I wrote this piece for the European Voice on 17 January 2011, just before the visit of Uzbek President Islam Karimov to Brussels. It deals with a serious subject, of course, but I have to admit I greatly enjoyed writing it in this sardonic tone. The article got a lot of attention (for a piece about Uzbekistan), and I was particularly happy to receive emails from inside the country from people who had heard it translated and broadcast via shortwave.
On the eve of your first official visit to Brussels in years, President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan, you deserve high praise. You have played the long game expertly and outmanoeuvred European foreign-policy makers so deftly that you have become a model of how to shrug off international pariah status.
Any old authoritarian ruler can dismiss UN reports of “systematic” torture in police custody and human-rights groups' long lists of political prisoners. But you managed to overcome so much more and win yourself a welcoming reception by José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, which is far more than the average tin-pot dictator from, say, Africa or Belarus ever gets.