Top critical review
7 people found this helpful
on 13 October 2010
I finished reading this book just one day before my visit to Uzbekistan two weeks ago. I travelled for 10 days and interacted with a cross section of people, and I am glad that I read the book.
First of all, it is a police state. In many ways it was a much harsher experience than my visit to Leningrad in 1985. There is police everywhere, with their florescent red baton and they carry out extensive checks. Crossing from one province to another, is like going through a border crossing, which becomes painful when you are travelling through 6 provinces during a single day. The ordinary people are scared of the police. All the policemen that I saw without exception were fat!!! College students and government workers get drafted in during cotton picking. I saw some minors also working in the cotton fields. Nobody can own property. They can lease it from the state but the state can take it back whenever they want. USD can be changed into the local currency but not the other way around.(Almost impossible)Big black market flourishes. If local people wish to visit Tashkent for more than 72 hours they have to register with the police.
We as tourists had to get a detailed form filled showing expensive goods (camera, gold earnings etc) and currency being bought in, and that document is almost as valuable as your passport. You have to show it to customs when you are going through customs on your exit from the country and you can be in serious trouble if you lose that document. The other thing is you need to register with the local authorities each time you stay in a new hotel. The hotel does that for you, but you have to have those slips of paper with you all the time. Between my mother and me I had 14 such slips. Again you are in serious trouble if you lose these slips.
In the airports we were asked for passports even for internal flights. Once while crossing a province our passports were checked and once we were asked for the hotel registration slips. I was given a warning once for taking a photo of a government building in Fergana. It was not an important building (Like Home ministry / defence). However the policeman was very polite and did not ask me to delete the photo or ask for a bribe. I was scared as I was alone in the evening and the policeman could not speak English. Also in the airport a police official was very insistent that I carry a parcel for him to India and I refused, but it was scary.
However by and large there is one system for tourists and another for locals. We as tourists got waved through most of the time. However we could see the ordinary people being checked. Also long lines for gas( CNG) for the car. Very surprising since the country produces its own gas in abundance.
About the rape cases, here I got a different impression from Mr Murray. It happens rarely and normally to prostitutes. However I was there only for 10 days, and Mr Murray was there for 2 years. You would be very foolish to go to a house of ill repute as I heard of stories of tourists being exhorted for money by the prostitute / police for over 1000's of dollars.
There are so many such countries with function a police state, so I don't think that Uzbekistan is any eyesore. Democracy flourished in India because the British had elections in India several times before the partition. The people were used to the idea.
Now let me review the book. If Mr Murray was from the Human Rights watch I would have said that he would have done a fantastic job. However he was the ambassador of UK, and it was not his job to address rallies of opposition. No former colonized country likes a European (former colonizer) person to dictate anything to them. It is due to the generous nature of the Uzbek government that Mr Murray, was not asked to leave by them.
Secondly, as an ambassador, you are representing your country. You might call me conservative, but I don't think that it portrays a good impression of your country if you are in a bar during the wee hours of the morning, picking up girls. Uzbekistan despite its floating population of prostitutes is a very very conservative society. Mr Murray gives credence to people who call the west as "The decadent west. "as he is an example of that. You represent the best in your country, and you should behave accordingly.
Thirdly militancy is a problem in Uzbekistan. It is a society in transition. Most people are Muslims, but many have not read the Koran. However they ALL want to know more. Who is going to teach them and fill the gap ??? The Wahhabis from Saudi Arabia, the Taliban ??? or some moderate group. There is a certain stability in Uzbekistan and that is due the governments efforts. You need to give them credit that it is not a Muslim state but a secular state. People are happy that the country is stable.
I got different versions of the Andajain massacre when I was there and also I don't agree with Mr Murray that the government carried out the bomb attacks on its own. Its like wild stories of the US government carrying out the 9/11 attacks and putting explosives in the WTC buildings. Absolute rubbish.
Mr Murray comes as over emotional several times during the book. I think a certain bias is there because of relationship with Nadira. Probably many of the stories that she has told him he has presumed to be factual.
Interesting read all the same. Very honest but it gives a poor impression of Mr. Murray character.
Well those of you who wish to visit Uzbekistan, despite it being a police state, horrible hotels, airports where you almost have to load your luggage into the aircraft, old aircrafts which are not listed in "Our fleet " and with no emergency exit (marked In case of emergency CUT HERE) its a beautiful place. The people are so nice, and there is so much to see and learn, and the cities are clean and really beautiful.
My mother who is 70 loved it and we would go back anytime again.