The grotesque is rarely far from tragedy. Sadly even as bloodshed disfigured Andijan, the wishful thinking of Western journalists expressed itself in a post-modern fantasy about the border town of Kara su comparable to Maupassant’s parody, “The Coup d’état.” The star reporter of BBC 2’s “Newsnight, ” Tim Whewell, put all of his talents into a report on 18th May from the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border town:
“In a long oppressed corner of Central Asia… the people of one Uzbek town have taken over the job of their government. They’re rebuilding the bridge ancient Silk Road… Today I can cross the frontier without showing any papers People can import their hearts’ desires after years of deadening trade restrictions. The only reason this bridge is now open is because the People demanded it… They demanded that their mayor re-open the bridge. When he refused they beat him up, and they opened it themselves. Now it is the People and only the People who are in charge in this tiny corner of Uzbekistan. [emphasis added] Now they’re celebrating freedom from hated officials….. The revolt in Andijan was suppressed by a barrage of government bullets, but here the Revolution triumphed.”
Other journalists spotted a “local hero” whom they could stylise into a self-chosen representative of the People.
Swagger, intimidation and braggadocio are not monopolies of tyrants. Under the headline, “If the troops return, we will fight them”, the Guardian reported that a “Rebel farmer vows to create Islamic caliphate in blockaded border town as international pressure builds on Karimov government “ Its reporter, Tom Parfitt in Kara Suu, described how ”From a scabbard tucked under the blue sash around his waist, Bakhtiyor Rakhimov whips a murderous-looking dagger and holds it up, glinting in the sunlight. ‘You can dodge a bullet,’ he says, leering from behind the blade as he switches it from side to side in front of his face, then suddenly thrusts the knife forward and upwards: ‘But you can't prevent this going through your ribs.’” Television pictures showed Mr Rakhimov strolling through “liberated” Kara Su with a riding crop in his hand, or as the Guardian put it, “Mr Rakhimov, 42, emerged yesterday as a charismatic and determined leader of the people of Kara Suu, the blockaded town in Uzbekistan where locals have driven out police, soldiers and the town mayor after the massacre at nearby Andijan last week.”
After Bakhtior told the BBC that he wants an Islamic paradise, Tim Whewel commented, “Bakhtior Rahkimov intends to shape that paradise He is a pious Muslim a well-known local farmer and businessman. He says he tried to calm the mob … but he couldn’t stop them going on a trail of wanton destruction.”
This is the prelude to finding that Kara su’s mayor isn’t at home. Whewell is told by his translator “On 15th May he was beaten and that’s why he’s in hospital now…. His family has escaped to another place because they are afraid of the People.”
The People “and only the People” had taken power according to Whewell moments earlier but now “Bakhtiar seems to be one of the only men interested in filling the power vacuum. He owes his influence to his reputation as an employer in a region that’s getting poorer and poorer. Forty people work on his farm and he doesn’t mind getting his own hands dirty Bakhtiar says his politics have always been as open as his hospitality. Like the jailed businessmen whose release sparked the much larger protests in Andijon, he denies he belongs to any underground extremist group but his programme confirms all the fears of Uzbekistan’s repressive secular regime, he wants an Islamic state.” Bakhtior was then quoted saying, “An Islamic states means a good life for all, no shooting, just listening to the voice of God.”
A massacre had apparently taken place in neighbouring Andijan so what would be Bakhtior’s response to any government attempt to reassert its authority in Kara su. Whewell reported confidently, “ Bakhtior knows what he’ll do if President Karimov tries to reassert his authority here. ‘I would take out my dagger and do whatever is necessary, maybe even shoot him. I’ll deal with him.’…” But then a few moments later Bakhtior seemed to back away from blaming President Ksrimov for any problems, “Our president has been working very hard but his promises aren’t always fulfilled. His officials don’t carry out his orders.”
Yet by 21st May, Whewell was telling listeners to BBC Radio4’s “From Our Own Correspondent” that he was no longer quite certain: “Already, only four days later, it seems so long ago that I am not sure if Bakhtior Rakhimov really towered head and shoulders above the crowd or if he just seemed to.” In fact it turned out that he was the devotee of a mild narcotic: “he puffed away on a spliff of green weed - a natural and Islamic alternative, he told me, to the devils of tobacco and alcohol.” Maybe it was all an acid dream.
The Guardian had quoted Bakhtior “We will establish here a paradise, a Caliphate, in which Muslim cares for Muslim, taking what he needs and giving away what he can do without, as it says in the Qur’an.” But three days on Whewell was dismissive , “This week in newspapers all over the world, you can read that Mr Rakhimov proclaimed an independent Islamic state. The truth, of course, is more subtle and confusing.” In retrospect, Whewell decided, “He said that if President Karimov sent his troops back into the town, he would stand and fight, with his ceremonial dagger or with a gun. But all that I could tell was just bravado, just as it was bravado when he said his supporters had gone around persuading liquor stores to close. I found no difficulty at all locating vodka or brandy in Korasuv”!
