Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Karimov 'Indoctrinates' Infants
Gone are the fairytales, stories of princes and magicians, magic carpets and giants. These days schoolchildren in Uzbekistan are being reared on quotes from political tomes and the country's constitution.
Texts on planned economic reform and preparations for the 10th anniversary of Uzbekistan's independence dominate the school reading lists.
Baffled children are turning to their increasingly exasperated parents to explain the difference between a king and a president, or why Uzbekistan's political system is superior to say Kazakstan's.
"Our teacher demanded we tell her what we know about the president of Uzbekistan!" one distressed little girl told her mum.
During the early years of independence, the Uzbek authorities strove to rid society of Soviet-style ideology. But these efforts resulted in something of a vacuum. In an effort to fill it, the government began elaborating a national ideology based around the republic's independence.
President Islam Karimov's writings on the state and society, together with the thoughts and beliefs of historical figures, formed the basis of the new ideology.
Various instructions, guidelines, decrees and orders, outlining what to study and how, began to proliferate. Even pre-school nurseries were directed to teach the basics of this national ideology.
All children must learn the national anthem and become familiar with the principles of the constitution. They should know the name of the head of state, his place and role in society and the role of government.
Six and seven-year-olds, only just getting to grips with their ABCs, are now burdened with an enormous amount of dense political literature.
"Our children are going through psychological trauma," said Tashkent nursery-teacher Irina Vasilieva. "Children can't understand all these complicated concepts. They're not even easy for adults."
Child psychologist Sergei Tajikhanov believes forcing children to study literature they are simply too young to grasp will produce dysfunctional citizens, not patriots.
School inspectors seem less interested in everyday admin and pedagogical problems than in whether the children can perform the national anthem and recite the rights and duties of the individual.
Children continue to learn simple poems and songs, and dance and play in the playground, but less and less time is devoted to such activities. Instructions from the department of education, a teacher complains, stress more emphasis needs to be given to the political education of the next generation.
In higher education, political education is a key subject and the works of Karimov are central to teaching in this sector. No other author receives as much attention.
Uzbekistan is meanwhile embroiled in another controversy. The state is busily destroying books printed prior to independence.
Famous philosophers, historians and writers, old and new, have been targeted. Despite their contributions to world science and culture, a failure to glory in the independence of Uzbekistan has rendered them, in the official view, harmful to the Uzbek people.
Sociologist Bakhodyr Musaev believes the government is intent on "brainwashing society".
"It's more dangerous than the indoctrination of people during the Bolshevik years," said Musaev. "The authorities are trying to find spiritual support for people by looking back into the Middle Ages, using names of philosophers of that time. But how can you build modern society based on the principles of feudalism."
Meanwhile, Uzbek schoolchildren start the day with a performance of the national anthem and a flag raising ceremony. What should be a solemn and special moment is reduced to a tiresome and boring chore.
Perhaps more serious, however, is the general politicisation of life in Uzbekistan at all levels, not just in schools. Critics claim the state's selection of employees has become a farce.
Candidates are not quizzed on their qualifications and experience, but are asked to sing the national anthem, to explain the elements of the flag, and to display their knowledge of Karimov's writings. Those who fail either don't get a job or are first out the door when cutbacks hit.
Science has been particularly badly hit. Undergraduates have first to pass an exam on the works of Karimov before being allowed to defend their dissertation or sit their other exams. A paper fails unless it contains quotes from Karimov. Officials from the presidency conduct the exams, not academics.
Pluralism is now out of the question in Uzbekistan. A student will fail should he or she venture opinions out of step with the official view. Science is especially persecuted and resembles more and more the one-sided, conservative discipline it became in Soviet times.
Arslan Kasymov is a pseudonym for an IWPR contributor
As coronavirus sweeps the globe, IWPR’s network of local reporters, activists and analysts are examining the economic, social and political impact of this era-defining pandemic.
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