Leaving Uzbekistan – Opinion

There are reasons‘s December Special IssueThe 30th anniversary marks the end of the Soviet Union. We are exploring the legacy of this evil empire around the world and trying to ensure that it does not continue. The terrible consequences of communism cannot be ignored.

Most countries are already complicated and bureaucratic to enter. If you need to fill out a lot more paperwork in order to leave a country that is a problem, then you will know where to look for the solution.

Authoritarian regimes are known to have issued exit visas for decades. It was a standard practice in authoritarian regimes to require citizens of the Soviet Union to obtain explicit permission to leave. This requirement was abolished by the 1993 Constitution of the Post-Communist Russian Federation, which allowed citizens to travel overseas without permission. Most former Soviet republics quickly followed suit.

Not Uzbekistan, however. It has the dubious distinction of being the last post-Soviet republic to abolish its system of exit visas—in 2019, a good seven years after Cuba managed to do the same. Uzbeks were able to travel visa-free for nearly thirty years only to former Soviet republics.

It shouldn’t surprise that this tradition remained in Central Asia. Uzbekistan, like many others in Central Asia, experienced little change after the transition to postcommunist control.

Islam Karimov (the old Communist Party boss responsible for the fall of the Soviet Union), continued his work as President of Uzbekistan’s newly independent Uzbekistan. He managed to keep power up until 2016 when he died. A New York Times obituary describes Karimov as a “ruthless autocrat” who crushed press freedom, massacred opposition demonstrators, and ruled with the aid of secret police.

Despite this, Uzbekistan’s decision to maintain its exit visa system drew international interest and controversy.

In a UN report in 2007, the United Nations highlighted these visas as a source of human rights violations. They were “easy to use to block human rights defenders fleeing the country.” According to the same UN report, exit visas are a violation of international law.

The death of Karimov has resulted in a small opening for Uzbekistan. This includes the end of the exit visa system. Shavkat Mikziyoyev became the nation’s president in August 2017 and issued a decree that allowed citizens to travel overseas without permission from government. This was effective January 2019.

Mirziyoyev opened trade and allowed travel in the notoriously remote country. Government has allowed independent news websites to operate without restrictions. Some foreign journalists were even permitted to work from Uzbekistan.

However, it still ranks near the bottom in most international indicators of press freedom and political freedom. People’s rights are routinely violated by the security forces. Uzbeks who are dissatisfied with this system of authoritarianism, at least right now, will find it easier to escape.