By Maksim Yeniseyev
Participants at the Kamolot assembly June 30 in Tashkent applaud President Shavkat Mirziyoyev June 30. [Courtesy of Uzbekistan National News Agency]
TASHKENT -- Uzbekistan is launching a new policy to foster better opportunities for youth and to prevent their radicalisation.
That policy, which includes founding the Union of Youth of Uzbekistan, will increase the role of youth in politics and help protect them from destructive forces, predict Uzbekistani officials and analysts.
Having an effective youth strategy is an "acute" need now when extremists could fill the vacuum, warned Tashkent political scientist Valerii Khan.
"For a long time, Uzbekistan's youth policy has been ineffectively run," he told Caravanserai. "There was Kamolot [a state-supported NGO], but it was very superficial. Nobody ever studied the real problems of youth or was concerned with finding them jobs or giving them social support."
One reform meant to give youth a more prominent place on the government's agenda is the dissolution of the little-regarded Kamolot, which was founded in 2001.
In its place is the Union of Youth, which will have more clout and money because of two reforms, among others: the Union's leader has the status of advisor to President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, and 8% of all taxes paid by small business will go to the body.
At what turned out to be Kamolot's final congress, held in Tashkent June 30, Mirziyoyev criticised the organisation as "superficial" and "ineffective", in a speech broadcast by the Uzbekistan TV channel.
The fledgling Union of Youth will target 12 priorities, which include "defending youth rights, involving youth in reforming the state, raising the standard of living by fostering entrepreneurship and promoting healthy living", Sherzod Mirkamalov, a former official at Kamolot, told Caravanserai.
Another priority, in a country that has seen hundreds of radicalised citizens join insurgencies in Syria and Iraq, is preventing extremist recruitment among the discontented.
"The Union of Youth should pay particular attention to peers who, having lost their way, are becoming victims of terrorist movements," Mirziyoyev said at the June 30 Kamolot congress.
The Union of Youth will help form a strategy to protect against youth radicalisation, according to its founding decree, which Mirziyoyev signed July 5.
"It's essential to define immunisation of youth against ideological threats, especially religious extremism and terrorism, as a priority area of focus," according to his decree.
Battling unemployment that can foster a desire for extremist "solutions" is yet another priority.
"Last year, statistics show, 438,500 out of 477,700 college graduates -- 91.8% -- found jobs," said Mirziyoyev in his televised speech to Kamolot. "But how accurate are these figures ... where are all the unemployed young people coming from?"
"It's tough to find well-paid work," Ayub Faiziyev, 20, of Tashkent told Caravanserai. "It's three times as hard if you're aged 18 to 20. You either need to know someone or have experience that you just can't gain beforehand ... When there's no work, it doesn't make sense to think about starting a family."
The Union of Youth could serve as a catapult for talented young Uzbekistanis who hope to become civil servants or politicians someday.
In an early sign of a "youth movement" that might be coming within government, two very young officials joined the government in early July.
Alisher Sadullayev, 22, became deputy minister of public education July 3, the youngest cabinet member in the country's history.
Olimjon Tuichiyev, 25, became deputy general director of the Agency for Science and Technologies, as media reported July 3.
"All youth need to unite ... We have energy and enthusiasm, and we will fight," said Sadullayev at a July 3 session of the International Press Club in Tashkent, according to gazeta.uz. "If we have to work 24 hours straight, we'll work 25."
The project's goal is to provide surplus hydro-electric power from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to Afghanistan and Pakistan during the summer months.
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