Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Uzbek Opposition Yet to Present Serious Challenge

By News Briefing Central Asia

As a new opposition group emerged in Uzbekistan, commentators say opponents of the regime were hindered by internecine divisions and a lack of significant support in the country.

The People's Movement of Uzbekistan says it is an umbrella group which will form a common front against the government. In a statement posted on the internet, it called on people in Uzbekistan to take part in acts of civil disobedience.

"We are resolved to create a system… capable of standing up to the authoritarian regime, and to respond appropriately to the actions of this tyranny," the statement said.

Founders of the People’s Movement intend to gather somewhere in Europe to finalise plans for the group. It includes a number of parties and organisations based abroad - Erk, Andijan – Justice and Revival, and Tayanch.

The oldest opposition groups are Erk and Birlik, which date from the early 1990s. Newer ones include Birdamlik, Andijan – Justice and Revival based in Germany, and Tayanch in Switzerland.

Although these groups have followers inside Uzbekistan, they are at risk of persecution by the authorities and operate covertly.

Analysts interviewed by NBCentralAsia question whether the various émigré groups would agree to work in coalition, since they have different agendas and are often based around individual leaders.

"The Uzbek opposition can unite only if the leaders of Erk and Birlik parties… step down and are replaced by charismatic young leaders,” Kholdar Vulkan, an Uzbek dissident living in Canada, said.

Muhammadsolih Abutov, who heads the Tayanch human rights group, which has joined the People’s Movement, agrees that the differences between Erk and Birlik are an obstacle. Furthermore, Birdamlik has formally refused to join the movement as it disagrees with its aims.

An Erk party member in the Kashkadarya region of southwest Uzbekistan was sceptical about the prospects for unity.

"There is no common understanding among [Erk] party members, and the other parties have no real experience of political struggle, nor do their leaders enjoy authority and respect,” he said.

Farhod Tolipov, a political analyst based in the capital Tashkent, said the statement from the People’s Movement was lightweight and unconvincing, and reflected a lack of understanding of the problems in Uzbekistan.

"The conceptual content of the statement is poorly developed, and amounts to little more than emotional outpourings of discontent mixed with declarative ambitions,” he said.

Tolipov predicted that even if the People’s Movement’s call to action reached a wide audience in Uzbekistan, it could only expect to win a small number of supporters. Meanwhile, the regime had plenty of resources to sustain its rule.

This article was produced as part of IWPR's News Briefing Central Asia output, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.