International Digital Conference on Measures taken by Uzbekistan on Tackling the COVID-19 pandemic

Tashkent State University of Oriental Studies, led by the only female Rector in Uzbekistan, Ms. Rikhsiyeva Gulchekhra Shavkatovna, organized an international digital conference through Zoom on Wednesday, 22 April 2020. Under the title 'Measures taken by Uzbekistan in the context of tackling the COVID-19 pandemic' moderators Vice-rector for research and innovation, Mr. Nodir Abdullayev, and Professor Dr. Sayfiddin Juraev brought together 92 participants from Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Pakistan, Egypt, the EU and USA. The 2-hour discussion covered the following topic: 1. Uzbekistan's action to curb the spread of the pandemic and overcome its aftermath, and 2. International cooperation against the pandemic. Mjuša Sever, Director of Regional Dialogue, as one of the partners participated with an analytical presentation of the situation. Organizers also invited Prof. Bojana Beović, MD, PhD, Head of the ID Consultancy Unit at Department of Infectious Diseases of University Medical Centre Ljubljana, who is currently heading the medical support of the crisis management of the government of Slovenia. Regional Dialogue congratulates Tashkent State University of Oriental Studies for this important international initiative. It provided a good start for a more open discussion of different experiences and approaches as we all try to analyze how the post-coronavirus future will affect and change our lives. The University also plans to issue a bulletin with some of the presentations digitally. Below read presentations of authors: Prof. Dr. Sayfiddin Juraev and Mjusa Sever, Director of Regional Dialogue.

Ташкентский государственный университет Востоковедения, под руководительством единственной женщины–ректора в Узбекистане Рихсиевой Гульчехры Шавкатовной организовал международную цифровую конференцию с помощью платформы ZOOM в среду, 22 апреля 2020 года на тему: «Международное сотрудничество в условиях противодействия пандемии коронавируса COVID–19: Узбекистан и международный опыт». Модераторами выступили проректор по исследованиям и инновациям г-н Нодир Абдуллаев и профессор д-р Сайфиддин Джураев, которые собрали 92 участника с докладами из Узбекистана, Казахстана, России, Пакистана, Египта, ЕС и США. Двухчасовая дискуссия была посвящена следующим темам: 1. Предпринимаемые меры со стороны Узбекистана в условиях противодействию пандемии COVID-19. 2 Международное сотрудничество по борьбе против пандемии коронавируса. Мьюша Север, Директор «Регионального диалога», также приняла участие с аналитической презентацией ситуации, а организаторы также пригласили профессора Бояну Беович, доктора медицинских наук, руководителя отдела консультирования по вопросам идентификации в отделе инфекционных болезней Университетского медицинского центра Любляны, который в настоящее время возглавляет медицинскую поддержку антикризисного управления правительства Словении. «Региональный диалог» поздравляет Ташкентский государственный университет Востоковедения с данной важной международной инициативой. Это послужило хорошим началом для более открытого обсуждения различного опыта и подходов, поскольку мы все пытаемся проанализировать, как будущее после коронавируса повлияет и изменит нашу жизнь. Университет также планирует выпустить бюллетень с некоторыми презентациями в электронной версии. Прилагаются две презентации: - профессор д-р Сайфиддин Джураев Мьюша Север, директор «Регионального диалога».

In the Unity of the State and People – a Future Victory

by Sayfiddin Juraev, Doctor of Political Sciences, Professor at TSUOS

Events that began with the discovery of an unknown infection at the end of 2019 in the Chinese city of Wuhan have already touched the entire planet. WHO recognition of the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic meant a systemic global crisis. It must be recognized that under such conditions quick and effective decisions, as well as ensuring their prompt implementation, can not only stop the virus, but also reach a new frontier of development. A preliminary analysis of the ongoing processes shows that in such situations the ones that come out strong are the countries with a strong, centralized, real and capable political system. In this context, the model of Uzbekistan turned out to be indicative and effective. It should be noted that today all over the world, not only politicians and government officials, but also experts, specialists and analysts of various fields are studying this global problem. A comparative analysis shows that Uzbekistan is able to make effective and strategically important decisions aimed at protecting the interests of its citizens and ensuring security and stable development, despite the difficulties encountered.

