Fariddin Nasriyev: ‘More people gather at Sabantuy in Uzbekistan than in Russia’
The consul general of Uzbekistan on the cooperation with Tatarstan, help for citizens in Russia, similarity and differences between Tatars and Uzbeks. Part one
“Uzbekistan now is a new Uzbekistan, it is the one that existed just 5-6 years ago. There has been a transition from political to economic diplomacy,” stresses Consul General of the Republic of Uzbekistan in Kazan Fariddin Nasriyev. In an exclusive interview with Realnoe Vremya, the high-ranking diplomat with 20-year experience, including in Brussels, talked about global reforms in his country, support for his numerous fellow citizens and compatriots in Russia as well as the mutually beneficial cooperation with Tatarstan and Russian businesses. The opening of the consulate of this Central Asian republic in our city became a long-awaited event, it provides consular and legal advice across the Volga area and helps the two republics to build bridges because they have so much in common.
We’re the only diplomatic mission to give our citizens money during the lockdown
Mr Nasriyev, the world is going through difficult times today, starting with the coronavirus pandemic. How do Uzbekistan citizens living in Russia respond to these changes?
For the convenience of our citizens, many of whom permanently or temporarily live in Russia, new consulates opened in 2018-2019. Earlier, the consulate general operated in Novosibirsk, a consular department of the embassy worked in Moscow too, they still work. The territory of the Russian Federation is big, while its citizens are located in different places. It would be very inconvenient for them to go to Moscow or Novosibirsk to seek consular and legal advice, certificates, some documents. Long queues were formed.
Uzbekistan now is a new Uzbekistan, it is the one that existed just 5-6 years ago. During this short period under our dear President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, reforms have been made, moreover, in all the spheres. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been reformed too. There has been a transition from political to economic diplomacy and the creation of as comfortable as possible living conditions of our citizens abroad. Consulates general opened in Saint Petersburg, Roston-on-Don, Yekaterinburg, Vladivostok and Kazan — for every federal district. For instance, the consulate general in Kazan covers the entire Volga Federal District, which is 14 regions.
It is necessary to understand that for every citizen his or her problem is the toughest, most urgent, most important. The most difficult period in our work was during the pandemic when some of our citizens turned out jobless for some reason. Many citizens work in the services sphere, and many enterprises closed. Moreover, the borders were closed too. We thank the organisations that met the people halfway. Some paid salaries, some provided them with food.
More than 4,000 of our students study in Tatarstan, mainly at Kazan Federal University. Food was weekly distributed among them. We help them too — provided a one-time payout for everybody, not only students. I can say proudly that we were probably the only foreign consulate in Russia to give its citizens hard cash as assistance.
Was it repayable?
It was non-repayable assistance of the state. For instance, we paid hostels for those who turned out homeless. We fed them, helped to find a job. When the borders were closed because of the pandemic, we were the first to start to take their citizens home in a centralised way. We organised charter flights from the Kazan airport to Uzbekistan. About 5,000 citizens then gathered at the border between Russia and Kazakhstan in Orenburg Oblast at the Mashtakovo checkpoint. I went there, lived with my compatriots for months at these fields. We agreed with our neighbours and Russia so that buses from Uzbekistan could come and take our citizens home.
Russia and Uzbekistan have a lot in common. Our heritage is centuries of fraternal friendship and mutual assistance
Then we started to take people by train, our partners and friends provided great support — Russia, Kazakhstan, Samara and Orenburg Oblasts. Regions helped with meals, put up tent camps. It was a clean field, nevertheless, the locals and regional authorities daily delivered drinking water, bread and hot meals when they could. The nationality, religion wasn’t asked about. Our compatriots from Russia also sent food. We didn’t ask for absolutely anything — people called and offer their help themselves.
This means that Russia and Uzbekistan have a lot in common. Our heritage is centuries of fraternal friendship and mutual assistance. Moreover, Russia is a strategic partner of the Republic of Uzbekistan. Not only our economic but also cultural and humanitarian cooperation consistently develops. In general there is mutual understanding, a friendly attitude, trust-based talks at the top level between the leaders of the countries in all the spheres.
Later when the first wave of the pandemic was over, another demand appeared — to return to Russia, bring our citizens here. We created quotas to attract labour migrants, made invitations, contracts. There are no problems now. There are more than three flights from Kazan now. We have reached the pre-pandemic air travel level. Uzbekistan loves Russian tourists very much. Our country is very sunny, friendly and hospitable. Everybody knows this, there is no need in advertising Uzbekistan in Russia. There is almost no language barrier, but there is all the necessary infrastructure: cultural and educational tourism, health, sports, ecotourism, pilgrimage, ethnographic, gastronomic, skiing tourism — the market has all these offers. A person won’t go to a place where he or she feels bad. This means our people feel comfortable here if they come, work here.
Stable ruble rate in Uzbekistan
What problems have citizens of Uzbekistan faced since the beginning of 2022?
Back to your question, yes, there were problems with money transfers. But now currency rates are stable.
A citizen who is here receives a salary in Russian rubles and has always received it in Russian rubles. In Uzbekistan, there is a national currency, the Uzbek som. Earlier, when sending a part of their salary home, our citizens converted them into dollars first. While their relatives received Uzbek soms in the bank. Now it is unprofitable and senseless. We go to regions, meet and tell people that there is no reason for concern. Money transfers have stabilised, and citizens have nothing to worry about. The ruble rate is also stable in Uzbekistan.
