KYRGYZ CAPITAL GETS A MAKEOVER  Residents complain that they have been told to 
foot the bill for sprucing up Bishkek for a major meeting of regional states.  
By Bek Omarov in Bishkek 

UZBEK GOVERNMENT CONCERNED AT MIGRATION  The authorities have political as well 
as economic reasons for keeping a closer eye on people travelling abroad for 
work.  By IWPR staff in Central Asia 


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Residents complain that they have been told to foot the bill for sprucing up 
Bishkek for a major meeting of regional states.

By Bek Omarov in Bishkek 

When leaders from Russia, China and Central Asia gather in the Kyrgyz capital 
Bishkek on August 16, all eyes will be on the big geopolitical stories – is the 
Shanghai Cooperation Organisation shaping up to be a serious regional defence 
grouping? Are its intentions towards the United States and NATO friendly or 

But for Bishkek’s residents, the upcoming summit has a different and more 
immediate significance. The authorities have decided the city looks too untidy, 
and are asking residents to spruce it up before the foreign presidents arrive.

The Kyrgyz government has earmarked 250 million soms - around six and a half 
million US dollars – to the Bishkek authorities to fund the refurbishment. 

However, Daniyar Shabdanov, a spokesman for the mayor’s office, said the budget 
had not been finalised, and it was imperative for the work to be done now 
rather than later. He did not make it clear whether anyone would be recompensed 
out of official funds once the budget was approved. 

Residents and businesses are complaining that they have been ordered to 
renovate their buildings and clean the streets, without regard for whether they 
are physically able do the work themselves or find the money to pay for it. 
Some say they are being forced to take out private loans to foot the bill. 

Hotel owners complain that they are now being pressured to cancel bookings in 
order to make way for summit participants, even though the meeting was arranged 
a long time ago.

On arrival at Manas airport, the presidents of Russia, China, Kazakstan, 
Uzbekistan and Tajikistan will be whisked into the city, passing the 
Prigorodnoye suburb along the way. Residents of Prigorodnoye whose houses flank 
the main highway say they have received an official order from the Alamuddun 
district planning department giving them ten days to renovate and whitewash 
homes and other buildings, mend and paint fences and gates, clear away rubbish 
and cut the grass verges.

“Where am I going to find the money to replace my roof, as they’re telling me 
to?” asked local resident Lyuba Plotnikova. 

Like many others along the road, pensioner Yelena Kravchenko has also been told 
to get a new roof for her house. 

“My roof has a sheet metal covering, which is better than slate, but I am being 
forced to change it. I don’t have the money or the energy to do so,” she 

Kravchenko said she could not understand why she had to give her house front a 
makeover even though it was in good shape . “I’m still having to paint the 
shutters and window frames. I don’t understand why – everything is fine here. 
And who’s going to paint them, my 72-year-old husband?” she asked. 

Suyunbek Arabekov is not only chief architect of the Alamuddin district which 
includes Prigorodnoye; he is behind the entire proposal to tidy up the capital. 

He said it was essential to carry out the work in anticipation of the Shanghai 

“After all, if we’re receiving guests at home, we put our house in order,” he 

But Arabekov insisted no fines would be levied if people did not carry out the 

Shabdanov said that technically speaking, Bishkek residents were legally 
responsible for keeping the area around their homes clean and tidy, under an 
ordinance issued by the city council in 2003. 

“Every citizen, every organisation and every company is expected to make 
improvements to its space. Everyone has their own area to work on. We should 
help the city we live in,” he said.

Meanwhile, private businesses say they too are being pressured to contribute to 
the effort. 

One businessman, who introduced himself as Kalmat, said he had been visited by 
officials had come to talk to him. “They told me I’d have to lay tiles on 100 
metres of pavement next to my small grocery kiosk. That’s a lot of money, and 
I’ll have to go into debt,” he said.

But like many business owners, Kalmat did not even consider refusing to obey 
the instruction, for fear that the authorities would close him down.

“They’d find some excuse to close my kiosk, and it’s my only source of income, 
on which I feed my entire family,” he said. 

