Ding-dong, the dictator is dead.
And not too many Uzbeks are mourning his departure.
After nearly a week of global speculation about his health, the government of Uzbekistan finally announced Friday, Sept. 2, that the Central Asian nation’s long-presiding strongman president, Islam Karimov, had died of a brain hemorrhage.
For 27 years, Karimov ruled the 447,400-square-kilometer nation that had once been part of the Turkic Khaganate and later Timurid Empires before being absorbed into the Soviet Union.
But while ostensively Uzbekistan is a republic and Karimov was purportedly elected to his post, the dictatorial leader who came to power during the Soviet era and led the country since its 1991 independence, was anything but democratic.
Known for his free-handed use of torture and the imprisonment of all those who dared to oppose him, Karimov also repeatedly suppressed media freedom and human rights.
In 2005, he allegedly ordered his army to open fire with machine guns on a protest march of more than 3,000 unarmed demonstrators.
Those who survived the gory massacre (at least 700 are believed to have died during the carnage) were either jailed or, according to some accounts, boiled to death as a not-too-subtle warning to future agitators.
During his brutal reign of terror, the West generally turned a blind eye to Karimov’s abuses, a strategic tradeoff for the tyrant’s maintaining of political stability and a firm hand against Islamic jihadism.
Now that Karimov is gone, there is considerable uncertainty as to who will be his successor, since he never groomed an heir to his autocratic regime, but rumor has it that there is already a lot of political sparring going on within his closest circle of Myrmidons.
Unfortunately, whoever ends up taking the helm of Uzbekistan is unlikely to implement more liberal and humanitarian policies.
Under the tutelage of their master, all the contenders for the position were well versed in the art of despotism.
As William Shakespeare once observed, “the evil that men do lives after them,” and the bitter legacy of Karimov’s ruthless authoritarianism is probably destined to live on for at least another generation.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at [email protected].