|General background: Russia conquered Uzbekistan
in the late 19th century. Stiff resistance to the Red
Army after World War I was eventually suppressed and
a socialist republic set up in 1924. During the Soviet
era, intensive production of "white gold"
(cotton) and grain led to overuse of agrochemicals and
the depletion of water supplies, which have left the
land poisoned and the Aral Sea and certain rivers half
dry. Independent since 1991, the country seeks to gradually
lessen its dependence on agriculture while developing
its mineral and petroleum reserves. Current concerns
include insurgency by Islamic militants based in Tajikistan
and Afghanistan, a nonconvertible currency, and the
curtailment of human rights and democratization.
Area comparative: Slightly larger than California.
Climate: Mostly midlatitude desert, long,
hot summers, mild winters; semiarid grassland in east.
Terrain: Mostly flat-to-rolling sandy desert
with dunes; broad, flat intensely irrigated river valleys
along course of Amu Darya, Syr Darya (Sirdaryo), and
Zarafshon; Fergana Valley in east surrounded by mountainous
Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan; shrinking Aral Sea in west.
Population: 25,563,441 (July 2002 est.)
Ethnic groups: Uzbek 80%, Russian 5.5%, Tajik
5%, Kazakh 3%, Karakalpak 2.5%, Tatar 1.5%, other
2.5% (1996 est.)
Religions: Muslim 88% (mostly Sunnis), Eastern
Orthodox 9%, other 3%
Language: Uzbek 74.3%, Russian 14.2%, Tajik
4.4%, other 7.1%
Government type: Republic; authoritarian presidential
rule, with little power outside the executive branch.
Capital: Tashkent (Toshkent)
Legal system: Evolution of Soviet civil law;
still lacks independent judicial system.
Economic overview: Uzbekistan is a dry, landlocked
country of which 11% consists of intensely cultivated,
irrigated river valleys. More than 60% of its population
lives in densely populated rural communities. Uzbekistan
is now the world's second largest cotton exporter,
a large producer of gold and oil, and a regionally
significant producer of chemicals and machinery. Following
independence in December 1991, the government sought
to prop up its Soviet-style command economy with subsidies
and tight controls on production and prices. The state
continues to be a dominating influence in the economy
and has so far failed to bring about much-needed structural
changes. The IMF suspended Uzbekistan's $185 million
standby arrangement in late 1996 because of governmental
steps that made impossible fulfilment of Fund conditions.
Uzbekistan has responded to the negative external
conditions generated by the Asian and Russian financial
crises by emphasizing import substitute industrialization
and by tightening export and currency controls within
its already largely closed economy. Economic policies
that have repelled foreign investment are a major
factor in the economy's stagnation. A growing debt
burden, persistent inflation, and a poor business
climate led to disappointing growth in 2001. However,
in December 2001 the government voiced a renewed interest
in economic reform, seeking advice from the IMF and
other financial institutions.
Communication/Telephone system: Antiquated
and inadequate; in serious need of modernization.
Places of interest:
Travel tips: Travel tends to be an endless
series of petty bureaucratic irritations and official
hassles. Uzbekistan's government likes its foreign
visitors in pre-programmed, obedient groups; independent
travelers can expect to be on the receiving end of
unwelcome official attention.