Anti-Semitism in Uzbekistan, 2009-2010
In conditions of a strict control over the mass media, it is not customary to express nationalistic views openly. There is an article of the Penal Code for inciting to racial or ethnic hatred, and because of that the internal political situation towards the Jews seems stable. But there are no Jews on important posts, and neither there are any in the parliament of the republic.
The strict control of all spheres of activity and the mass media by the state does not allow to discuss urgent problems, and impedes the solution of problems that truly exist in the national relationships, cultural and religious needs of the peoples of Uzbekistan. Unlike in many post-Soviet republics, Uzbekistan has no state organ on ethnic minorities, though formally this role is taken by the weak community organization “International Cultural Center.” Unions of national minorities are weak and helpless, and cannot put their leaders forward to be elected in the legislative organ of the republic.
President Islam Karimov attempts to stop the outside influence of Islamic Fundamentalism, combats manifestations of extremism and terrorism, and in general acts to preserve the secular identity of the state. Certain laws place indirect restrictions on the rights of national minorities and their cultural formations. In particular, laws aimed against the excessive influence of Islam also have a negative impact on religious, cultural, and charity programs in the Jewish community.
As there is no data from state and independent sources on crimes with an ethnic motive, it is hard to make judgments on the level of anti-Semitism in the country. The activities of radical Islamic groups within the country become known only after terroristic attacks (like the explosions in Tashkent before the USA and Israel embassies in 2004), or events like the Andijan Tragedy of 2005. Court processes against the Hizb ut-Tahir are being held behind closed doors. In Tashkent, Islamists spread fliers with false information on the Jewish origins of President Islam Karimov and the malicious activities of JAFI.
In recent years, there seems to be an alienation of Uzbekistan from the USA and Israel on a diplomatic level. This has reflected badly on the Jewish community, as the local authorities believe that it had been under American patronage.
There is no financial help from the state for the restoration of centers of Jewish culture and religion, and the finances of foreign charity organizations, which legally work within the republic, are strictly controlled by the authorities. The National Bank of Uzbekistan demands a request for any attempt to spend the funds, and holds up actual payments for several months at a times. Thus, the already-scant budget of charity organizations ends up not even half used, and is thus sent to other republics. Any desire to work in these conditions quickly disappears. The Ministry of Justice creates artificial difficulties for the registration of new Jewish organizations, the Committee on Religion does not help in inviting foreign specialists, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs does not give either business visas nor service visas. The following organizations are now being closed: the World Lubavich Movement, Center of Jewish Education, Jewish National Cultural Center of Uzbekistan, and others. The Tashkent Israeli Cultural and Informational Center and the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee Uzbekistan department had also had problems.
Because of a formal reason (an insufficient number of filial branches), the Jews of Uzbekistan have not yet been able to solve one of their more important problems – they have not been able to establish and register the Religious Administration of Uzbekistan Jews. Two other regions need Jewish communities to fulfill the formal criteria. Even though the republic has 10 active synagogues, and the authorities might have taken into account the many petitions of the community. As the situation stands, the republic has no official rabbis, and the schools and kindergartens fall outside of the laws, because only a central religious organization has the right to educational and publishing activities. Right now, most of them are inactive, and studying the Torah can be punishable by the law according to the current legal system.
A serious problem for the preservation of cultural monuments is the absence of a law on restitution.
There were several murders of Jews in recent years, two of which had a wide resonance in the community. These are the murders of the chairman of the Tashkent synagogue, A. Yagudayev, and the artistic director of the Tashkent theater “Ilkhom” M. Weil.