The problem is not in the coverage of a small town boss with a colourful character and a big mouth which may well have put him in big trouble. The issue is the kind heroising side-taking journalism that reports first and thinks afterwards. Boosting a Bakhtior has consequences – not only for him and his neighbours. Yet a BBC reporter can casually change his mind about a man of whom he had broadcast to the world “he strode through the market like a fairy-tale king.”
Free Trade or Smuggling: A Human Right worth dying for?
“On the other bank lay Uzbekistan's neighbour, Kyrgyzstan. And across the frontier flowed an endless stream of goods, TV sets and fridges, consignments of shoes and bales of spring onions. Bakhtior Rakhimov strode down to the bridge, surveyed the free trade and saw that it was good.”
Tim Whewell (BBC Radio 4 “From Our Own Correspondent”, 21st May, 2005)
“Last November, there was an outbreak of social unrest across the Fergana valley following the introduction of the new law which prohibits people to sell any imports unless they had personally and physically imported them. Import restrictions brought economic life in the entire Fergana Valley to a standstill. ‘This is the real motive for the upsurge in Uzbekistan, which is why I'm saying it's a free market revolution, but Bush, Mr. Free Market, is not supporting it,’ said Peter Bohen. ‘And he's not supporting it because the state interests of the United States are opposed to the official ideology of the United States. So, it's very interesting and ironic.’”
The Moonie-funded Washington Times headlined its coverage of the Andijan trial, “Terror charges seen as anti-capitalism tool”  The Libertarian anti-war activist, Justin Raimondo – normally at odds with the Moonie and Murdoch Weltanschauung -declared, “The irony is that here, for once, is a real free-market revolution.” The Uzbek government’s promotion of genuinely productive inward investment like the Daewoo car plant in Andijan is ignored in most reports. Tashkent’s attempts to control cross-border smuggling and to restrict the influx of Chinese textile imports swamping its own important industry were treated as state terrorism. The Guardian complained, “Far from the Uzbek capital, at the eastern extremity of the Ferghana valley, this town [Karasuu] of 20,000 people has died a slow death in the four years since the government began to wreck bridges across the stream that forms the state border. That prevented traders from reaching the bazaar in the nearby Kyrgyz town, Osh, where they can buy Chinese goods at knock-down prices to sell on at home.”
Such was the consensus on the indisputable benefits of free trade in Central Asia that Raimondo even quoted what he usually calls the “War Street Journal” favourably. Fiona Hill of Brookings and IWPR wrote in the Wall Street Journal about the desperate poverty of Uzbeks by comparison with their neighbours before Kyrgyzstan’s poverty-stricken population ousted their “free trade” president, Akaev: “Many work as illegal day laborers in Kyrgyzstan. They steal cotton from the state and smuggle it into Kyrgyzstan to sell, along with fruit and vegetables in the bustling bazaars of Osh, Kara-Suu, and Bishkek.” If Hill is right – "In Uzbekistan today, poverty could easily be confused with government policy – as a tool for social control" – the country is not alone: look at Georgia, the poster-boy of the New Freedom or Moldova, both members of the WTO and both with growing poverty, unemployment, prostitution and de-monetarisation of the rural population especially.
Kyrgyzstan entered the World Trade Organisation as long ago as July, 1998. Instead of boosting the economy of what was then routinely called the “Switzerland of Central Asia,” ending protection for Kyrgyzstan’s few industries saw the country plummet into deeper poverty. In 2000, USAID reported in the dysfunctional schizophrenic language of post-Communist reform: “Though it inherited one of the least efficient and least competitive industrial sectors in the Former Soviet Union, Kyrgyzstan was the first of the Central Asian Republics (CARs) to undertake reform. It has become a "laboratory" for demonstrating that democracy can work in Central Asia. While enjoying overall macroeconomic stability (growth was nearly 7% in 1997), the country's standard of living has fallen since independence and the social costs have been high. There was a recent collapse in the value of the national currency, the sum…” After this exemplary start in Kyrgyzstan, USAID concluded, “The challenge for U.S. assistance is to help the country continue the economic and democratic reforms which have served as an example for the other C[entral] Asian] R[epublic]s.” In Washington, as remote from Central Asia as from reality itself, the USAID report echoed past Soviet propaganda about spreading the benefits of “developed socialism”: “Kyrgyzstan became the first of the Central Asian countries to be afforded full World Trade Organization (WTO) status. They are now positioned to avail themselves of the benefits derived from WTO accession.”