Another businessman, who gave his name as Samat, also planned to paint his 
shopfront even though he saw no need for it. 

“I don’t understand them; it all looks fine anyway, but whether I want to or 
not, I’ll have to paint everything again to refresh the paint and show how 
eager I am,” he said. “I don’t expect the authorities to help. That would be 
pure fantasy.”

Travel agents in Kyrgyzstan are also anxious about the prospect of around 4,000 
people – politicians, staff and journalists from the SCO members and also those 
countries that have observer status in the grouping – descending on the city.

Vladimir Komissarov, the chairman of the Silk Road tourism association, has 
warned that the summit may damage the travel and hospitality business.

Interviewed by the AKIpress news agency, Komissarov said hotels and travel 
companies were under pressure to cancel existing hotel reservations to make way 
for the SCO guests.

“Hotel reservations made by several tourist agencies have been cancelled to 
make space for delegations from the SCO members and observer states. Imagine 
what will happen if a group of tourists arrives and we can’t find a place for 
them to stay,” he said.

According to Sergei Bogdanov, a journalist with the Tribuna newspaper, even if 
everyone knuckles under and carries out the facelift successfully, the 
underlying social problems in the city will not be covered over so easily. 

“I can’t believe the Kyrgyz authorities are so naive that they hope to hide the 
poverty and dissatisfaction of the people behind a surface gloss. Are they 
hoping that foreign journalists won’t walk around the streets of Bishkek and 
talk to ordinary city dwellers?” he asked.

Some of Prigorodnoye’s residents are already turning the tables on the 
authorities by using the clean-up campaign to embarrass them over the generally 
poor state of public services. A letter written by a group of women living in 
the area complained that three streets there have had no drinking water for the 
last six months. 

“Despite our appeals, everyone brushes us off, saying they don’t have time for 
us. And this is at a time when the temperature is reaching 40 degrees,” said 
one of the women.

Nevertheless, the instructions still stand and people are getting out their 
shovels and paintbrushes to improve the city’s façade. 

Bek Omarov is the pseudonym used by an independent journalist in Bishkek.


The authorities have political as well as economic reasons for keeping a closer 
eye on people travelling abroad for work.

By IWPR staff in Central Asia 

The authorities in Uzbekistan are trying to gather more information about the 
hundreds of thousands of people who work as migrant labour abroad. Officially, 
a new registration system is intended to make it easier to help migrants if 
they get into trouble, but many believe the government is concerned about the 
exodus of its adult workforce and wants to stem the flow.

Other reasons for keeping tabs on Uzbek citizens abroad are to exert the same 
kind of political control as they are subject to at home, and also to recover 
some of the taxes they would have paid if they stayed in Uzbekistan.

A government order dated May 15 has two stated aims – to streamline the 
registration procedures that would-be migrant workers must go through, and to 
ensure they are protected once they are out of the country.

A local government official who asked to remain anonymous said the authorities 
were merely carrying out their responsibility to care for their citizens.

"Our state is still a young one, and we are gradually altering our legislation 
so that it is on a par with international standards," he said, insisting that 
"both the country and the people benefit from labour migration”.

Under the new rules, Uzbek nationals planning to leave the country have to fill 
in a form stating details of their future job and whereabouts. This is a 
revised version of a document already in existence, although IWPR understands 
that most people who went through the procedure before the change were 
travelling to countries outside the former Soviet Union. 

The vast majority who went to Russia or Kazakstan simply ignored the 
requirements. That, however, is likely to change with a range of official and 
semi-official measures designed to keep a closer eye on the migration flow.

Low salaries and scant job opportunities force many in Uzbekistan to leave the 
country in search of work. Information from various official sources indicate 
that around 800,000 people work outside the country – a massive 10 per cent of 
the total working population. Other estimates put the figure at three million, 
while some regime insiders say it could be up to five or six million. 

The discrepancy is partly attributable to the difficulty of counting migrants, 
not least because many are “illegals”, and because of seasonal variations in 
the numbers. Another factor is that for a government which claims economic 
successes year after year, it is somewhat embarrassing if a major part of the 
workforce is voting with its feet. 

