Thursday, 6 December 2012

Earlier email to Gulnara

This was sent on 6 December. I never received a reply. Gulnara tweeted a photo of this email on 21 December, but since some may prefer it in proper form, I produce it here.

You'll see it is no different to what I've said in public, for example in this interview, so I'm not sure why she thinks it's important.

Perhaps she is trying to deflect attention from this Letter to Gulnara.

a

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Dear Gulnara,

Many of us in the community of analysts, activists, journalists and
human rights defenders interested in Uzbekistan have been wondering
why you have decided to engage openly with some of your critics, like
me. Though I am still preparing the other materials on torture cases
for you as I promised, I was hoping we could also talk about this
other topic a little.

My theory -- if I may be so presumptuous as to even have a theory --
is that you are somewhat frustrated with the reputation you have
internationally. You want to be known for the work you do in fashion,
music and other arts, as well as the charity work you are involved in.
But when you step onto the international stage with these other
projects and interests of yours, the media and the activists
automatically remind the world of your position, formal and informal,
with the government and the ruling elite in Uzbekistan.

In short, labels like “dictator’s daughter”, “most hated person in
Uzbekistan” and others are difficult to avoid internationally, because
you are a recognised face associated with the government. Those labels
leave a stain on every other activity you engage in abroad. You would
prefer to be known for something else, yes?

Perhaps you have thought about how to address this problem, and maybe
you have discussed it with some PR advisors as well, and you have
decided to engage your critics directly as part of a solution to this
image problem. As a person with 17 years of experience in journalism
and communications, often dealing with governments with similarly bad
reputations, I would like to offer a few thoughts.

The core of your image problem is precisely your connection to the
government. You cannot exactly hide that or escape from it, and it
leaves you with two real options for improving your image
internationally.

The first option would be to distance yourself from the state
symbolically and substantively: clear statements and actions to
disassociate yourself from the government. This could present all
sorts of problems for you, of course, and I do not pretend to
understand how difficult it might be to take a stand that would
present such a significant change for you. I imagine you have the
financial resources to insulate yourself from the worst-case scenarios
however.

The second option would be to promote yourself as someone trying to
reform the government from within the system. To do this, however, you
would need to show real results on the ground -- political prisoners
released, freedom of expression respected, children not forced into
the cotton fields each year, etc. Your new willingness to engage your
critics is interesting, but no one will think it means real change
unless there are results within Uzbekistan. Most of your international
critics (and I’ve met most of the major ones) have been following
Uzbekistan for 20 years, and they will not be convinced by dialogue or
promises alone.

I understand I am making a number of presumptions in this letter
already, but here is one more: I am guessing you may be surrounded by
“yes men” and people who always tell you what they think you want to
hear. Perhaps one of your advisors or one of your PR people has tried
to convince you that there are other paths to improve your reputation
apart from the two outlined above, but you would be better served by
considering the words of someone who is not on your payroll. For the
outside world, you and the government are inseparable, and you cannot
change that with words alone.

Gulnara, you have travelled the world, and you know -- even if you
cannot say it openly -- that the nature of this government is very
much unlike that in other countries. If you are as smart and
sophisticated as you present yourself, then you know that the levels
of repression in Uzbekistan are very high. I do not pretend other
countries are perfect, of course, but Uzbekistan is rightly considered
in the group of the worst of the worst. “Burma, North Korea and
Uzbekistan” are often mentioned together as the most repressive in
Asia, but even Burma, or Myanmar, has made very significant strides at
reform recently, which my organisation, the International Crisis
Group, has written about over many years, see: http://bit.ly/UpJk0z

If I have analysed your situation incorrectly, please feel free to
explain how I have got it wrong. I am very willing to listen. But I
imagine that, as a person who has so much international experience and
who tries to show her more sensitive inclinations, you understand all
this very well. You know your position cannot be undone by clever PR
alone.

Your situation right now is unenviable, as neither of your two
potential options for improving your international image will make
your life immediately easier. They are both very hard choices. Still,
if your reputation around the world is important to you, then you
certainly realise there is some sense in what I have written here.

Looking forward to your reply.

Regards,

Andrew

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