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Uzbekistan: Authoritarian President Publishes Tome On ‘Morality’

State television compared Uzbek President Islam Karimov's latest book to the writings of Socrates (file photo) (epa) In Central Asia, they're known as the "books that won’t be read." Yet regional leaders keep churning them out.

The latest book is “Morality Is Invincible Power” by Uzbek President Islam Karimov. It’s an ironic title for a book written by a leader known as one of Central Asia’s most authoritarian. Karimov, like other strongmen in the region, is a prolific writer, with more than 30 million copies of his books in circulation.

Last week, Uzbek state television showed the presidential book-launch ceremony, where participants praised Karimov’s new work as “the best book on philosophy and morality since the times of Socrates,” the ancient Greek who was one of the founders of Western philosophy.

Mahmud Tohir, an Uzbek poet, has read Karimov’s new book. He says it could be “a spiritual guide not only for Uzbeks but also for all the other nations of the world."

“In all times and in all periods, persons with accomplished morality have become their own people’s spiritual guide and eventually -- depending on the level of their profound knowledge -- have turned into a guide for the whole of humanity," Tohir says. "This book looks, firstly, at the world’s development and secondly, looks to the future of the Uzbek motherland and its hard-working people.”

Compulsory Reading

Most probably, the book -- like Karimov’s previous works -- will become compulsory reading for students and professors.

University students are required to take exams every year on Karimov's numerous works, deemed an essential part of their education no matter what profession they have chosen -- be it veterinary medicine or road engineering. High-school graduates who want to enter university also have to pass exams on Karimov’s books. Uzbek media have quoted students as saying they find Karimov’s books “utterly boring.”

Literary ambition is something of a tradition among Central Asian presidents. Almost all of Karimov’s fellow Central Asian presidents have authored books and so-called “collections of speeches and articles.”

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev has authored two books -- “The Strategy of Independence” and “In the Heart of Eurasia” -- along with dozens of scientific research papers.

Emomali Rahmon of Tajikistan claims to have authored several books on Tajik history. He has stopped short of making his books part of the educational curriculum, but most government officials keep Rahmon’s books in their offices and homes as a sign of loyalty to the leader.

Only a few months after becoming Turkmen president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov published his first book dedicated to his country’s health-care system.

But none of the leaders come close to the late Turkmen leader Saparmurat Niyazov’s passion for writing. Niyazov’s “Ruhnama” -- a mixture of moral guidance, history, and autobiography -- was intended to be the Turkmen people’s spiritual guide and the basis for their art and literature.

Government offices, mosques, and churches in Turkmenistan were required to prominently display a copy of “Ruhnama,” or “Book of the Soul,” while the Education Ministry was ordered to make the president’s tome the most crucial part of the curriculum -- from primary schools to universities.

Monumental Work

Turkmen even had to take an exam on “Ruhnama” to obtain their driver's license. And a huge monument to the book was built in Ashgabat, the capital.

Likewise, Karimov also imposes his books on ordinary Uzbeks. Unlike Niyazov, however, most of Karimov’s books carry a clear political message.

Shortly after a public uprising in the city of Andijon in May 2005, in which rights activists said Uzbek forces killed hundreds of protesters, Karimov wrote a book detailing his account of the event, called “The Uzbek People Will Never Depend on Anyone.” Much of the book was an attempt to counter foreign media reports that blamed his government for the Andijon tragedy.

Now, with his opus on morality, Karimov has cast himself in what might be called an ironic light.

RFE/RL Uzbek Service correspondent Oktambek Karimov contributed to this report

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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.

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