In the last months, we have travelled across the Volga region, we have gone to Samara Oblast, Bashkortostan, some districts of Tatarstan, Ulyanovsk Oblast, Chuvashia. During the visits, we meet with the administration of the region, hold meetings with entrepreneurs in chambers of industry and trade. We are open to entrepreneurs, the market of our republic still has various niches to develop a business. The commodity turnover between our countries increased both during the first year of the pandemic and later. Last year, it rose by 18% to $7 billion. Our goal is to reach $10 billion.
Of course, it is necessary to work with the regions and businesses. Here, we feel good support from the chambers of industry and trade that help us very much, mobilise entrepreneurs. We introduce them literally immediately, help to meet with Uzbek partners and regions. In a word, we do real things. Business needs contracts, then it doesn’t need any help, it shouldn’t be impeded. It is just necessary to put businesspeople in touch, and they will agree themselves and work together further. And the results of this activity are already plain to see.
Also, we meet with our students. About 8,000 of our citizens study at Volga universities. We regularly communicate the course and meaning of the reforms made in Uzbekistan to them so that they are informed, don’t feel far from their homeland so that they know we wait for them. The youth are our future, we need highly qualified specialists. We want them to use their knowledge in the homeland. For this purpose, we always work with institutes, request lists of students, compare the lists of graduates with our enterprises’ needs. It is prestigious for every university that its graduate works by trade. While for us it is an opportunity to meet our enterprises’ needs.
We tell all the citizens, including students that each of them should respect and follow the rules of the country of residence. We tell this to our citizens — labour migrants — too. We go to enterprises, talk with them on construction sites, in the fields and markets or gather them at a separate site. I have been to KAMAZ just recently where over 600 of our citizens work. I met with the management of the enterprise, our citizens, saw their working and living conditions. Every meeting of this kind provides a result. It won’t be possible to see and meet everybody, but those 50-100 people who will come and listen will pass the information, through their friends, chats and social groups. Our citizens come to study and work honestly.
Uzbek Tatars make the tastiest belyash in Uzbekistan
How many Uzbeks live in Russia and Tatarstan?
Perhaps, this question is for the Federal Migration Service, statistic services. I am given different numbers. I can confidently say that there are a lot of compatriots here. And there are a lot of compatriots of yours in our country. For instance, according to some data, about 320,000 Tatarstan live in Uzbekistan — the biggest Tatar diaspora abroad. More people gather at Sabantuy in Uzbekistan than in Russia.
Do you know how to tell an Uzbek from a Tatar in Uzbekistan? Only by the name or last name: Murat is Tatar, Murad is Uzbek. You will be asked about the last letter. Badreddinov is an Uzbek last name, Badretdinov is a Tatar one. You won’t tell this according to the appearance or accent. Uzbek Tatars make the tastiest belyash (Editor’s note: a Tatar national dish) in Uzbekistan.
Do you know how to tell an Uzbek from a Tatar in Uzbekistan? Only by the name or last name
What do Uzbekistan people mainly do in Tatarstan?
They are mostly employed in services and construction. Chefs in the best Kazan restaurants are from Uzbekistan. Not only a low-qualified catering staff but the management are also from Uzbekistan. Of course, we want the qualification and salaries of our compatriots to grow. We also want our people to work officially, pay taxes and earn their money honestly. In this case, problems with unpaid salaries automatically disappear, there is less disagreement between employers and employees because everything is spelt out in contracts.
How many Uzbekistan citizens are registered in the consulate?
Earlier, before obtaining a passport abroad, a citizen had to de-register from Uzbekistan, permanently live here and be registered in the consulate. There is no such thing now, in the last 3-4 years, the consular and legal system has completely changed. Now we make biometric foreign passports for our citizens, renew old driving licences. And this is done quickly enough, the procedure takes no more than one month. You see what conditions our president and government create for the citizens.
We pay for specialists’ training from our public budget according to Russian enterprises’ demand
Enterprises from Russia reach out to us asking to employ our citizens in their enterprises. WorldSkills mono-training centres were created and work in Uzbekistan. We don’t want to employ low-qualified or unqualified workers abroad. We pay for specialists’ training from our public budget according to Russian enterprises’ demand. Here, in Russia, we also have Russian language and WorldSkills competence courses. Our citizens who want to study take the courses for free — we pay for them. We have an agreement with the Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia, which has a lot of branches.
Of course, we want the qualification and salary of our compatriots to grow. We also want our people to work officially, pay taxes and earn their money honestly
We signed an agreement with Kazan Cooperative Institute. Several groups of our compatriots have already completed the studies, several groups are studying. Upon graduation, they are given certificates. Many chose to become cooks.
The industrial giant and pride of Tatarstan KAMAZ also attracts workers from Uzbekistan. An agreement was signed with the Uzbek Agency for External Labour Migration in the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection, in other words, there is a meticulous selection process, workers even do a check-up before going to Russia.
As it is known, Uzbekistan also has an automotive cluster, which was created almost from scratch in the 90s.
Yes, indeed, a lot was done during the independence to develop this sector in our country. In the past, UzDaewooAuto even finished first in foreign car sales in Russia. At the same time, in our republic, the enterprise had almost a monopolist position, which was fixed by high duties on foreign car imports. And today this factory in Asaka city, Andijan, purchased by Chevrolet, is a recognised flagship of mechanical engineering in Central Asia.
Now our government dramatically changed the politics in mechanical engineering. Assembly plants of other brands open, for instance, Kia and Volkswagen. All e-car brands are duty-free. Also, competition develops — KAMAZ, Man, Mercedes, Isuzu, Chevrolet are on the market.
Talking about the cars, I would like to note the good work of Tatneft that has its own petrol stations in Uzbekistan. It is also necessary to mention that Tatneft was the first and yet the only to bring RON100 petrol to Uzbekistan.
(To be continued).