Thursday 16 October 2008

Witness to Absurdity

Given what I've written about Uzbekistan in recent years -- and assuming the visa-issuing officials in Tashkent have heard of Google -- there was never much chance of me getting into the country under normal circumstances. But an opportunity came in autumn of 2008, when I was able to go as part of an EU-sponsored conference. The experience of visiting Uzbekistan again after five or six years away was welcome yet disturbing. This is the piece I wrote upon return, for Transitions Online on 16 October 2008.


Arriving at Tashkent airport is not a pleasant experience. For foreigners, it means three or four hours in the tumbling scrum of Uzbek customs and immigration, with hundreds of people cramming up against each other to get through the paperwork. It’s not just the chaotic developing world, “this passport control is taking forever” sort of thing, but a literal shoving match for hours on end. It would be hard to imagine anything worse, but then, you don’t really have to: you just have to look at the pitched battle at the passport control booth for Uzbekistan’s own citizens.

Thursday 9 October 2008

No Crisis Like a Financial Crisis

From my Reuters AlertNet blog on 9 October 2008.


So, I might as well just pack up and go on holiday for a few months. With the global financial crisis continuing, no one wants to hear about violent conflict and mass atrocities around the world. Trying to interest the media in these stories -- ie, my job -- is even harder than usual these days.

Wednesday 1 October 2008

Harvest by Force

This piece, looking at forced child labour in Uzbekistan, originally appeared in openDemocracy on 1 October 2008.


The start of the school year in Europe each autumn is a period when education resumes its place at the heart of the lives of pupils and their families. The equivalent of this annual cycle is very different in the central Asian state of Uzbekistan, where soon after their own school year begins, most students will be pulled out of classes to work in the cotton-fields for two months.

This is not their choice or even a poverty-driven decision made by desperate families trying to make ends meet. This is a top-down government policy: the authorities close the classrooms, they put the children on buses, and they give them a police escort to the fields. Repeated regime pledges to end the practice have come to naught: even as the Uzbek government announced a ban on child-labour on 15 September 2008, children were already in the fields, picking cotton under compulsion.