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The Byzantine 'Ethics' Of Uzbek Bathroom Breaks, Handshakes, YouTube Posts

Applicants to the Tashkent State Institute of Chemical Technology wait in August 2011 to take their early morning entrance exams.
In the 1978 film “Animal House,” a raunch classic, Dean Vernon Wormer of the fictional Faber College told students, “The time has come for someone to put his foot down, and that foot is me.”

He could have been writing the tagline for a new, less playful story -- the unveiling of a new code of conduct for Uzbek university students, released this month. The new rules, undoubtedly the source of much bureaucratic acclaim in the halls of Uzbekistan’s Ministry of Higher and Secondary Education, govern everything from what students are permitted to upload to the Internet to how students ought to shake their professors’ hands.

The ministry is requiring that its pedantic “Ethical Rules for Higher Education Institutions” be signed by every university student and professor in the country.

“These rules are being introduced to form and retain, as well as defend, the ethical integrity of members of higher educational institutions,” the document says. It promises to “prevent the decay of students...and defend them from alcoholism and drug addiction, as well as the threats of religious extremism and mass culture.”

(It’s good to see that someone is still fighting that last battle, particularly after Rutgers University paid Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi of MTV’s “Jersey Shore” $32,000 to lecture its students in March 2011. Snooki got $2,000 more than Toni Morrison, the Nobel Prize-winning author who for $30,000 delivered the keynote address at Rutgers’ commencement ceremony in May 2011.)

Notwithstanding the lofty language of the prologue, many of the new guidelines read like a rather poor joke, the work of ministry officials with an acutely sardonic sense of humor. Article 3.8 stipulates that “members of a higher education institution, when moving, should take the right side. It is recommended to greet each other in the following way: students first greet professors; men first greet women; younger students first greet older students. Shaking hands is excluded from this rule, since elders should reach out to shake first.”

Other, more pointed rules clearly aim to restrict what limited space exists for freedom of expression among students in Uzbekistan, which is host to one of the world’s most repressive governments. In addition to a ban on religious clothing, the regulations target students’ online activities.

“It is prohibited to post on the Internet materials that are not in line with national values or related to the internal problems of higher educational institutions,” the rules say, before going on to note that they “categorically ban publishing, saving, or distribution via computers of different materials not related to a higher education institution.”

Tightened regulations on materials relating to the “internal problems” of Uzbek universities may be a response to YouTube videos uploaded last year by Uzbek university students that depicted professor-on-student and student-on-professor beatings.

But it’s not just the free flow of information that is being cut off in Uzbekistan’s universities. The new regulations aspire to control many of the smallest details of daily life for university students in an attempt to enforce ever greater levels of quiescence among the nation’s youth.

The government’s education mandarins -- in addition to their tutorial on handshakes -- also see fit to guide students on the proper times to excuse themselves for bathroom breaks during meetings (“If there is a necessity, it is permitted to leave the hall in the breaks between remarks”), and to admonish them not to be “noisy while taking meals.”

Even loafing around, that time-honored pastime of college students everywhere, is verboten. “Don’t walk around a university campus with no reason,” the rulebook advises.

How all of this contributes to the effort against religious extremism and drug addiction is never quite made clear.

What is clear is that Uzbek autocrat Islam Karimov is intent on keeping educated youths -- a demographic group that helped to lead political change across the Arab world in 2011 -- cowed. Indeed, this week marks the 20th anniversary of Karimov’s own moment of high crisis with angry college demonstrators.

In January 1992, thousands of angry students in Tashkent took to the streets to protest rising bread prices and to call for the ouster of Karimov, whom they accused of rigging elections. At the time, Karimov was the brand-new president of a brand-new nation-state, Uzbekistan, which seceded from the Soviet Union in September 1991.

Alarmed by the emergence of significant public opposition, Karimov moved swiftly to disperse the protesters by armed force, killing two and arresting hundreds. He dispatched buses to carry the students away from Tashkent and set about establishing a network of universities in Uzbekistan’s provinces. In so doing, the president ensured that future generations of students would be at a safe physical remove from the capital.

There haven’t been any significant student protests since.

-- Charles Dameron

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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