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Uzbekistan is a tourist country

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Since ancient times, Uzbekistan has been in the center of Great Silk Road and has a great historical, cultural and architectural heritage. Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva are the brands of the ancient culture of the East. The landscapes of mountains and deserts of Uzbekistan attract attention and admiration of the Internet community. Therefore, the tourism potential of this country can hardly be overestimated and the government is making significant efforts to develop it, writes Khasanjon Majidov, Leading Researcher at the Centre for Economic Research and Reforms.

Explosive development of tourism

At the beginning of 2016, a process of radical reform of the tourism industry was launched in Uzbekistan. More than 60 regulations were adopted related to the development of tourism industry during the 2016-2020.

The visa regime between the countries was simplified. In 2018, Uzbekistan introduced a visa-free regime for citizens of 9 countries, in 2019 for citizens of 47 countries, in 2020 - 2021 another 5 countries. As of May 10, 2021, the number of countries for citizens of which a visa-free regime is granted in the Republic of Uzbekistan is 90 countries.

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In addition, citizens of about 80 countries have the opportunity to apply for an electronic visa in a simplified manner. Five new types of visas have been introduced for foreigners: "Compatriot", "Student", "Academic", "Medicine" and "Pilgrimage". According to the Ministry of Tourism and Sports of the Republic of Uzbekistan, the simplification of the visa regime has yielded positive results. In particular, in 2019, if the average growth in the number of foreign tourists was 26%, then the growth rate among the countries where the visa-free regime was introduced reached 58%.

The government took comprehensive measures to develop tourism infrastructure. Firstly, 22 types of requirements regulating the activities of hostels related to the type of budget housing have been canceled. In particular, the procedure for mandatory certification of hotel services provided by hostels has been canceled and the practice of working with a unified register of guest houses and hostels has been introduced. Secondly, in order to increase the number of small hotels, entrepreneurs were provided with 8 standard projects of small hotels up to 50 rooms free of charge and this measure is developed based on the experience of Turkey and South Korea.

As a result, the number of placements in the country has increased dramatically. In particular, from 2016 to 2020, accommodation places increased from 750 to 1308 and the number of guest houses increased 13 times to 1386. Their number is planned to be increased to 2 thousand.

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As a result of the reforms in the tourism sector from 2016 to 2019, the number of tourists increased from 2.0 million to 6.7 million. The dynamics of the increase in the number of foreign tourists in 2019 compare to 2010 amounted to a record 592% (an increase of more than 6 times). It is noteworthy that the growth in the number of tourists from different regions occurred in different ways. For example, the number of visitors from Central Asian countries increased by an average of 22-25% per year, while the annual growth among tourists from non-CIS countries was 50%. At the same time, positive results were noted in domestic tourism. Compared to 2016, the number of domestic tourists in 2019 almost doubled and amounted to 14.7 million.

Impact of the pandemic

It should be noted that due to the restrictions imposed against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic and the consequences of the global crisis, the tourism industry has suffered serious losses. In particular, the number of foreign tourists visiting Uzbekistan decreased by more than 4.5 times, to 1.5 million, and the volume of tourist services fell to $261 million in 2020.

Taking into account the current situation, the “Uzbekistan project” was developed. Safe travel guaranteed ("Uzbekistan. Safe travel guaranteed"), which is a new system of sanitary and epidemiological safety for tourists based on world standards. Certification of tourism objects and related infrastructure, tourism services based on new sanitary and hygienic requirements for all state border posts; air, railway and bus stations; objects of tangible cultural heritage, museums, theaters, etc. To mitigate the consequences of the pandemic for the tourism industry, the Safe Tourism Fund was formed at the expense of an initial contribution from the Anti-Crisis Fund, as well as payments for passing voluntary certification implemented within the framework of the “Uzbekistan. Safe travel GUARANTEED ".

Tourism players received a number of benefits and preferences to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The income tax rate was reduced by 50% of the established rates, they were exempted from paying land tax and property tax of legal entities and the social tax was set at a reduced rate of 1%. They also partially reimbursed interest expenses on previously issued loans from commercial banks for the construction of accommodation facilities and expenses for renovation, reconstruction and expansion of the material and technical base. Subsidizing accommodation facilities is provided in the amount of 10% of the cost of hotel services from June 1, 2020 to December 31, 2021. In total, 1,750 tourism entities received benefits on property tax, land and social taxes in the amount of about 60 billion soums.

