[VIEWPOINT]Uzbek violence threatens areaThe large anti-government demonstrations that took place in Andizhan, Uzbekistan on April 13 has resulted in a tragedy with hundreds killed and thousands injured after the government army opened fire on civilians. The precise number of dead and wounded is unknown because the Uzbekistan government is restraining the flow of information, but one civil organization announced that more than 600 have died and around 2,000 were injured, leading to the prediction that there will be huge repercussions, too.
The former Soviet Union republics that became independent after the end of the Cold War in 1991 are following in the footsteps of Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan in that they are confronting a whirlwind of a strong civil revolution as the people protest against the long-term rule of their leaders, economic depression and unsatisfactory management of various sociopolitical issues that affect their nation.
The recent Uzbekistan situation can be interpreted as a part of the revolution domino that occurred in the former Soviet Union republics. However, it is too early to know for sure whether the anti-government demonstration is in fact another version of the domino or not.
President I.A. Karimov of Uzbekistan declared that the anti-government demonstration was not a revolution but part of a conspiracy by Muslim extremists to overturn the government, and he is leading the suppressive measures.
There are hints that suggest that Muslim extremist groups were involved in Uzbekistan’s anti-government demonstration, as the president says, which is why he and other leaders of central Asia are not voicing any firm objections against the suppression that led to bloodshed, and it is also the reason that not much international aid is being offered, unlike the upheavals in Georgia or in the Ukraine.
This is the reason that the United States, which stresses the spread of democracy and human rights and actively supported the civil revolutions of Georgia and Ukraine, is trying its best to ignore the Uzbekistan situation.
Apparently the United States seems to have decided that even though President Karimov is a dictator, protecting the pro-American president is the way to protect the United States’ interests and to stop the expansion of extreme Islamic powers in the war against terrorism, which has been ongoing since the 9/11 attacks.
Uzbekistan’s neighboring country, Russia, takes the same position. This shows us the cold reality of international relations: No cause can stand in the face of the national interest.
In that case, the question is whether the justification of the defensive attack against the aggressive expansion of extreme Islamic organizations in Central Asia that is being put forward by Uzbekistan President Karimov, receiving support from the United States and Russia, is enough to justify the forceful suppression at Andizhan, stop disturbances and prevent the outbreak of further violence.
We need to learn a lesson from history that people’s emotional devastation, arising from psychological factors such as internal economic catastrophe and dictatorship, creates fertile soil for radical Islam.
Compared with the time when Afghanistan was under the control of the Taliban regime, the danger that Muslim extremists will expand from other places to Uzbekistan and Central Asia has drastically decreased since the collapse of the Taliban regime.
However, the serious economic backwardness, poverty and authoritarian political system of Uzbekistan, rampant corruption and plundering, trade restrictions within the region and the economic isolation resulting from border restrictions leave the people of Uzbekistan in despair. Under these conditions, the number of poor people who listen to the claims of radical Islamic forces grows bigger day by day.
Therefore, the only way the Uzbek president can solve the current problem and secure the safety of his government is not by suppressing the radicals with violence, but proclaiming his will for democratization and cleaning up corruption, and acting on it immediately.
At the same time, he must speed up economic development so that Uzbekistan can drastically reduce poverty and present its people with hope for a bright future.
Seen from a long-term perspective, it is an unavoidable truth that suppression and bloodshed have never been successful even in the history of Central Asia.
The United States, Russia and the entire international society, including Korea, must help Uzbekistan become a true democracy and provide various support to further the country’s economic development.
The international community should provide aid not just to Uzbekistan, but also to the stability and development of Central Asia, which connects Europe with Asia.
* The writer is a professor at the Institute of International Studies at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Park Sang-nam