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Qishloq Ovozi

Namangan provincial Governor Shavkat Abdurazzakov (far left) on a visit to the impoverished village of Bunyodkor.

The governor of Uzbekistan's eastern Namangan Province will temporarily move into an underdeveloped village to see firsthand what problems the people face before initiating projects aimed at improving people's daily lives.

It appears to be a very noble action.

But looking at the accommodations being put together for Shavkat Abdurazzakov while he lives in the destitute village of Bunyodkor, it seems the governor might find it difficult to experience the hardships that the people there endure.

It's also unlikely that this grand idea came from Abdurazzakov.

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev visited Namangan Province on February 19 and made what was reported to be a surprise stop at rundown Bunyodkor -- about 18 kilometers from the provincial capital of Namangan -- to inspect the living conditions.

After walking through the village and talking to locals, Mirziyoev said "the situation here is deplorable, there's no drinking water, the roads are in bad shape…[and] trash is dumped behind the building where the mahalla (neighborhood) citizens meet."

Mirziyoev gave Namangan Mayor Olimjon Isaev and city Prosecutor- General Bahromjon Yuldashev a tongue-lashing, the sort of criticism Mirziyoev often displays in front of state TV cameras during his regional visits.

The outbursts are no doubt meant to show the president is fighting on the side of the common people against ineffective local officials.

But Mirziyoev's frequent public rebukes on state TV during his more than four years in office have not halted the abuses by officials in the provinces.

After Mirziyoev's departure, Abdurazzakov met with some of the approximately 12,000 people who live in Bunyodkor and announced he was going to live with them in their village for a short time.

New electricity power lines to Bunyodkor are already being built.

Electricity is installed in Bunyodkor before the governor comes to stay.
Electricity is installed in Bunyodkor before the governor comes to stay.

According to an activist from the area who spoke on condition of anonymity to RFE/RL's Uzbek Service -- known locally as Ozodlik -- Bunyodkor is badly in need of other amenities.

"There has not been running water in our mahalla for years, people drink from the canals," the activist said. "There was never any natural gas. But now they say they will put in plumbing and later will connect us to gas."

The Governor's Traveling Mansion

But the governor will not be renting an apartment or staying in a family's extra bedroom while he is in Bunyodkor. He is bringing his own abode with him.

Abdurazzakov will be staying in three large "containers," prefabricated rooms usually used as offices or storage areas at large construction sites or for small kiosks or cafes in town and cities.

Shavkat Abdurazzakov (file photo)
Shavkat Abdurazzakov (file photo)

But before the governor can move into the village to get a firsthand look at the problems in Bunyodkor, the Namangan activist said hundreds of people have been conscripted to work to improve conditions ahead of the governor's arrival.

The local activist said state employees and soldiers "are sweeping the streets, putting down new asphalt, and making flower beds along the roadside."

Work is reportedly going on around-the-clock and is considered as being "hashar," which loosely translates into voluntary community work -- though the "voluntary" part is often debatable.

"Voluntary" renovation work in the village of Bunyodkar.
"Voluntary" renovation work in the village of Bunyodkar.

On February 23, an Ozodlik journalist went to Bunyodkor and took some photos of the work being done in the village.

The governor's new temporary home is nearly ready and will be very easy for locals to find as it already has a new wooden gate and a concrete wall around the courtyard with a sign reading "Namangan Province Governor's House."

Laborers finish up the construction of a "container" house for the governor.
Laborers finish up the construction of a "container" house for the governor.

Behind the concrete walls is a newly built courtyard with a terrace where the governor can sit for tea with guests or relax by himself.

The governor's courtyard where he can relax or entertain guests.
The governor's courtyard where he can relax or entertain guests.

Many are questioning how much money is being spent on the governor's new home before any is used to fix up Bunyodkor for the village's permanent residents.

According to the Namangan provincial administration's press secretary, Aziz Abdullaev, no money is being spent on the governor's home in Bunyodkor.

Abdullaev said the metal used comes from old containers and the portable concrete walls had been somewhere else and were brought to Bunyodkor just for the time the governor will live there.

One photo of Abdurazzakov's new home does appear to show that the building material came from old containers.

Governor Abdurazzakov's accommodation in Bunyodkor.
Governor Abdurazzakov's accommodation in Bunyodkor.

The Outhouse Experience

The Facebook page for MobileHome Uz advertises such mobile homes and shows what some look like.

Several have multiple electric sockets supplied with electricity from a generator, ensuring light as well as heating and potentially air-conditioning.

Abdurazzakov's three-container home in Bunyodkor means one will be where the governor lives and sleeps, a second will be his office, and a third for "a shower and toilet."

It will be quite different from his neighbors, who have no indoor plumbing and get their drinking water from the canals.

Without a sewage system, the residents of Bunyodkor have to use the classic outhouse of the Central Asian village, a structure built a decent distance from the house and featuring a hole in the ground surrounded by a small, usually wooden structure.

If Mirziyoev and Abdurazzakov are serious about learning the problems faced by the villagers, a good place to start would be by committing to use an outhouse.

Because if the many officials that have been sent to these poor areas want to truly understand the low standard of living and associated problems in these locales, it would be better if -- like everyone else in the villages -- they had to put on their overcoats and shoes in the middle of a cold wintry night for a trip to the outhouse -- or stand outside one with the door open for a minute to allow the cloud of flies to dissipate on a hot summer afternoon before entering.

If they did, it's very likely that the first order of business for every visiting official would be to install a sewer system and indoor plumbing for every villager's home.

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev (file photo)
Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev (file photo)

Mirziyoev promised to make surprise visits to some of the country's poorest villages on future regional trips, so it is not only officials in Namangan who will have to live in such places.

In fact, Bukhara Governor Botir Zaripov is also moving to some of the poorest villages in his province, but whether he enjoys less of the president's favor than Abdurazzakov or perhaps because he believes it is necessary to keep things modest, he will be living in a Soviet-era "vagon" -- the train cars on wheels that are common dwellings for construction workers in many former Soviet republics.

The plan is for governors and district chiefs around Uzbekistan to use such mobile homes so they can move from poor village to poor village to assess and correct deficiencies.

But given Abdurazzakov's example, it is difficult to believe many of the officials will get a better understanding of village life while living with "luxuries" that none of the other villagers can enjoy.

Construction of the luxurious hideaway would seem to undercut President Shavkat Mirziyoev's promises for a more responsible and transparent government than the one he inherited. (file photo)

RFE/RL's Uzbek Service recently released a detailed report about a new resort that was secretly built about 100 kilometers southeast of the Uzbek capital, Tashkent.

Allegedly it is the luxurious hideaway of President Shavkat Mirziyoev, which would seem to undercut Mirziyoev's promises for a more responsible and transparent government than the one he inherited in September 2016 when his predecessor, Islam Karimov, died.

On this week's Majlis Podcast, RFE/RL media-relations manager Muhammad Tahir moderates a discussion on the new complex, who it belongs to, and what is now being said about it inside Uzbekistan.

This week's guests are: from Tashkent, Dilmira Matyakubowa, co-founder of the anti-corruption organization UzInvestigations and a fellow at the U.K.-based Foreign Policy Center; from Prague, Carl Schreck, RFE/RL enterprise editor; and Bruce Pannier, author of the Qishloq Ovozi blog.

Majlis Podcast: The Shovvozsoy Mansion Exposé
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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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