After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, many of the former Soviet states declared their independence. Uzbekistan officially became a democratic constitutional republic. The former Communist Party in Uzbekistan was re-named the Liberal Democratic Party. Warning: don’t have your hopes too high for a smooth transition to democracy!
Modernization theory unfortunately cannot be applied to the case of Uzbekistan although one would hope that with its economic development and modernization efforts, the country would become a “political democracy.” Applying Przeworski and Lemongi’s theoretical description of a democratic regime (it has very specific four rules), we can see the Uzbekistan’s regime is not a democracy. It is an authoritarian state, referred to by academics as “pseudodemocracy” or a “hybrid regime” (Rustemova, 2011), just to name a few.
Uzbekistan can be used as a good example for the dependency theory. It was situated on a periphery of the Soviet Union (was called “Russian backyard”) and it primarily focused on producing cotton for the benefit of the central government in Moscow and depended on deliveries of goods and oil from other states.
Doing more research, I stumbled upon a phrase “Uzbek Model of Development” praised on the official website of Permanent Mission of Uzbekistan to the UN, and noted by IMF as “the Uzbek growth puzzle” and “Uzbek heterodox development” (McKinley, 2010). It refers to the Karimov’s plan of choosing a gradual transformation to a market based economy and “extended period of import substitution.” (McKinley, 2008).
After being dependent on petroleum during the Soviet times, Uzbekistan became self-sufficient in oil production, it diversified its exports of other commodities besides cotton (gold, silver, copper), and was able to produce 90% of grain for domestic use by converting land from cotton growing to the grain fields.
According to the McKinley’s report, the country’s GDP grew steadily, from 4% in early 2000 to 12.8% in 2008. He also notes that “Uzbekistan’s heterodox policies have served it fairly well” and warns of the commodities “resource curse” in the long run. He suggests to further diversify non-traditional exports, “to channel its domestic savings into productive private investments,” and the need of the reforms of the current financial system.
IMF’s official press release of May 13, 2015 reports the further growth of the national GDP in 2015 (by 8.1% in 2014) and suggests a development of private sector, improving business environment, governance and transparency.
According to the Economic Freedom Ranking, Uzbekistan placed #166 out 178 in the world, and #39 out 42 in Asia Pacific region.
In conclusion, Karimov was able to successfully adopt “an Uzbek model” of gradual transition to a market-based economy solely governed by the state, with a promise to its citizens of “economic security in exchange for political support,” therefore creating a negative image of democracy with its “brutal” free market and “its inability to cope with inequality” (Rustemova, 2011).
“Uzbek Model” of Development a Model for Other Countries, Permanent Mission of the Republic of Uzbekistan to the United Nations Office and other International Organisations in Geneva. Retrieved from http://www.uzbekistan-geneva.ch/uzbek-model-of-development-a-model-for-other-countries.html
Terry McKinley, Uzbekistan: From Import Subsitution to Export Boom (2008) The Resource Curse Development Digest No. 1 December 2008. Centre for Development Policy and Research, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
Terry McKinley, The Puzzling Success of Uzbekistan’s Heterodox Development (2010), Development Viewpoint, Number 44, January 2010. Centre for Development Policy and Research, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
Assel Rustemova, Political Economy of Central Asia: Initial Reflections on the Need for a New Approach (March 2010), Journal of Eurasian Studies 2 (2011), 30-39. doi: 10.1016/j.euras.2010.10.002 Retrieved from www.elsevier.com/euras
Press Release No. 15/216 of May 13, 2015 “IMF Staff Completes 2015 Article IV Mission to the Republic of Uzbekistan.” Retrieved from https://www.imf.org/external/np/sec/pr/2015/pr15216.htm
2016 Index of Economic Freedom, The Heritage Foundation in Partnership with Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://www.heritage.org/index/country/uzbekistan#