UZBEKISTAN: Interns write dissertations - for others

A blogger writes*: Each year, 20 Uzbek university students who have been studying for nine semesters over four-and-a-half years, undertake internships at the Uzbekistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is a dream of thousands of students as the MFA is considered one of the prestigious places where students can gain experience. But not everything is as good as it seems.

"We were sent to different departments depending on the topics of our thesis papers," says a student from the University of Economy and Diplomacy. "My joy and the happiness of my family did not have any limits! I was already planning my future, seeing it within the walls of MFA."

The first day for Aibek (not his real name) changed his expectations about work in the ministry. He was shocked at witnessing the functioning of a system which, by definition, should "work hard for the country's good image in the political arena of the world". The Asia and Africa Management Department became a shelter for the hero of this story, who shortly after became "an amorphous being" in the ministry's life.

During the following incomplete three months from the beginning of March till mid-May, Aibek's duties included not "introducing professional skills to the future experts in the field of diplomacy and international relations" as is stated in a letter of referral from university. Instead, it consisted of copying documents or shredding them or, at best, taking documents for signature to high officials and translating insignificant texts from English or other foreign languages.

But the most insulting thing for Aibek during his internship was "writing research works" for employees of the department: "I collected material for the deputy director of a department. If the student expresses indignation, it is considered insubordination and he cannot get a good recommendation letter to submit to the university after the completion of the internship.

"In this case, a student can get an unsatisfactory mark for his internship which is fraught with serious consequences and expulsion could be one of them. Can you imagine that? One studies five years and in the end, when she or he is within an inch of getting a diploma, gets expelled for disobeying corrupt orders?"

Aibek had to accept the situation for he had no other choices. He collected material, analysed it and wrote the missing parts of a dissertation. By the end of the internship, except the skills of writing academic works for others who lacked basic writing abilities, Aibek had received nothing.

He was given a plain standard recommendation that allowed him "peacefully to leave" the department - a department that is respected by ordinary people, people who do not work there.

Thus the Ministry of Foreign Affairs loses its future experts who usually change their career goals after the internship - except those who do not have any other choices than working within the walls of a corrupt ministry "representing the interests of Uzbekistan".

This is the way Uzbek MFA employees have their dissertations written for them. It reminds one of university cases when professors, forcing students to turn to them, write their work for money. This is how internal education policy of the Uzbek state structure is organised.

Commenting on the blog, Alisher Taksanov says: "I worked at MFA of Uzbekistan 10 years ago. The post proves that nothing has changed. I was assigned to work at the President's apparatus for three months where I wrote a dissertation on IR for one of the chiefs at the ministry.

"After he defended his dissertation, he was sent to Iran for diplomatic service. When he came back, he was assigned for the position of a Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan. This is a usual thing, therefore I am not surprised. I just regret the wasted time."

* This is a translation of the blog, first published in the Russian language on a site run by Transitions Online (TOL) and neweurasia. The two groups have teamed up to explore what they say is "the vast potential of blogging to act as a cost-efficient, powerful instrument of free speech, free press, advocacy, and self-expression in Central Asia - a region full of countries in dire need of a breath of fresh air alongside their government-controlled media systems".
"The partnership is built on our particular strengths: neweurasia has quickly become one of the leading blogging sites on this region, while TOL has published and promoted local voices from the former Soviet Union since 1999. Our central concept revolves around `bridge bloggers', coordinators who speak both English and local languages and can act as a bridge between the English and local-language blogging communities (`blogospheres').
"They act as mentors to new bloggers, providing ongoing advice on the best blogging practices. Bridge-bloggers are all Central Asian, responsible for developing and maintaining the neweurasia Russian- and Uzbek-language blogs, contributing to the English blogs, facilitating dialogue between languages, and helping in the development of the regional blogospheres outside of the neweurasia/TOL project as well."