Diversification of directions

In recent years, Uzbekistan has been focusing on the diversification of tourism services and the development of new types of tourism. In particular, much attention is paid to increase the flow of tourists through MICE tourism, which is organizing various tournaments, meetings, conferences and exhibitions in Uzbekistan. The traditional sports tournament "Game of Heroes" in Khorezm, the "Art of Bakhchichilik" festival in Surkhandarya, the "Muynak-2019" rally in Karakalpakstan and others have been held. The government approved the Action Plan for the development of MICE tourism in Uzbekistan.

Film tourism is an important tool for shaping the country's image, providing information to potential tourists. For the development of film tourism in Uzbekistan, a regulation has been developed on the procedure for reimbursing part of the costs ("rebate") of foreign film companies when creating audiovisual products on the territory of Uzbekistan. Moreover, foreign film companies have released films such as Basilik, Khuda Hafiz and Al Safar. Last year, foreign film companies shot 6 feature films in Uzbekistan.

Pilgrimage tourism. In order to create special convenience for those visiting Uzbekistan for the purpose of pilgrim tourism, new requirements have been introduced for hotels, a map of the country's mosques has been developed and posted in the mobile application. The first Pilgrimage Tourism Forum was held in Bukhara and 120 foreign guests from 34 countries took part.

Medical tourism. In Uzbekistan, measures are being taken to develop medical tourism and attract more tourists to medical organizations. In 2019, the number of foreign citizens visiting Uzbekistan for medical purposes exceeded 50 thousand. In fact, this number can be higher, since determining the number of tourists visiting private medical clinics is still a difficult task.

Conclusion

In recent years, Uzbekistan has been recognized as the best travel destination in the world by The Guardian, the fastest growing country in the eyes of Wanderlust and the best growing tourism destination according to Grand voyage. As a result of consistently implemented measures, Uzbekistan has climbed 10 positions (22 places) in the Global Muslim Tourism Index, compiled by Crescent Rating. In addition, the World Tourism Organization ranked Uzbekistan 4th in the list of the fastest growing countries in the tourism sector.

In conclusion, it should be noted that the tourism of Uzbekistan needs to transform its business models through innovation and digitalization. It is necessary to develop such market segments as agro and ethno tourism.

Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan's efforts to support young people and promote public health

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At the initiative of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the year 2021 has been declared in the country as 'The Year of Support of the Youth and Strengthening of Public Health' with large-scale reforms and noble deeds being implemented across the country.

It is worth mentioning that various ministries and agencies of Uzbekistan are taking active part in such initiatives along with the general public of the country.

One of such noble projects has recently been implemented by the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Uzbekistan. In order to support the initiative of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan – the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the Uzbek MoD has provided a practical assistance to Ms. Maftuna Usarova, an Uzbek citizen who was diagnosed with an extremely rare disease – the Takayasu syndrome several years ago.

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Maftuna Usarova

Since 2018, Maftuna has undergone several treatment courses in a number of hospitals in Uzbekistan, including the Central Military Clinical Hospital of the Ministry of Defense, and her condition has improved significantly. However, to continue the treatment process without interruption and consolidate the progress achieved, Maftuna needed treatment with the use of state-of-the-art technologies which are available only in a few countries of the world.

With a view to efficiently executing the tasks defined by the Commander-in-Chief, the MoD ensured that Maftuna was admitted in Asklepios Klinik Altona Hospital in Germany to receive treatment that she needed.

The Asklepios Klinik Altona is Europe’s largest medical concern, covering all areas of medical specializations and having more than 100 medical institutions at its disposal. In Hamburg alone, there are six clinics with almost 13,000 medical staff including 1,800 doctors.

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Thanks to the efforts of the Ministry of Defense of Uzbekistan, Maftuna Usarova underwent a two-week treatment course in August 2021 at Asklepios Klinik Altona and was able to significantly improve her condition. At the same time, the treating doctors expressed their readiness to provide an appropriate medical recommendations as necessary even after the Maftuna’s discharge and return to Uzbekistan.

The staff of the Embassies of the Republic of Uzbekistan in Belgium and Germany were closely involved in this noble project. In particular, diplomatic missions provided support to ensure that the patient enjoyed the highest quality services.

In conclusion, one might say that large-scale reforms initiated by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev are giving their results with thousands of people now enjoying high quality medical services.  

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Uzbekistan presidential elections are likely to be an acid test for the country’s future course

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As Uzbekistan is on the verge of the upcoming presidential elections set for 24 October, the international community is concerned about the country’s further political course. And for a good reason, writes Olga Malik.

