BACKGROUND: The present power holders in Uzbekistan are nearing or have passed retirement age, paving the way for a new generation of politicians in the not too distant future. President Islam Karimov has turned 75 and a professional career begun in the mid-1960s is soon coming to an end. The intelligence chief, Rustam Inoyatov, is seven years younger but his long KGB-SNB career is unlikely to last another decade. The Minister of Interior is 61 and his counterpart in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is 66. Most other ministers and heads of major state enterprises belong to the same Soviet-era generation born in the 1940s or 1950s.
A new generation of officials is soon replacing this one, but which generation? A slew of recent appointments suggest that the younger post-Soviet generation, who entered their professional careers in the 1990s, are increasingly being positioned to take charge.
For example, in the past two years the President has appointed two Deputy Foreign Ministers, Eldor Aripov and Murad Askarov, who still are in their thirties. Both were born in 1974, are graduates of the Institute of World Economy and Diplomacy, have served in the Embassy in Washington D.C., and are English and German speakers.
Other young Deputy Ministers could be pinpointed in the Ministry of Justice. The First Deputy Minister, Esemurat Kanyazov, was born in 1971 and is 42. Appointed Deputy Minister of Justice in 2005 at the age of 35, Kanyazov was subsequently promoted to First Deputy Minister in 2011 together with the installment of the then 35 year old Otabek Murodov as Deputy Minister.
It is noteworthy that three of the four Deputy Ministers in the Justice Ministry were born in 1956, 1962, and 1964 and are significantly older than First Deputy Minister Kanyazov, indicating how the younger generation is given preference.
Parallels could be drawn to the Ministry of Finance. Here, too, the position of First Deputy Minister is occupied by the young Western-educated Bakhrom Yusupov. A graduate of the Institute of World Economy and Diplomacy and Oklahoma State University, Yusupov was born in 1976.
This promotion of young officials extends into one of the most powerful organs of government – particularly the National Security Service (SNB). Rustam Eminkhanov, the new head of the SNB border troops and the intelligence organ’s second-in-command, is merely 42. Eminkhanov is a graduate of the Armed Forces Academy and began his career in 1992 in the Interior Ministry. He was appointed to his present position in July 2012, replacing the “security veteran” Ruslan Mirzaev. In that capacity, Eminkhanov is significantly younger than many senior-level SNB officers, e.g. Ravshanbek Shamshiev, born in 1948.
The appointments cited above are but a few examples of this general trend. Similar observations can be made elsewhere. For example, the head of the State Committee for Communication and Telecommunication Technologies, Khurshid Mirzakhimov, and the Deputy Chairman of Uzbekenergo, Muzaffardzhan Khakimov, are 42 and 40 respectively. Sarvar Otamuratov, the new party leader of Milliy Tiklanish elected in May 2013, is also 40.
IMPLICATIONS: If the footprint of the post-Soviet generation is further enlarged in the next few years and if the President continues to promote this generation of adjutants into power, these factors could become primary agents of reform. Georgia’s Rose Revolution in 2004 proved the dramatic effect of cultivating a new post-Soviet generation of leaders, even if the breathtaking pace of reform in that country may be inimitable elsewhere. Uzbekistan is still ruled by the “old generation” but appointments over the past couple of years demonstrate the growing presence of the new post-Soviet generation.
Three main implications can be derived from this. First, it is probably an exaggeration to say that the middle generation has been “skipped” in recent appointments in favor of the younger post-Soviet generation. Several cases of the former exist alongside the latter. For example, the first deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Vladimir Norov, appointed in 2010 was born in 1955 and is 57. Regional governors also tend to be of the “middle generation”, and have typically risen through the ranks of the provincial and district apparatuses. However, the fact that many first Deputy Ministers and the first Deputy Head of the SNB are significantly younger than their deputies reveals a desire to leapfrog the post-Soviet generation into politics.
Second, this new post-Soviet generation is likely to be more favorably disposed towards democratization and reform in general. Many of the young officials cited above have either been educated in the West or served in Western embassies earlier in their careers. They speak mainly Western languages in addition to Russian and Uzbek. This combination of English fluency and exposure to Western societies hold much promise for Western interests.
Third, this new post-Soviet generation hails from across the country in contrast to the older generation, who tend almost exclusively to be natives of Tashkent and Samarkand. Aripov and Askarov, the Deputy Foreign Ministers, hail from Tashkent and Khorezm; Kanyazov and Murodov in the Ministry of Justice are natives of the Autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan and Kashkadarya respectively; the deputy Minister of Finance, Yusupov, was also born in Kashkadarya; and Eminkhanov is a native of Tashkent. The previous dominance of a few provinces, often referred ambiguously to as “clans,” is fading with the new generation whose ties and promotions primarily form on a professional and meritocratic basis. That the new post-Soviet generation has its origins in a diverse set of provinces testifies to this trend.
CONCLUSIONS: A generation shift is underway in Uzbekistan, and it appears likely that the President is seeking to leapfrog a new generation into power. Whatever the President’s intentions, several senior officials born in the 1970s are in waiting to replace the present leadership and their prospects for doing so sooner rather than later is considerable.
Many of these are Western-educated and/or with diplomatic experience in the United States and Europe, which bodes well for Western engagement in the future. Members of this new generation do not appear to have regional power bases but owe their careers to merit, professional ties, and what appears to be a conscious effort of nation-building by the President.
Western policy makers should recognize this emerging post-Soviet generation, build ties with these younger officials as well as their older counterparts, and thereby anchor their own strategies to this promising generation change.