A new page in political history An important system-forming factor in the rapprochement of the country's leadership with the people is the successful implementation of a new element of the political life of our society – the President’s Message to Parliament. The main provisions of the appeal of the leader of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev to the Oliy Majlis on 24 January this year are distributed as an official document of the 74th session of the UN General Assembly. It has been translated into all official languages of the organization and is also available in the UN Official Document System. This means that the new approach of the President of the Republic in communication with representatives of the people remains one of the most pressing issues on the world agenda. The annual address of the head of state to the deputies of the country has become the basis for a radical modernization of the parliament of the republic since 2017. Over the years, this has created new opportunities for the real growth of the role and importance of the state in the life of ordinary citizens. Each year, the President puts forward new strategic tasks aimed primarily at improving the living standards of the people and offering decent conditions for fruitful activities. As a result, we can now observe an increase in citizens' trust in MPs. The latest address to the Parliament opened a completely new page in the modern political history of Uzbekistan. The main difference of the President’s speech was that this time it was of a strategic nature and was addressed directly to the newly elected parliament of the country, which may have to work with the ideas and directions of political, economic and social development not only in this, but also in subsequent years. The appeal to MPs on the part of the head of state was more sincere than ever. The President is particularly concerned about the speedy resolution of issues such as poverty, bureaucracy, the arbitrariness of officials, the shadow economy, and unemployment. These are the points that primarily disturb ordinary citizens. The leader of the country not only recognized the disastrous effect of these phenomena on society, but also set specific tasks that require immediate execution. “Until all sectors of the population and the best specialists are involved in the fight against corruption, until our whole society is, figuratively speaking, vaccinated with the ‘vaccine of honesty’, we will not be able to achieve our goals. From eliminating the consequences of corruption, we must proceed to its early warning,” the head of state noted and suggested the creation of an anti-corruption agency. The President’s initiative to form such a body is important for economic and social growth, and to strengthen the country's positive image in the international arena. The above examples show not only the patriotism of our leader and his devoted love for his people, but also demonstrate fidelity to this promise to create a transparent government. All this, of course, helps to increase the authority and trust of the people.

Overcoming the pandemic with minimal loss Macroeconomic stability, containing inflation, de-monopolizing industries, abolishing state regulation of prices and eradicating the ‘shadow economy’ are also among the priority areas of state policy. The economic stability of the country is the key to the prosperity of all sectors. The President calls for tightening of control over targets and rational use of budget funds and banking reform. These days we can observe what losses the world economies are suffering. The pandemic forced countries to close state borders and suspend air traffic. In this connection, the pace of world trade sharply decreased. And this entails serious economic losses and risks. In turn, the leadership of our country has shown decisiveness, promptly having worked out a number of important measures aimed at supporting entrepreneurs during the pandemic, thus protecting them from a possible crisis. At a video conference held under the chairmanship of the President on 3 April the head of state noted the need to promote smooth operation of enterprises and full mobilization of all opportunities and reserves. The adopted measures not only help them but are also able to ensure their stability in any situation. The following measures have been taken in order to mitigate the effects of the pandemic: the timely introduction of tax holidays for small and medium-sized businesses: entrepreneurs of the particularly affected industry are exempt from paying land and property taxes until the end of 2020. The social tax rate for them is reduced from 12 to one percent. In addition, the tax on income of individual enterprises that have suspended their activities for the period of the quarantine is suspended. The privileges on the payment of electricity are given, the assistance from the State Fund for Supporting the Development of Entrepreneurship is expanding.

Community support needed No less important are questions of the development of the social sphere. The President gives priority to raising the level of real citizens’ incomes, protecting the most vulnerable segments of the population, and reducing poverty. It is such reforms that are the main criterion for the continued prosperity of the economy. For example, the head of state proposes to solve the poverty problem not by issuing social benefits, but by stimulating entrepreneurial activity, mobilizing the abilities and potential of the population, and creating jobs. The solution of social problems accumulated over many years is not an easy task. The head of state indicates the most important areas of social policy and puts forward targets for 2020. The leader of the country instructed to strengthen support for women and youth, review the procedure for assigning and paying benefits, fundamentally reform the pension system, establish vocational training for the unemployed, provide legal and other advice, make extensive use of advanced forms of social assistance, improve the quality and expand the coverage of medical services.