The changes brought by current president Shavkat Mirziyoyev demonstrate a real break with the country’s past. Published in 2017, the Mirziyoyev’s Development Strategy for 2017-2021, aimed to “modernize and liberalize all spheres of life” e.g. state and society; rule of law and the judicial system; economic development; social policy and security; foreign policy, nationalities and religion policies. The proposed steps included the lifting of foreign currency con­trols, tariff reduc­tions, the liberalization of the visa regime and many more.

Such rapid changes were in a big contrast with the conservatism of Islam Karimov, the country’s former President and quickly became the point of interest for European countries and the United States. Earlier last month, Secretary of State Antony Blinken during the meeting with Uzbekistan Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov stressed the “Uzbekistan’s progress on its reform agenda, including when it comes to combatting trafficking in persons, protecting religious freedom and expanding space for civil society”. However, he also called for “the importance of promoting the protection of fundamental freedoms, including the need to have a free and competitive electoral process”, alluding to the country’s authoritarian political regime. The country’s authorities as well as the ministries confirm they get loads of recommendations every year from Western partners on how to assure and maintain a more autonomous civil society system.

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Yet, such “overcare” for the Uzbekistan’s democracy and liberty coming from the outside might provoke a reverse effect considering the national pride and independent spirit. For instance, the push for integration of such social values as support of sexual minorities and gay marriages common for European and Western countries may lead to the split in the society as such standards still remain aloof to the Uzbek mentality. The Uzbekistan’s path for liberalization is largely dependent on the national leader’s views while the outside soft power methods will only work when the local people are still given enough of freedom to draw the country’s further compass. The upcoming elections will likely be an acid test for the country’s future.

By Olga Malik

For EU Reporter

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Electoral process transformation in Uzbekistan: Achievements and challenges during 30 years of independence

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"Uzbekistan is a country with rich history and dynamically developing present, with its priority to move towards an open democratic society. Human and civil rights and freedoms where the voice of every citizen is heard are the priorities for a democratic society. A democratic society exists when power is formed legitimately through universal suffrage and free elections. Democratic society and democracy are more often exercised as a political and social phenomenon; its legal foundations are enshrined in normative legal acts," writes Dr. Gulnoza Ismailova, member of the Central Election Commission of Uzbekistan.

"The preamble to the Constitution of the Republic of Uzbekistan affirms its commitment to the ideals of democracy and social justice. Article 7 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uzbekistan states: "The people are the sole source of state power. This norm reflects the essence of building statehood in the Republic of Uzbekistan. The people and their will are the core of democracy.

"Recognizing the priority of the generally accepted norms of international law Uzbekistan has implemented international standards into its legislation. The Constitution of our country has implemented this provision, reflecting in Article 32: All citizens of the Republic of Uzbekistan shall have the right to participate in the management and administration of public and state affairs, both directly and through representation. They may exercise this right by way of self-government, referendums and democratic formation of state bodies, as well as development and improvement of public control over activities of state bodies.

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"In modern democracies, elections are the foundation of the principle of democracy, it is the main form of expression of the will of citizens and a form of realization of popular sovereignty. Participation in elections makes it possible to exercise the right to participate in the management of the affairs of society and the state, as well as to control the formation and activities of bodies of both representative and executive power. Paragraph 6 of the 1990 OSCE Copenhagen Document establishes that the will of the people, freely and fairly expressed through periodic and genuine elections, is the basis of the authority and legitimacy of the government. The participating States will accordingly respect the right of their citizens to take part in the governing of their country, either directly or through representatives freely chosen by them through fair electoral processes. Article 117 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uzbekistan guarantees the right to vote, equality, and freedom of expression.

"On the verge of celebrating the 30th anniversary of the independence of the Republic of Uzbekistan, looking back, we can note its bright breakthrough in the field of transparency and openness over the past five years. Uzbekistan has acquired a new image in the international arena. By the 2019 elections held under the slogan 'New Uzbekistan – New elections' is real evidence for that.

"First of all, it should be noted that the elections-2019 were of historical importance, which testified to the irreversibility of the path of adopted reforms. For the first time, the elections were held under the guidance of the Electoral Code, adopted on June 25, 2019, which regulates relations related to the preparation and conduct of elections and establishes guarantees that ensure the free expression of the will of citizens of the Republic of Uzbekistan. The adoption of the Electoral Code served to unify 5 laws and many regulatory documents. The Electoral Code has been fully brought into line with international standards.

