TASHKENT-FERGHANA, UZBEKISTAN — Uzbekistan, Central Asia’s most populous nation, has had the coldest winter and longest energy shortages in memory. In December and January, at the height of the crisis, people around the country told VOA the government was failing at its basic function — delivering gas and electricity “when most needed.”
“I’ve never been this angry with the state. It has no value for me right now,” said Diyor, 28, an IT specialist in the capital, Tashkent, who like others in this article asked to be identified by only one name for fear of retaliation.
“I understand many of our problems require time to solve, but I refuse to cope with no gas or power at home,” said Diyor “Shouldn’t the state ensure the supply of at least one of these? We pay for them!”
Authorities have attributed the problems to the unprecedented cold weather — what Uzbek media have termed an “anomalous winter” — but the public has not been satisfied with that answer.
“I came back from Europe two years ago believing that Uzbekistan was taking the right direction,” said Yunus, 34, another angry Tashkenter. “I trusted President Shavkat Mirziyoyev when he said we were building a new Uzbekistan. But Uzbekistan has not had gas and electricity for weeks. The government does not seem to care.”
Walking through Tashkent’s central neighborhoods alongside Tashkent Mayor Jakhongir Artikhojayev in December, the president scolded his subordinates for not serving the population. “Because of some irresponsible officials, our entire system gets denigrated,” he said.
Artikhojayev was fired a month later.
Many factors to blame
The government admits this has been a brutal season, with low gas pressure, power cuts and fuel shortages. The Energy Ministry has blamed a long list of factors for the problems: supply not meeting demand, infrastructure failures, production reductions because of extreme cold, import halts, and political and economic challenges.
On January 24, Tashkent signed a “road map” with Russia’s Gazprom that, as Uzbekistan’s Energy Minister Jurabek Mirzamahmudov put it, aims to assess existing pipelines and logistical-technical options. “If they bring the gas to our door for an acceptable price, we will take it, otherwise not,” Mirzamahmudov said of the arrangement.
Explanations from the Energy Ministry that the system is going through extensive reforms have been met with skepticism.
“What reforms? This year’s deficiency has been wider and longer than ever,” said 30-something Sherzod, waiting in a line at least two kilometers long to refuel his car outside Tashkent. “If we are reforming, should not conditions be improving? It’s been like this all winter.”
Throughout January, in Tashkent and other places, VOA heard rural and urban Uzbeks cursing the state and its leadership — not just privately, but on public transportation and in restaurants and teahouses, stores and salons, schools and universities, on the streets and in municipal offices.