Leaving Uzbekistan – Opinion

There are reasons‘s Special December issueThis year marks the 30th anniversary the fall 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. Not forgetting the terrible effects of communism is not easy.

Most countries are already complicated and bureaucratic to enter. You will be able to exit a country if there is too much paperwork.

Since the beginning, authoritarian regimes have required citizens to obtain exit visas. It was a standard practice in authoritarian regimes to require citizens of the Soviet Union to obtain explicit permission to leave. The 1993 constitution of post-communist Russia abolished the requirement and citizens were allowed to travel internationally 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 was the Communist Party’s old boss at the disintegration of the Soviet Union. He continued to serve as president of Uzbekistan, and he managed to remain in power until 2016. 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,” it said. This report also stated that exit visas were in violation of international law and the Uzbek Constitution’s guarantee of free movement within the country.

Karimov’s passing has seen a limited opening in Uzbekistan. It also saw the elimination 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 sites to operate without restrictions, with some foreign journalists even being permitted to work from Uzbekistan.

The nation is still at the bottom of many international rankings on freedom of expression and press. People’s rights are routinely violated by the security services. Uzbeks who don’t like this authoritarianism will be able to get away with it at least for now.