Week in Links – Week 33/2011: Ethnic engineering in Osh, privatization in Havana

I should begin by noting that my NRC report on urban displacement in Liberia has now been published in the Journal of Internal Displacement, vol. 1, no. 2. Other articles in the same edition cover the plight of the Sahrawi people in Morocco and provide an assessment of development-induced displacement in the Narmada Valley in India.

A bit of follow-up in the meantime on some stories TN has been following:

– First, the latest Economist (Aug. 13) gives some insights into just how bad things have gotten for the Uzbek minority in southern Kyrgyzstan since the appalling violence last summer that killed hundreds. According to the article (“Kyrgyzstan’s Uzbeks: Weak fences, bad neighbours”), all signs of moderation are now gone.

At the national level, Kyrgyz nationalism is “surging” in advance of October’s presidential elections and the head of the International Commission of Inquiry that found evidence of crimes against humanity undertaken during the pogrom (see TN post here) has been PNG’ed by Parliament.

However, events in Osh, the epicenter of last summer’s violence, are most disturbing. As discussed previously in TN, the Kyrgyz major still appears to have no qualms about using an antiquated master plan as the device for cleansing Uzbek survivors of the violence from their homes and communities in the center of the city:

Last summer, during fighting between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan, over 400 people—mostly Uzbeks—died in places like Cheremushki. Now the local government wants to bulldoze what’s left. Government officials say razing the mahallas is necessary to prevent further bloodletting; the apartment blocks they wish to build (with foreign aid) will force Kyrgyz and Uzbeks to mix.

Uzbeks want to stay put. “I’m afraid to leave my neighbourhood,” says a teenager. “When we complain, officials tell us we’re lucky to be alive,” adds his mother. Osh’s Kyrgyz-nationalist mayor has refused permits for hundreds of Uzbek families who want to rebuild their homes.

Reconstruction is under way in the suburbs, but Uzbeks in central districts like Cheremushki, where 283 houses were destroyed, still live in temporary shelters and face a homeless winter, despite the Asian Development Bank’s allotting $100m for rebuilding. The mayor says he is reviving an old plan designed by the Soviets in the 1970s. Any construction that does not conform to this plan will be deemed illegal.

The scheme appears to be aimed at fortifying a sense of Kyrgyz identity rather than reconciling the two peoples. Osh is erecting monuments to celebrate “Kyrgyzness”, though Uzbeks make up about half the city’s population. Uzbek signs have been vandalised and Uzbeks’ businesses seized. In the sole apartment block built for the families of last summer’s victims, 85% of the flats were given to ethnic Kyrgyz.

– The New York Times recently provided a bit more background on the forthcoming privatization program for housing in Cuba. Counter-intuitively in light of my previous speculation that Government interest in such measures might be motivated by their ability to preclude the historical claims of exile Cubans to nationalized property, the Times now reports that privatization may instead provide a means for prospective gentrification of cities like Havana by comparatively wealthy exiles:

And then there is the role of Cuban emigrants. While the plan seems to prohibit foreign ownership, Cuban-Americans could take advantage of Obama administration rules letting them send as much money as they like to relatives on the island, fueling purchases and giving them a stake in Cuba’s economic success.

– Finally, there is the interesting news that Denmark has accorded a kind of territorial autonomy status to Christiania, a long-established squatter community, alternative lifestyle center, drug market and tourist attraction in Copenhagen. Having been denied land rights in their neighborhood by a court decision last May, the residents have now negotiated an agreement with the government allowing them to buy their own land at subsidized prices and manage their own affairs. Given that Denmark has gone further with its two established territorial autonomies in favor of genuine ethnic and linguistic minorities – Greenland and the Faroe Islands – than any other European country, it will be interesting to see how Christiania fares as a ‘Freetown’ for a rather more self-selecting type of minority.

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