National holiday celebrates teachers

October 11, 1996

Uzbekistan president Islam Karimov has proclaimed a new national holiday to be celebrated on October 1. The decree creating "Teachers and Instructors Day" evidently came too late for this year.

The 1997 festivities will honour not only those directly involved in teaching, but also all those involved in work with children and adolescents and who "support their health, physical and spiritual improvement".

The day is part of a nationwide programme to foster "high spiritual values" and cultivate in young people a spirit of patriotism, respect for their cultural heritage and devotion to the ideals of independence.

It envisages special cultural tourism programmes for students and young people, financing for special teaching aids, and tax breaks for the organisation and publishing house assigned to spearhead the campaign.

Abdulaziz Kamilov, Uzbekistan's foreign minister, said that the decree will not lead to "closed" or obscurantist education.

Speaking at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London last week, he said that "spiritual values" meant first and foremost a knowledge of Uzbekistan's history and traditions, free from Soviet distortions while patriotism meant an understanding of the significance of the country's independence.

"But we also want our young people to know and understand the cultures of all other civilised states," he said. "We want young people with ideas, who can work in the modern world."

The decree also includes what amounts to a purge of local government. Certain high and medium heads of administration, says the decree, have "still not managed to rid themselves of the dogmas of the old totalitarian, dictatorship ideology".

Therefore, during the remaining months of this year, all local leaders are to undergo "spiritual ideology tests" and will presumably be replaced if they fail.

"Spiritual and patriotic" education has an ominous ring in Western ears, particularly in view of events in neighbouring Afghanistan where the Taliban militia is reported to have closed the university and barred women from education. "Spiritual" in the post-Soviet sense has a much broader meaning than in the West and includes "intellectual" or "cultural" values. Despite the emphasis in the decree on "our rich cultural heritage and historical traditions" there is not a single reference in it to the fact that that past was rooted in Islamic tradition.

The "centres of spirituality", which it urges students to visit, will doubtless include some of the country's surviving mosques but the emphasis is on history and patriotism, rather than religion.

Putting the decree into practice, both as regards educational work and the ideological testing of officials, will be the task of an existing organisation, the Public Centre for Spiritual Enlightenment. Its status, resources and financing will be upgraded accordingly.

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