’s Ministry of Labor and Social Protection inquired about raising the quota for Uzbek workers when a South Korean parliamentary delegation visited in June. Ozodlik’s sources at the ministry could not say how many more work places Uzbek authorities were seeking.

Under a 2007 bilateral agreement, South Korea has been willing to accept up to 22,500 workers from Uzbekistan. Currently there are more than 15,000 citizens of Uzbekistan working in South Korea.

Tajikistan’s Minister of Labor and Migration met with officials from the South Korean Embassy in Dushanbe at the end of June, also inquiring about the possibilities for Tajik migrant laborers to work in South Korea. Tajikistan’s independent Asia-Plus news agency reported on the meeting but could only say the two sides "expressed a readiness to expand cooperation."

It is unclear how many Tajik migrant laborers currently work in South Korea but certainly fewer than Uzbek migrant laborers. And for both Central Asian countries the number of workers South Korea would be willing to accept represents a small percentage of the number Tajik and Uzbek citizens who are already or likely to be looking for work in the coming months.

Tajik President Emomali Rahmon instituted a new measure in June to boost employment in his country. According to RFE/RL’s Tajik Service, known locally as Radio Ozodi, Rahmon signed a resolution stating that 90 percent of the work personnel at all foreign companies doing business in Tajikistan must be “local specialists.”

Ozodi noted that previous regulations required that 70 percent of the personnel working for foreign companies in Tajikistan must be citizens of Tajikistan.

Other Central Asian countries, notably Kazakhstan, have included quotas for local hiring and purchasing of goods and materials. But Kazakhstan, with its great hydrocarbon deposits, uranium, ferrous and nonferrous metals, has more to offer than Tajikistan and the political and economic risks in Kazakhstan are far lower.

Still, Tajik economist Sobir Vazirov pointed out to Ozodi that while local workers are paid, say, 1,000 somoni (about $160) per month, foreign workers at the same companies are probably making 10,000 somoni per month, so employers would actually save money by employing more domestic labor.

These solutions represent only a bandage for a gaping wound but they are a sign the Tajik and Uzbek governments understand the potential problem they have and are trying to alleviate the situation.

RFE/RL’s Tajik and Uzbek Services contributed to this report

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

Bruce Pannier
Bruce Pannier

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.