The only leader the former Soviet state of Uzbekistan has ever known has died, leaving behind a complicated legacy. Islam Karimov was lampooned by the West for horrific human rights abuses and brutally stifling political opposition. But he kept the most populous, pre-dominantly Muslim Central Asian country from unrest just across the border in Afghanistan, and the economy grew slowly but consistently under his watch.
With almost 30 million people, and roughly half the population under 25 years old, it’s one of the most reclusive and secretive countries in the world. There’s no legal opposition, access to the internet is severely limited and freedom of expression is not part of the fabric of society. But Karimov’s supporters within Uzbekistan are many. They say although the price for civil society has been high, he was a father figure that protected the country for more than two decades, and most citizens enjoy relative stability and prosperity.
Karimov’s critics, including the United Nations, have accused him of systemically using torture, exaggerating the domestic threat of ISIL and Al Qaeda, and exercising strict Soviet-style media censorship to suppress political opposition. Karimov did not name a successor, and his death leaves behind a political vacuum and questions about who the next president will be. So what is next for the country, and is there any chance of the democratic principles outlined in the Uzbek constitution becoming a reality? Join the conversation at 19:30 GMT.
On today’s episode of The Stream, we’ll speak to:
Sarah Kendzior @sarahkendzior
Researcher on Uzbekistan
Navbahor Imamova @Navbahor
Journalist for Voice of America
Svante Cornell @SvanteCornell
Director of Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, SAIS, Johns Hopkins University