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"Secondly, the 2019 elections were held in the context of strengthening democratic principles in the life of society, openness and transparency, significant liberalization of the socio-political environment, and the increased role and status of the media. The principle of transparency and openness is one of the fundamental principles of elections. This principle is enshrined in many international agreements and documents. Its main features are the promulgation of decisions related to the conduct of elections, the obligation of the electoral body (election commission) to publish its decisions on the results of the elections, as well as the ability to carry out public and international observation of the elections.

"Following the statistics, about 60,000 observers of political parties, more than 10,000 observers of citizens' self-government bodies (Mahalla), 1,155 representatives of local and foreign media took part in the monitoring process. In addition, along with local observers, first-time accreditation was granted to a full-fledged OSCE / ODIHR observer mission, and a total of 825 international observers were registered.

"For an objective assessment, we may refer for an example to the Final Report presented by the OSCE / ODIHR Mission, which says that the elections were held against the backdrop of improved legislation and increased tolerance for independent opinions. The report assessed the work of the CEC of the Republic of Uzbekistan positively, saying it "made great efforts for better preparation for the parliamentary elections." It is amazing to see the results of the work done.

"In the year of the celebration of the 30th anniversary of state independence, our country continues cardinal transformations aimed at creating a New Uzbekistan, where human rights, freedoms, and legitimate interests are of the highest value. Among the most important directions in the country are democratic transformations aimed at liberalizing social and political life, and freedom of the media.

"These days, preparatory work is in full swing for an important political event – the election of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan. All processes are conducted openly, transparently, and based on the national electoral legislation and the time frames specified therein. The time for electoral action is both political and legal time. The following changes and additions have been made to the Electoral Code recently this year:

"Primarily, this year, for the first time, presidential elections will be held on the first Sunday of the third decade of October, under the amendments to the Constitution of the Republic of Uzbekistan introduced by the law dated by February 8 this year. This major political campaign was launched on July 23 this year.

"Second, a procedure for the inclusion in the voter list of the citizens of Uzbekistan who live abroad has been introduced. They can vote regardless they are registered in the consular register of diplomatic missions or not, and a legal basis for voters abroad when using portable ballot boxes at the place of residence or work has been created. This practice was first implemented in the 2019 parliamentary elections.

"Third, this election campaign operates and is formed on the principles based on publicity; for the first time, an estimate of expenses for the preparation and conduct of elections of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan was openly presented. The exact procedure for paying wages and compensation to members of election commissions, calculating their salaries has been established. To ensure transparency in the use of funds allocated for pre-election campaigning in accordance with the Law on the Financing of Political Parties, a procedure is being introduced for announcing an interim report and a final financial report after the elections, as well as announcing the results of an audit of parties' activities by the Accounting Chamber.

"Fourth, to prevent the receipt of repeated complaints against the election commissions, and their adoption of conflicting decisions, the practice has been introduced that only courts consider complaints about the actions and decisions of election commissions.

"In 2019, during the elections, the Electoral Management Information System (EMIS) and the Unified Electronic Voter List (EECI) were successfully introduced into the national electoral system. The regulation of this system based on the Electoral Code guarantees the implementation of unified voter registration and the principle 'one voter – one vote'. To date, more than 21 million voters have been included in the EESI.

"The organization of presidential elections in New Uzbekistan is a logical continuation of the ongoing large-scale democratic reforms in the country. And they will become a vivid confirmation of the implementation of the tasks defined in the Action Strategy for the five priority areas of development of the Republic of Uzbekistan.

"The participation of representatives of international organizations and foreign observers in holding the presidential elections is important as the campaign is based on democratic principles of openness and publicity. In recent years, their number and participation have significantly increased in Uzbekistan, compared to previous elections.

"Thousands of representatives of political parties, citizens' self-government bodies and hundreds of international observers, journalists, including international ones, will observe the process of preparation and conduct of the presidential elections, including the voting of voters.

"In May, experts from the Needs Assessment Mission of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) visited Uzbekistan, who positively assessed the pre-election situation and the process of preparing for the elections, the measures taken to ensure the holding of free and democratic elections in the country. As a result, they expressed an opinion on sending a full-fledged mission to observe the presidential elections.

"I believe that these elections are of historical importance, which will testify the irreversibility of the path of adopted reforms, which aimed at strengthening our democracy."

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