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Central Asia: Writing Books Popular With Region's Leaders

Karimov is just one Central Asian leader who likes to write (file photo) (epa) June 2, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- As graduation-exam season approaches in Uzbek universities, books authored by President Islam Karimov are in high demand in libraries and bookstores. That's because Uzbek graduates are required to past tests on the president's books before receiving their diplomas.

A Tashkent librarian, who did not want to give his name, tells RFE/RL's Uzbek Service that at this time of the year, Karimov's books -- including their new CD versions -- are popular with Uzbek students.

"We have electronic versions of the books in 11 volumes," he says. "Mostly students use them. Older customers who ask for those books are usually people who want to do research for their work."
"Less than 6 million copies of Lenin's works were published in Uzbekistan. We have 31 million copies of [Karimov's] books."

Uzbek high-school graduates who want to attend university also have to pass exams about President Karimov's books.

Karimov, who has ruled Uzbekistan since 1989, has authored dozens of books on Uzbekistan's domestic and foreign policies, history, economy, and culture.

In one of his books, "The Uzbek People Will Never Depend On Anyone," Karimov gives his own detailed account of the bloody Andijon events in May 2005.

Regional Trend

But Karimov is not the only Central Asian leader who has published numerous books and articles.

In neighboring Kazakhstan, President Nursultan Nazarbaev claims authorship of dozens of scientific research papers and a couple of books, such as "The Strategy Of Independence" and "In The Heart Of Eurasia."

In Tajikistan, President Emomali Rahmon has published several books, mostly focusing on the Tajik people's history and their so-called Aryan roots.

After just four months in office, President Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov published his first book as Turkmenistan's leader on the health-care system. In it, the former dentist and health minister discusses the past, present, and future of the Turkmen system.

The first Turkmen president, the late Saparmurat Niyazov, published many books, including books on poetry and his all-important "Ruhnama."

Required Reading

Niyazov turned "Ruhnama" into a kind of national Bible and spiritual guidebook for Turkmen, making it an essential part of school and university programs.

But Berdymukhammedov has so far not ordered his new book to be included in school or university curriculums.

However, Turkmen media say Berdymukhammedov's book, "The Scientific Foundations Of The Development Of Health Care In Turkmenistan," will be widely discussed among students and teachers.

During Niyazov's rule, Turkmen officials were required to pass annual tests on "Ruhnama" in order to keep their jobs.

In Tajikistan, most government officials keep President Rahmon's books on the shelves in their offices and even in their homes to show their loyalty to the president.

"However, Tajik officials are not required to actually read the presidential books yet," says Rahmatullo Valiev, the deputy leader of Tajikistan's Democratic Party.

"We have not yet reached the point that every government official is required to own and thoroughly study Emomali Rahmon's books," he notes. Reading the books "is not forced on the people here."

Copies For All

Presidential books in Central Asia are usually printed as a glossy hardback on expensive paper.

Uzbek journalist Abdurakhmon Tashanov says the government spends hundreds of thousands of dollars to publish President Karimov's large number of books. Tashanov says Karimov has published more books than Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin, whose works were abundantly available in every bookstore and library in the former Soviet Union.

"According to my calculations, if each of Uzbekistan's 27 million citizens got one copy of [a Karimov] book there would still be another 4 million copies left" Tashanov says. "According to the Uzbek Soviet Encyclopedia, less than 6 million copies of Lenin's works were published in Uzbekistan. We have 31 million copies of [Karimov's] books, which is five times more than Lenin's works. It's more copies than [former Soviet leader] Leonid Brezhnev published. These books would fill 123 railway cars."

But no matter what personal opinion Central Asian officials or students have about their presidents' books, statements, and speeches, no one would think of criticizing the books publicly.

People in Central Asia have witnessed many leaders who have turned themselves and their books into national icons. But once the leaders died or disappeared from the political scene, their books seemed to follow them.

(RFE/RL's Uzbek, Turkmen, Tajik, Kyrgyz, and Kazakh services contributed to this report.)

