Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Meanwhile in Uzbekistan….Googoosha says let them eat cake…or is it let them wear mink?: Gulnara Karimova and Uzbekistan’s Imaginary Middle Class

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Gulnara and Yudashkin at fashion show in Tashkent

In my last post, I noted the growing middle class that sets Kazakhstan apart from the rest of Central Asia. This middle class could be the driving force of gradual change in Kazakhstan as the country’s elite will need to address the needs of this emergent class in order to retain the economic stability that is keeping pockets (or Swiss bank accounts) full at the top. By contrast, while there is a thin layer of society in Uzbekistan, working for international organizations and companies or for the government, which can be concerned about more than bread, the majority of the country is living hand to mouth.

That situation, however, does not seem to worry the elite, which continues to create a world of luxurious events in order to create a Potemkin’s village of middle class lifestyle in Tashkent. The latest such event was a Valentine Yudashkin fashion show organized by President Karimov’s eldest daughter Gulnara. According to the Russian paper Kommersant, Gulnara was the center of attention and received a standing ovation when she addressed the audience (it appears that Googoosha is loved for more than her singing). As Kommersant described it, ”how can you not love the eldest daughter of the president of Uzbekistan: she is beautiful, intelligent, and elegant, like a princess from a fairy tale.”

Kommersant also notes that other luminaries in attendance included two of Russia’s wealthiest Uzbek businessmen, Iskander Makhmudov of mineral and print media fame and Alisher Usmanov, who has recently taken over the helm at Kommersant while continuing to play a prominent role in Gazprom. Apparently the piece de resistance of the evening was the presentation of a mink coat with different colored pieces constructing a “traditional” Uzbek pattern (Atlas?). The whole scenario is reminiscent of Marie Antoinette’s supposed comment about the starving French peasantry – “let them eat cake.” In this case, is the princess trying to say “let them wear mink” right before the winter cold sets in? Well, we all know what happened to Marie Antoinette.


Anonymous Bertrand said...

Don't forget, Googoosha owns the Fashion Bar in Tashkent. We can probably expect to see something about this on Fashion TV.

11:11 PM  
Blogger Sean R. Roberts, PhD said...

That would be great...I am dying to see the atlas patterned mink coat!

12:19 AM  
Anonymous Michael said...

“Well, we all know what happened to Marie Antoniette”, Sean writes about Gulnara Karimova.
Well, we can of course only hope……
But to take your analogy a little bit further: don’t forget the reaction of the rest of the world (at that time that meant primairly England and Germany!).
The German leaders did not subscribed to ‘wild ideas’ about natural law and social contracts, Germany elite much prefer ‘enlightened despots’ such as Frederick the Great and Joseph the Second.
And in England, the father of modern conservatism, Edmund Burke wrote in reaction to what was happening in France:
[The French have rebelled] against a mild and lawful monarch, with more fury, outrage, and insult, than ever any people has been known to rise against the most illegal usurper, or the most sanguinary tyrant. Their resistance was made to concession; their revolt was from protection; their blow was aimed at an hand holding out graces, favours, and immunities. This was unnatural.
And history will repeat itself: when somebody finally chops off the heads of ‘Papa’ Karimov and his little spoiled daughter, you will hear the echoes of Burke in the comments from the EU and Washington – ‘stability’ is the key word here (i.e. access to Afghanistan and gas deliverances).
The question is then, will we see a modern-day version of the Scarlet Pimpernel? A secret society of English aristocrats (read: Fredd Starr, Shireen Akiner and co, sponsored by the US and German governments – i.e. the friends of Karimov/Almatov and all the other crooks) rescuing these from the guillotine?

5:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cruella DeVille? Cruella DeVille? The world was such a wholesome place until...

10:50 AM  
Blogger Laurence said...

Now it's a crime to have a fashion show? Perhaps Dr. Roberts prefers the strict form of Islam that existed under the Taliban--no worries about fashion shows then.

Or perhaps Dr. Roberts just wants to sneer at Central Asians, as Borat does.

It certainly is not based on any honest critique of oligarchy across the board--for I don't see Dr. Roberts making fun of the lifestyles of American millionaire-politicos like Hillary Clinton (remember the infamous "Hillaryland" party, Grammy award ceremony, or Vogue magazine cover?), George Soros, or George Bushes I & II for that matter...

In the end, this post is a cheap shot, providing one more reason for Central Asians to turn towards China and Russia and away from the West. It seems that when it comes to Central Asia, even American "experts" can appear condescending, insulting, and IMHO a little bit racist...

12:28 PM  
Anonymous Brian said...

I think you'd find just as many Uzbeks making fun of this fashion show. When I was there last summer I really didn't hear anything positive said about Gulnara, when I brought her up - in fact quite the opposite. Also, Uzbek message board are filled with nasty comments about her.

1:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh come on Laurence, you cannot possible compare Hillary Clinton and the Bushes with Gulnara Karimova!
Her father and the brutal system he runs is based on corruption, family clans and contacts, secrecy, chucking opponents in prison without trial,torturing them..... Hey, you ARE right, Laurence, they ARE the same. Have you finally turned into a Marxist, Laurence? You know the one about how the interests of the elites in ALL countries coincide and so does the interests of the "average people", good on you, Laurence!

12:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's not having the fashion show that's the crime, it's the fact that this lady can strut her stuff in pubilc, flaunting her wealth - mostly begotten at the cost of the 'little people' - while a large part of the population is living below the poverty line.

Now that Uzbekistan no longer a Full-Fledged, vetted-by-Fred Starr-and-Don Rumsfeld Partner in the War on Terror, can't you find a better excuse for the First Family's behavior, Laurence? Did it ever occur to you that Googoosha is simply a greedy person and that perhaps Dr. Roberts is saying something that many people in her country cannot? I guess, though, his 17+ years experience in the region probably don't match your clearly superior intellectual insight and erudition on the subject. Keep sending comments! You're an easy target!

9:26 AM  
Anonymous Dolkun said...

You go Lawrence! Fight the power! And yes, who can forget the Hillaryland party?

Tashkent had been the center of art and culture, including fashion, for Central Asia.

A couple years ago when a competing business tried to have a fashion show, they got visited by the tax police a few days before the event and were promptly fined and suspended for a month. Later, when this other business succeeded in scheduling a show at Le Meridien hotel, the power mysteriously got cut off.

2:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Googoosha is inviting you to her next fashion show. She says you will look good in the pink mink coat. Googoosha and papa reward fools that buy into their lies about islamists and taliban.

9:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can corroborate Dolkun's story. I was planning my 'toi' to be held at the same venue in Tashkent, but was discouraged by the (then expatriate) management based on the same incident. God forbid one of the 'little people' outshine one of the Princesses!

As recently as last week, a similar incident occurred when an independent private (local Uzbek) company tried to organize bringing in a Russian pop/dance troupe - without permssion of Googoo and Lola. Needless to say, it didn't fly.

Does that offend your sensibilities, Laurence, or are you simply better informed than the rest of us? Can you please enlighten us with more facts about modern Central Asian culture and what the First Family is doing to promulgate a civil society? Would be pleased to hear your response!

1:06 AM  
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