To get a better idea of the figures involved, the government’s statistical 
agency and the customs committee have been instructed to produce quarterly 
reports on the number of people moving abroad and their reasons for leaving. 
Uzbek consulates abroad are also to monitor people’s movements.

Alongside these public measures, the authorities are also using more subtle, 
covert means of control, using the neighbourhood or “mahallah” committees which 
the government has turned into the lowest tier of local administration. These 
pass on information about migrants to the police and according to one mahallah 
official, the intelligence agency or National Security Service, SNB.

Mahallah staff insist that there are no restrictions, and that the new 
requirement to register is for the migrants’ own good. 

“By all means, go wherever you want,” said one secretary of a mahallah 
committee, who asked not to be named. “As soon as you settle down, let your 
family know, so that they can inform us what address you are living at. This is 
required by the SNB.”

According to one regional governor who asked not to be named, the authorities 
have recently launched a quiet propaganda campaign through the state-controlled 
newspapers and television channels to discourage migration.

“These articles are about the difficulties that our fellow-citizens face, and 
information about the modern slave trade,” he said. 

The official contrasted the present situation with the early Nineties, when the 
propaganda line was all about how well Uzbekistan was doing compared with 
Russia. “The situation has fundamentally changed,” he said. “Now the 
authorities have nothing to boast about, so the local media are full of reports 
about the difficulties that befall our citizens.”

According to former diplomat and analyst Toshpulat Yoldashev, “The presence of 
five to six million able-bodied, economically active people abroad is the 
biggest slap in the face to a boastful government which says that everything is 
fine here when it is not the case.”

He added, “The country has villages where there is no one left to carry the 
coffin when someone dies. Old men and women have to do it because there are no 
young men there – they’ve all left.”

Iskandar Khudoiberganov, a political analyst and former director of the Centre 
for Democratic Initiative, said the government had opted to conduct the 
anti-migration campaign through covert tactics.

“If the authorities conducted this campaign openly, there would be great anger 
among the population. So everything is being done very quietly,” he said.

Khudoiberganov believes the government is nervous of having so many Uzbek 
nationals outside the country and thus beyond its political and security 

“I think the authorities are very worried that [Uzbek] citizens are not under 
their control, and may bring back awkward ideas such as the fact that people 
live better in Russia, and questions about why we live like this in 
Uzbekistan,” he said.

Yoldashev added, “They’re gathering information about people who are dissidents 
and who have left the country…. The government wants to have precise statistics 
about people who leave the country in order to know who they can put pressure 

Another, very practical motive for tracking migration is to increase tax 
receipts. Estimates of the contribution that migrants make to the economy range 
between 1.5 and three billion US dollars, but this takes the form of 
remittances rather than payments to the government budget.

Khudoiberganov believes the authorities want to find a way of recovering the 
taxes the thousands of workers would have paid had they stayed at home. “Six 
million people have left the country, in other words people who would have 
contributed taxes to the state treasury – and that’s a lot of money,” he said.

Like him, Yoldashev believes the registration process is a precursor to 
taxation. He predicts that the authorities will try to recoup the difference 
between the 13 per cent income tax people pay in Russia and 28 per cent in 

But Khudoiberganov warns that imposing taxes on people who have left the 
country to work will only make people leave permanently – either by acquiring 
Russian citizenship or by applying for refugee status.

This is already happening, according to one farm manager, who said life in the 
other former Soviet republics looked increasingly attractive compared with the 
repressive atmosphere in Uzbekistan.

“They feel themselves beyond the surveillance of the state, and naturally they 
ask why people can’t live like this in Uzbekistan,” he said. “We all live next 
door to each other, in countries which at one time were pursuing the same path 
of development.”

Whatever the authorities do to curb the flow of emigration, Yoldashev says 
people will continue to go, to escape economic hardship and lack of 

“It’s practically impossible to stop this process. Whatever the authorities do, 
people need to eat and you can’t sew their mouths shut,” he said. 

“They say that if you can’t give us a decent job with a decent wage… what right 
have you got to keep us here?”

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REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA provides the international community with a unique 
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