July 14, 2019
I visited Uzbekistan in 2015 but this time around it feels like a whole new country. Gone are the rigid rules for declaring everything at entry. I remember the anxiety of exiting Uzbekistan but all that is a thing of the past. Gone is the thriving black market, which was the only place to change money at a half-way decent rate. Gone too is the restriction of taking photographs of the metro stations with their gallery-like art. There are still guards at the metro stations who will occasionally ask to inspect bags, but gone are the frowning, displeased faces. This time around they smile, ask where you are from and greet you with a smiling welcome. There is a sparkling new train station and brand new super-fast trains. There are new shops, eateries, supermarkets and parks. Change is definitely in the air.
If it seems like night and day to a mere visitor, how much more pervasive must they be in everyday life? In conversation with locals I find out just how sweeping is this change. The new President, Mr. Shavkat Mirziyoyev and his new government is intent on doing away with the antiquated ways that have held sway for decades. People unwilling or unable to change are replaced with alacrity with a new workforce that embraces change. There are offices set up in every city and town and district, answerable to only the President. Complaints are welcomed, registered and action taken in a matter of days. Lack of action and/or corruption is dealt with swiftly. Incredibly difficult it must be to implement, it nonetheless seems to be working and his popularity is widespread. As someone told me, “before, the people used to work for the government but now, the government works for the people, as it should be”. Many are the countries in the world that should take a leaf out of this book!
Not all is changed though. The Chorsu bazar is as lively as before and the monuments and museums the same. The same broad boulevards with rushing traffic and pockets of green parks that dot the city. And the bad-tempered rudeness of the older ticket sellers at the train station is the same. But Uzbekistan is not unique in this; it is a virtually identical in all ex-Soviet countries; it must be a part of the job description.