Back in March, 2005, that poverty was widely said to be the cause of the so-called “Tulip Revolution” against President Askar Akaev, yet by May the same journalists who hailed that revolution against economic implosion caused by unbridled “shock therapy” in Kyrgyzstan were calling for a dose of the same medicine as the cure for Uzbekistan’s woes. If ever there was a case of the disease masquerading as its own cure, free trade as the antidote for post-Soviet poverty is certainly the prime candidate.
In 2002, the WTO held a big conference in the capital of Shevardnadze’s impoverished Georgia soon to see the “Rose Revolution” In Tbilisi, MikeMoore, then Director-General of the WTO, set out his vision of one world with Central Asia its fulcrum: “Accession of Central Asian and Caucasus countries is an important further step to reaching full universality in the membership of the WTO. This will be beneficial for the system and for all Members.” Using notional growth rates worthy of the region’s Stalinist past, Moore told his audience, “this region that is growing at a faster pace than the rest of the world. For example, economic models predict growth rates for Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan of 8%. Georgia, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan are expected to average 5% growth”!
The WTO’s chief ideologist then raised the spectre of geopolitics: “Central Asian and Caucasus countries, between Europe and Asia, have always been at the “centre of the world”. Over one thousand years ago, when the Silk Road linked Asia to Europe, many countries from this region formed part of this vital corridor. Sir Halford MacKinder, one of the founders of geopolitics, once theorized that control of the heartland of Eurasia leads to control of the immense Eurasia landmass, and thus to control of the world. Sir Mackinder was right… [!]  Hitler’s ill-fated geopolitical adviser, Professor Haushofer, made this sort of nonsense on stilts popular in Germany seventy years ago. More recently, Zbigniew BBrzezinski had revived it in suitably democratising form.
With neighbouring China now safely inside the WTO too, both Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan face a bleak future if free trade is their response to crisis. Even USAID admits that higher unemployment and social problems would be the immediate effect of Uzbekistan joining the WTO – the very sources of protest in the Ferghana Valley according to most commentators! In the days after the Andijan events, both the EU’s trade commissioner ,Peter Mandelson and US Treasury Secretary John Snow were calling on the WTO to restrict Chinese textile exports! Beijing was pressured to find ways of making its goods more expensive, but only to protect Southern tier EU producers and the USA’s residual industries, not Uzbekistan’s cotton farmers or textile manufacturers. Despite the crocodile tears from Washington and Brussels about the sufferings of the business community in the Ferghana Valley only the benefits of bracing competition were offered to Uzbekistan. The rich West demands that poor developing countries adopt in practice the principles which frequently are merely preached by its representatives, who negotiate special opt-outs from global competition when it gets too tough.
Of course, the imposition of international boundaries after 1991 cutting across old Soviet administrative borders must have disrupted life for many people used to criss-crossing the notional republican frontiers under Communism. However, once the Soviet Union was broken up – to the applause of the very globalisation advocates who now decry the subsequent t creation of independent states – it was impossible to avoid the creation of customs and other border control regimes not least because of the proximity of China’s export industries and Afghanistan’s heroin trade.
 See Tom Parfitt, “If the troops return, we will fight them” in The Guardian (19th May, 2005) http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,3604,1486933,00.html,
 See Tim Whewell, “Uzbekistan’s local rebel”http://newsvote.bbc.co.uk/mpapps/
 See http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,3604,1486933,00.html,
 http://newsvote.bbc.co.uk/mpapps/pagetools/print/news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/ from_our_own_correspondent/4566985.stm,
 See “Uzbekistan’s Economic Revolution” in The Progress Report @ http://www.progress.org/2005/napo05.htm,
 See Christopher Pala, “Terror charges seen as anti-capitalism tool” in The Washington Times (16th May, 2005) http://www.washingtontimes.com/functions/print.php?StoryID= 20050515-103141-9957r,
 See his “The Revolution Betrayed” (20th May) http://antiwar.com/justin/?articleid=6022,
 Emphasis added. See Tim Parfitt, “'If the troops return, we will fight them' Rebel farmer vows to create Islamic caliphate in blockaded border town as international pressure builds on Karimov” http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/ 0,3604,1486933,00.html,
 Quoted in ibid. Emphasis added,
 Emphasis added. See report @ http://www.usaid.gov/pubs/cp2000/eni/kyrgyz.html,
 Moore’s kind words for President Shevardnadze ring hollow now as free trade has a new champion in Georgia! http://www.wto.org/english/news_e/spmm_e/spmm86_e.htm,
 See The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and its Geostrategic Imperatives as a past member of the board of directors of Amnesty International, Dr. Brzezinski is a cutting edge where strategy, consulting and human rights NGOs intersect. http://inter-speak.com /proposal.asp?a=issb&c=009063&s=brzezinski-zbigniew,
 See “Uzbekistan on the Way to WTO” http://www.bearingpoint.uz/files/3/a11.pdf.