The last point is more relevant than ever now. Being an integral part of the world community, Uzbekistan, like most other countries, has been confronted with coronavirus. The first infected person was detected in the country in mid-March, but the President initiated a number of relevant measures to prevent the spread of infection in the country at the end of January, when he issued an order ‘On the formation of a Special Republican Commission to prepare a program of measures to prevent the import and spread of a new type of coronavirus in the Republic Uzbekistan’. Domestic doctors, in turn, showed a high level of readiness for such tests. They work tirelessly for the benefit of the health of citizens. On 19 March the President’s Decree ‘On Priority Measures to Mitigate the Negative Impact on the Coronavirus Pandemic and Global Crisis Phenomena’ for the economy was adopted. The document notes that the economy of Uzbekistan, as part of the global economic system, is also affected by negative factors, which requires the adoption of effective measures. Particular attention in such conditions must be paid to supporting and ensuring the sustainability of such rapidly developing sectors of the economy of the republic as tourism, transport, pharmaceutical and textile industries. The measures taken are designed to reduce potential economic losses due to the pandemic. Such a wise approach to solving the global problem reflects the desire of the country's government to take care of the well-being of the people, each citizen individually. The President has repeatedly emphasized that the effectiveness of all reforms is largely determined by four important factors: ensuring the rule of law, combating corruption, enhancing institutional capacity and building strong democratic institutions. The head of the country places particular emphasis on the legal framework, including the independence of the courts and the interests of citizens. This, he said, will find a positive response among foreign investors. Only social and economic justice can make it possible to eradicate unacceptable levels of poverty and corruption in a country. Indeed, in recent years there has been a clear tendency in Uzbekistan to openly discuss and search for solutions to acute problems which were previously ignored. The President has set new strategically important tasks, the completion of which will contribute to the radical modernization of the country, its further integration into the world community, increased prosperity and universal development. The specific political proposals and recommendations put forward by the head of state are distinguished by their eccentricity, sincerity, and pragmatism. They affect not only citizens, but also our partners, neighbors, business people and investors from all over the world. Now Uzbekistan is an active subject of regional policy and is involved in various international processes, which imposes certain obligations. With the introduction of a new format of communication with the parliament, there have been some positive trends that are already becoming sustainable. However, according to the President, the results achieved are only the first steps of many. In fact, the current situation demonstrates a new systematic approach to solving problems while also requiring the active involvement of all segments of the population and its potential in the form of opportunities and resources of subjects of political, economic and social activity. Our people have to go through serious tests, as the reforms that have been launched are fraught with various kinds of difficulties. In this matter, an important role will be played by the system of the population’s feedback on current events, citizen involvement in new stages of reforms and, of course, the degree of their real participation in their implementation. Today we see how rapidly the level of legal literacy among the population is growing. Citizens are not afraid to express their position, to declare urgent problems openly. This indicates that the desire to be a party to innovation and reform is awakening. A radically new approach to party building is required. It is not surprising that the head of the country is paying special attention to increasing the activity of the population and the development of a multi-party system, the media, and civil society institutions. Based on his constitutional powers, the President began to demand from political parties and members of parliament real work and active participation in the reform process. In such conditions, it is necessary to develop and implement real mechanisms for taking into account alternative ideas and proposals aimed at strengthening democratic development, the rule of law and pluralism of opinions. Fierce competition in the world requires producing not only competitive goods and services, but also providing the labor market with appropriate personnel - specialists of all levels and directions.

Reforms for the good of the people This is the priority taken by the President as the basis for the development of a modern Uzbekistan. The ongoing purposeful policy of the leadership of our country, based on the principles of democracy, is yielding results in the form of improving the well-being of the people, providing support to entrepreneurs, women, youth, as well as vulnerable segments of the population. The President has outlined clear objectives for eradicating poverty and improving the fields of education, healthcare, and science. Such good ideas and initiatives are designed to bring Uzbekistan into a number of strong developed countries of the world with a strong and stable economy, where the rights and interests of the people are placed above all else. * * * The coronavirus pandemic gripping the entire planet today has made us seriously think about the fragility of our world. Effective measures in the fields of economy and medicine alone have proved insufficient to preserve it. No less important is the help of society itself, of each citizen individually. This support is expressed in compliance with government regulations. It is important to understand that they were introduced in order to protect citizens from the adverse outcome of events. The leadership of Uzbekistan has taken a very serious and responsible approach to combating the spread of the virus. But one thing is required of us – to unite and demonstrate unity in this difficult period.

Analytical Presentation

by Mjuša Sever, Director of Regional Dialogue

I am the Director of the non-governmental organization Regional Dialogue, funded by the US State Department's INL and DRL bureaus, with a head office in Slovenia and a branch office in Uzbekistan since the beginning of 2011. I want to focus on some positive aspects and mention some biggest challenges of this period from the point of civil society and the non-governmental sector as I perceived them as an individual and as a manager of a medium sized organization.

What are some of the issues that became obvious is this period?

