Soviet Jewry Groups Find Agreement on Dismal Conditions in Uzbekistan

The Union of Councils and the National Conference on Soviet Jewry do not always see eye to eye on the situation in the former Soviet Union.

That was made clear last week when the Union of Councils protested a diplomatic reception co-sponsored by the National Conference.

But when it comes to the human rights situation in the central republic of Uzbekistan, one of the reception’s invitees, they both agree: It’s downright dismal.

A report on the former Soviet republic prepared last month by the National Conference describes the “unpredictable and often ominous circumstances” under which both Jews and non-Jews in the republic find themselves.

Ruling the country is President Islam Karimov, who heads the People’s Democratic Party of Uzbekistan, which, according to the report, emerged out of the old Communist Party.

This year, his government has shut down the country’s only independent newspaper, denied entry to a human rights delegation and refused to sign a human rights accord at a conference of the Commonwealth of Independent States in Minsk.

These and other actions, according to the NCSJ report, “severely cloud the credibility of Karimov’s devotion to protect democracy and human rights.”

While Jewish cultural and religious activities have not been threatened, Jews who wish to emigrate in the face of decreasing economic prospects and increasing conflict face a perilous path.

They are barred from taking foreign currency out with them when they leave the country.

In addition, Jews in the process of seeking visas and leaving the country have been robbed and beaten.

These attacks are motivated less by anti-Semitism than by the belief “that people who are leaving the country are more likely to have stockpiled valuables and cash,” according to the National Conference.

Nonetheless, “brutal physical attacks” in these robberies have killed at least one Jew.

The NCSJ denied that any endorsement of the Uzbeki regime can be construed from its being invited to the reception last week.

But in any case, a simple policy of ostracism against Uzbekistan may not necessarily be the wisest, according to the NCSJ report.

In a classic example of the dilemmas facing those working for Jews in the former Soviet Union, waiting in the wings to wrest power from Karimov are two groups likely to be less hospitable to Jewish interests.

The NCSJ report identified “nationalist and fundamentalist parties that advocate the purging of ‘all foreign’ influence from Uzbekistan.”

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