Media In Central Asia

Media In Central Asia

Ukrainian journalists trying to cover Kazakhstan's presidential election being expelled from the country in December 2005

MUZZLED MEDIA: Below is a brief overview of key media issues in each of the five Central Asian countries. (prepared by Daniel Kimmage)

Although Kazakhstan has seen the harassment of journalists and media outlets that fall afoul of the state, the larger problem is one of access -- both to sensitive information and to the larger public.
Asked whether freedom of the press exists in Kazakhstan, Darigha Nazarbaeva -- the daughter of President Nursultan Nazarbaev and a media magnate in her own right -- said recently that one need walk only five minutes in Almaty to find a publication that elaborates "what a bad president we have and how I've monopolized the entire press." And she's right -- an opposition press exists.
But national television, with its enormous potential to shape popular opinion, remains either state-controlled or subordinate to allied interests -- as witnessed by a strict taboo on investigations of alleged corruption in the Nazarbaev family.

Nowhere in Central Asia has the fate of the media reflected political upheaval as strikingly as in Kyrgyzstan of late. The true fall of President Askar Akaev in March 2005 took place not when he fled the seat of government before an advancing crowd, but when opposition leaders later made an impromptu appearance on state television. A heady period ensued, with revelations of Akaev-era skullduggery suddenly front and center in national media. But the honeymoon proved short-lived.
A post-Akaev political morass deepened through 2005 and early 2006 amid high-profile contract killings and frustrated expectations of political and economic reform. And the media environment followed suit, with initial gains eroded by renewed state interference in television, salaried partisanship in the print media, and the rising influence of organized-crime groups.

Tajikistan's media environment has seen no such political upheavals. President Imomali Rakhmonov could rule through 2020, as long as he continues to secure reelection. He has consolidated his power in recent years -- seemingly with that aim in mind.
The media have also felt the consequences. As the country nears the end of its first decade since the 1992-97 civil war, the state maintains a firm grip national television and politically relevant print outlets. Meanwhile, a handful of tiny independent newspapers fight an increasingly uphill battle for access to printing facilities and readers.

The case of Turkmenistan speaks eloquently of a total stifling of media under blanket state control. News outlets trumpet the cult of President Saparmurat Niyzov and tout the purported glories of Turkmenistan's golden age under his rule. This reduces them to little more than a peephole on an otherwise sealed regime.
The media unfailingly broadcast Niyazov's pronouncements and feast on the latest official to fall from grace. On April 24, for example, former Prosecutor-General Gurbanbibi Atajanov, who recently stepped down after a decade of dispatching onetime colleagues to unenviable fates, begged for mercy on the evening news as the president vilified her for corruption. Those same media outlets ignore whatever fails to fit the script of the decreed golden age.

President Islam Karimov insists that Uzbekistan's media are at war. What foreign media reported as evidence of a massacre in Andijon in May 2005, the president and officials have described as an "information attack" intended to undermine Uzbekistan's stability and sovereignty. Print and broadcast outlets, controlled either directly or indirectly by the state, are required to fight off this alleged assault by detailing extremist threats and foreign plots. They are also tasked with explaining the country's shift of geopolitical allegiance to Russia and China.
What space remains goes to a sanitized portrayal of Uzbek reality, with some warts left in -- local corruption and economic difficulties -- to lend credence to the grand official narrative espoused by slogans such as "Uzbekistan, a country with a great future."

Of Related Interest:

Turkmenistan: RFE/RL Journalists Given 15-Day Sentence

Uzbekistan: New Media Resolution Tightens The Screws

Central Asia: Internet Fills Void Left By Media On Religious Freedom Issues

Central Asia: RFE/RL Speaks With Media Monitor About Press Freedom

THE COMPLETE STORY: To view an archive of RFE/RL's coverage of media-related stories, click here.

For regular news and analysis on media issues throughout RFE/RL's broadcast area by e-mail, subscribe to "RFE/RL Media Matters."

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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate and reintegrate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.