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Uzbeks Unpick Cotton To Please No-Show PM

Is it real or just for show?
Is it real or just for show?

In Central Asia, officials often go to great lengths trying to impress visiting presidents or dignitaries, giving them an exaggerated impression of success and happiness.

Regional officials in Uzbekistan's eastern Ferghana Province recently took it a step further.

Local farmers say they were ordered to glue white tufts of cotton back onto their bolls to give an impression of a bountiful harvest of the country's key crop ahead of an expected visit by Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyaev.

According to one local resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, some 400 men and women in the village of Shaharteppa were pressed into service along the village's main road, where Mirziyaev's convoy was expected to pass.

"Some of them were applying glue inside the bolls and others were putting cotton on the bolls, while another group was attaching cotton capsules onto stalks in the front rows of the cotton field," the resident told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service.

Meanwhile, hundreds of others swept the area along the main road to keep it clean for the prime minister.

The resident also provided a photo of men and women in a cotton plantation with what appears to be piles of cotton fiber in front of them.

The Ferghana resident said the photo was taken with a mobile phone camera in Shaharteppa, in Ferghana's Qoshteppa district, on September 30, ahead of prime minister's expected visit there.

"When I asked them why they were gluing cotton, they told me, 'Apparently the prime minister is coming and we're told everything should look good here,'" the resident said.

"Judging by their surprisingly fast speed, I had an impression that these farmers were used to such falsifications," the resident said.

In any case, farmers did not seem to do it by choice.

"People were put through so much trouble," one Shaharteppa farmer said. "More than 500 people had to leave their work and come and glue cotton here. They said it was being done at the provincial governor's order."

Fearing reprisals from the authorities, the farmer did not want to give his name. In autocratic Uzbekistan, criticizing officials or government policies is off-limits and critics often end up behind bars.

All the trouble in Shaharteppa was for nothing: The prime minister didn't show up after all, taking another route instead of Qoshteppa.

Anything For The Leader!

Ferghana officials reportedly had cotton glued back on the bolls to please President Islam Karimov during a trip on October 16, 2009.

Fake flowers were attached to tree branches when Karimov visited the region in March 2015.

In neighboring Tajikistan, the facades of private and official buildings get a hasty facelift alongside main roads where the convoy of President Emomali Rahmon passes to meet immaculately dressed farmers and carefully selected "happy" local residents during regional trips.

The practice of pleasing presidents -- or pulling the wool over their eyes -- is also commonplace in other former Soviet republics including Russia, where the phrase "Potemkin village" stems from fake facades that are said to have been put up as a show for dignitaries in tsarist times.

Last week, workers reportedly had to remove asphalt from a new road hurriedly launched ahead of President Vladimir Putin's September visit in a town in Zabaykalsky Krai.

In Suzdal, a historic city outside Moscow, the facades of shabby buildings were covered by custom-made posters to please the visiting president, media reported.

Written by Farangis Najibullah

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