Earlier this month, Freedom House announced that it was adding Uzbekistan to its list of least-free nations on Earth, joining 16 peers as places without meaningful freedom of any kind. It is now officially of a rank that includes Saudia Arabia, Eritrea, and North Korea, among others.
The fact that Uzbekistan has only now joined this exclusive list says more about Freedom House than it does about Uzbekistan.
Islam Karimov’s reign has been nothing short of (and indeed a long ways past) a disaster. Political freedom of every kind is functionally non-existent. Religious freedom is a joke. Uzbekistan’s belief in free markets might be summarized as a belief in freely selling itself to whatever great power needs it and can supply capital at any given time; real markets, with real civil society, are at best irregularly tolerated.
It is not clear why Freedom House has waited so long to add Uzbekistan to this list. Its track record in the former Soviet Union has been hit-or-miss — note that its only offers a tiny space between Ukraine, where anti-government protests occur weekly, and Turkmenistan, where anti-government protesters are imprisoned weekly — but by any standard, the delay is bizarre.
Whatever its rationale for its tardiness, Freedom House has provided a brief but valuable public service by reminding the world that there are some parts of the former Soviet Empire where nothing has changed, decades later — and absent more spotlights, and more engagement by the world, nothing will.