It is very important to have proper crisis management and risk mitigation capacity on all levels – individually, in family, in organizations, in neighborhoods, on local and state levels. Latest experiences show that many countries have to do more in proper planning, not just for good scenarios, but also for some more challenging ones. More centralized cultures had a somewhat easier job to order a lockdown, but they had a problem publicly and timely admitting the new reality and risks involved, while more decentralized societies that privilege individual rights generally had a harder time with a more unified approach ordering self-isolation and strict quarantine.

To assist the population in adjusting and making responsible decisions it is very important to provide them with timely, accurate and properly communicated facts and information. Here I would like to commend both Uzbek media and the Uzbek crisis team for their proper and efficient public communication in responding to this crisis once they understood it was inevitable. Equally, I would like to commend my own government on proper and efficient crisis management.

Medical assistance - Safety of the people is the first priority of every society and the most basic human right. Yet, as it turned out, medical assistance is not equally and adequately available to all populations. In many countries proper skills, staffing and medical equipment are lacking. This lesson should lead governments to adjust political priorities and develop proper conditions in support of medical institutions and education.

Globalization, the negative effect of which was the fast global spread of the epidemic, has now made travel out of reach for all of us; but the information age also enables the crucial and helpful flow of information even under new conditions of unprecedented international lockdown. Thanks to digital technologies and different social platforms, globalized communication has become much more important even without the ability to travel normally. As we see with this conference initiated by our Uzbek hosts, maybe, by the example of Uzbekistan, this new level of international openness may eliminate vast red tape and bureaucracy that usually block important actions in some countries, and, let's face it, presents a heavy burden on all our state budgets.

Most countries, even in the most developed world, were taken by surprise. This encourages all our societies to pay more attention to crisis management on all levels in the future and give more credit to scientists, and raise our medical literacy or basic health awareness. We now hear that a possible global pandemic has actually been suggested in the past years as a very realistic option. Yet it seems most countries and politicians ignored these warnings and were taken by surprise – not ready to act or do so early enough.

The switch to digital workflow is affecting all education and workforce, and depends on the technological infrastructure and digital literacy of the population. This offers a special advantage to the younger population and can be good news. It also reveals a big need to assist the older population to better adjust to the new digitized world and for states to speed up infrastructure around the country, including rural regions.

What are the lessons learned that may affect our lives in the future? Social distancing – whether we speak about boarding a plane, or shopping in the stores or bazaars, and all social crowd activities – cultural, ceremonial, religious, educational and sporting activities – will have to change and adapt to new realities, accounting for new risks in our socializing.

Living in big cities v. life in rural environments – in this quarantine period, our ranking perceptions of the pros and cons of our best choice of residence have changed. Crowded cities seem to be paying a higher price in loss of life.

Last but not least, we will all have to get used to different economic conditions. I am not an economist, so I will only add a thought here. In this period we have learned that we actually need much less than what we thought was necessary. That can have an enormous impact on all our economies, but it will also lead to a new dynamic in our everyday lives. Many of us, especially younger people, feel that we need to change our mentality of consumerism and – for the good of our planet in this globalized world –start focusing more on quality instead of quantity, on core values rather than on image and outside perception. Fewer products lead to less pollution, and this might actually lead to a better quality of life for all of us.

In conclusion: What changes can we expect in the future that will affect our way of life and doing business:

1. International cooperation, and international politics will inevitably have to change after this global crisis. This virus proved that there actually are no limitations among national borders. We are therefore de facto responsible for each other also beyond our national borders.

2. Between pessimistic and optimistic predictions, we can imagine both negative and positive aspects. Negative ones include financial breakdown of some sort, international crime as most probable consequence, other health epidemics, natural disasters – none of this stops at national borders. On the positive, neither do scientific, communications and technological discoveries and innovative and creative mindsets.

Our travel plans will have to adapt to new global conditions; our consumer habits will have to change, our working style and approaches to general education on all levels will change; our financial spending dynamics will be different and our appreciation of medical and scientific discoveries will become heightened in our general awareness.

Hopefully, this will lead to changes in more interdependent political, macroeconomic and financial management both on national and international levels. In accordance with a new post-coronavirus global reality, the younger population will take the lead in many areas of technological and political mainstream, since it is becoming clear that the traditional way of running our societies is outdated and will have to be adapted to the new reality. This epidemic will no doubt lead to substantial changes, hopefully also to a more responsible international and national decision making and to better planning of our social and individual priorities.

The post-coronavirus period presents us with big international and national challenges, but it also offers many new opportunities. Our rational and emotional approaches to the post-coronavirus world on individual, social, macroeconomic and political levels will determine not just the future quality of our own lives, but maybe also define the ultimate survival of the human race and that of our planet.

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