We can question the relevancy of the book title for two main reasons: (1) if we leave aside the chapters 6,7, and 8, the book focus is exclusively on Uzbekistan, (2) if we leave aside chapters 2,3, and 4, the political economy of reform (which can be defined as the analysis of individual uncertainty from reform to link with majority rule) is not the main focus of the book. Like stated in the introduction, “the book deals with the energy resources of the region, and with the challenges of bringing oil and gas to the world markets, and considers whether Central Asian will return to the Russian sphere of influence or seek closer ties with Asia or Europe.” Therefore the political economy of reform (in Uzbekistan) is only broached incidentally. The book is mainly an edited volume of revised papers. After a chapter on the Soviet legacy in Uzbekistan, a chapter on the “Uzbek road” to economic reform and one on the impact of reforms on living standards, the de facto second part is dedicated to a review of human rights issues in Uzbekistan and Central Asia and then to energy issues and finally to regional trade. The chapters on energy and regional trade do not bring original material and are of limited interest if we take into account the vast amount of literature in this area and the supposedly main focus of the book. The main thesis, which can be put in a relativist school of thought, indirectly justifies the “Uzbek road of reform” explaining that with an absence of prior democracy and a limited development of civil society, the need for economic liberalisation was weaker all the more as it was perceived as a possible threat to individual living standards and political stability. The author is therefore critical of international organisations’ policy recommendations. He rightly points out the better outcomes of Uzbekistan in the 1990s and the different initial conditions with countries like Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan: At independence, Uzbekistan was the country in the FSU relying most on agriculture, which had a definite impact on the economic strategy adopted in the early 90s (Alam and Banerjee, 2000). Moreover, thanks to steady rents (cotton and gold) of several billion dollars per year, this has also probably prevented the adoption of a shock therapy in Uzbekistan. We can however regret less analysis on the situation since 2004 and on the economic and social prospects of Uzbekistan. There are few developments on the smuggling activities of inhabitants in the Uzbek Fergana valley and there is not a word on the dozens of thousands of Uzbeks temporary migrants in the neighbouring countries to increase their incomes or on the current wage differentials. Moreover, the chapter on human rights in Uzbekistan could possibly be challenged due to the poor records of Tashkent in this area. In conclusion, this book presents a rather rosy situation on the Uzbek economic and political strategy without addressing the key question of whether current vested interests use the rhetoric given in the book to prevent reforms (which would result in an individual loss for the powerful clans/people currently at the helm in Uzbekistan) and continue to succeed in their strategy.
Gaël Raballand, Observatory of Post-Soviet States, Paris