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This study examines the transformation of policy toward Islam in Uzbekistan during the Gorbachev era. It considers both Moscow's policy and, as Uzbekistan began to achieve greater control over its own affairs, the policy of the republic's leaders. The article begins by placing the changes in policy toward Islam in the broader context of emerging Soviet policy toward religion during the middle of the 1960s. It then examines some of the All-Union and republic communist parties’ concessions toward Islam and attempts to use Islam in addressing the most pressing cultural, social, economic, and political problems facing Uzbekistan. The study pays particular attention to the official religious establishment and briefly explores its role in efforts by Uzbekistan's political leadership to maintain political control.
“Democratization” and “political participation” have made no major inroads in Uzbekistan, the most populous of the post-Soviet Central Asian states. Indeed, in some important ways Uzbekistan in the middle of the 1990s is less “democratic” and offers fewer opportunities for “political participation” than Uzbekistan at the end of the 1980s. Perhaps the greatest change in Uzbekistan's politics from a decade ago is the reduced role of a political organization controlled in Moscow. The change in locus of political decision-making may be a prerequisite for the development of a democratic system in Uzbekistan. However, the country is still dominated by an authoritarian political culture, one which its current leader seems determined to preserve.
This study will highlight the lack of fundamental change in political participation and policies toward political participation in Uzbekistan since 1989. It will suggest that the Karimov regime has sought to bolster its legitimacy primarily through policies related to what will be defined as “distribution” and “identity;” by contrast, the government's policies related to “participation” seem to have been devised with little concern about any need to cultivate legitimacy.
In order to remain in power, both authoritarian and democratic regimes must achieve a reasonable level of citizen compliance with their political decisions. Compliance, of course, can be promoted by very different mixtures of coercion and popular legitimacy. Whereas coercion obliges citizens to follow rules because they have no other rational choice, legitimacy fosters voluntary compliance.
In October 1989, Uzbekistan's Supreme Soviet adopted the law “On the State Language of the Uzbek SSR.” At that time, Uzbekistan was still one of the 15 constituent republics of the USSR. The law was an important symbol of Uzbekistan's changing relation to Russia and the assertion of the preeminence of Uzbek culture in Uzbekistan.