During my spring break in 1997, I traveled with several friends from KIMEP to the Republic of Uzbekistan. The trip was approximately 10 days, and we visited every major city. We flew into the capital Tashkent, which was the fourth-largest city in the former Soviet Union. Out all the countries, I visited; this was the weirdest. The people were the friendliest in the world, but the capital is literally a police state. The president is establishing an absolute dictatorship. Other Central Asian countries are worried President Karimov might start a war in Central Asia.
You could not walk anywhere in Tashkent without seeing a policeman. Then the police always wants to view your passport and papers. For instance, we had to see the Tashkent subway system, because the Soviet engineers built elaborate stations with marble, paintings, and chandeliers. Each subway station has a theme. The one we wanted to see was the station dedicated to the USSR cosmonauts. It was spectacular. What do Americans do when they see something cool? Well, I had to take a picture.
Then a second later, we were surrounded by four policemen. Next I heard in Russian; it is forbidden to take pictures. Come with us. We went to the station, and the policemen were going through a routine. They earn less than $100 a month, so we knew there would be fines (paid in U.S. dollars and no receipts). One of my friends blew up, screaming in English. "I want your badge number; I want to talk to your commanding officer, etc ." He poked the police officer in the chest each time to emphasize his demands. The police freaked and let us go. We paid no fines that day.
Once we left the capital, we had no further problems with the police. We came to see the medieval civilizations, which prospered along the silk road. We saw structures dating five hundred years old. The Uzbek government is renovating these ancient structures and building first-class hotels, but this country has one problem with developing it tourist industry. THEY DO NOT LET TOURIST COME EASILY!!!
The country retained most of the Soviet bureaucracy. You cannot hop on a plane and breeze through customs, showing your U.S. Passport. You need a priklashenia (an invitation). You have to be invited by a business, a resident of Uzbekistan, or a tourist agency. The tourist agency wants complete control of your visit, scheduling the buses, hotels, and restaurants. This clashes with my idealism and independence; I want to find things myself and control my own fate. However, the Soviet mentality is complete control over foreigners and its citizens. The state only grants permission for a tourist to see what the government wants the tourist to see.
- The area of the country spans 172,750 square miles.
- The currency is the som.
- The capital is Tashkent, which was the 4th largest city in the former Soviet Union.
- In 1991, the population was estimated at 20,739,000.
- Agriculture is the most important sector of the economy. This country is the 4th largest producer and exporter of cotton in the world.
- Uzbeks comprise of 71% of the population, Russians comprise 8.3%, Tajiks comprise 4.7%, and Kazakhs comprise 4.1%.
- 40% of the population live in cities.