Earlier this week my colleague Barbara called attention on this blog to the trial taking place in France, where Lola Karimova-Tillaeva, the daughter of Uzbek President Islam Karimov, is suing a French online publication for calling her father a dictator (how could they?) and other supposedly incorrect, libelous information.

I wanted to follow up because Nadejda Atayeva, an Uzbek activist whom Barbara quoted, posted additional, controversial information about the trial on her blog yesterday. Nadejda, whom I know and admire for her feistiness in fighting for greater democracy in her home country, raises a range of troubling questions about the EU’s activities within Uzbekistan.

Evidently to burnish Karimova-Tillaeva’s reputation (she is already her country’s permanent representative to UNESCO), her lawyer referred to a letter from Europa House, the liaison office of the European Union to Uzbekistan. The letter praises the activities of Karimova-Tillaeva’s charity, the Republican Center for Social Adaptation of Children, and notes that the center was recently been awarded a grant of 3.7 million euros.

Nadejda then makes clear that this is far from an independent organization, but a prime example of a GONGO, a state-created NGO operating in close cooperation with the authorities and clearly with their blessing.

1. First of all, we are concerned that funds allocated by the European Union and other foreign donors may be used for purposes other than their originally stated one, which may include for Lola Karimova’s self-promotion and for promotion of the autocratic regime which she represents.

These concerns are bolstered by the fact that information about the Center’s activities are not posted on the website of the organization itself (as there is no such site), but on the personal site of Lola Karimova-Tillaeva (http://www.lolakarimova.cz).

2. Does the European Union understand the nature and circumstances of the Center, to which it has given a significant amount of funding?

If the European Union believes that the Republican Center for Social Adaptation of Children is a true representative of civil society in Uzbekistan, then they are seriously mistaken.

To be clear: Nadejda isn’t suggesting that such grants should never be made. That needs to be part of a larger discussion on how you reach vulnerable groups (i.e. children) with well-needed funds in closed societies—especially when such donations can then be turned around and used by the regime for propaganda purposes. But she does raise questions about the transparency of such organizations and whether the EU is taking special measures to be sure the money is used properly. I also wonder.

More amusing, but no less scandalous, is the question of how much Italian actress Monica Bellucci was paid to attend a charity event organized by Karimova-Tillaeva in February 2010 at the Versailles Palace.

Estimates mentioned during the trial put the fee at around 200,000 Euros. That has prompted Nadejda to assume that such a sum didn’t come directly from Karimova-Tillaeva’s pocket and to ask the following questions:

Ms. Bellucci, upon taking money from Lola Karimova, were you aware of the fact that the money given to you came from the budget of a charitable organization, which was supposed to provide assistance to children with disabilities? By giving this money to you, Lola Karimova deprived hundreds of children in need with the possibility of receiving much needed assistance. If you were not aware then, do you realize this now? What will you now do with these funds?

I think I’d make this a little simpler since we can’t be sure that the funds actually came from the charity organization (the children of authoritarian leaders have been known to have extensive sums at their disposal). I’d just want to hear if Bellucci knew anything before attaching herself to such an event about Karimova-Tillaeva, Karimov, Uzbekistan, child labor in the cotton fields, prison torture, Andijan, that kind of thing.

I’m also very curious (but haven’t had time to check out yet) why Karimova-Tillaeva’s website has a Czech domain. It just seems bizarre why such a site would be based here in the Czech Republic, of all places. The site is actually quite well done for a Central Asian puff site and the English is much better than one can normally find on such pages. You can read here about the “The Woman,” as the section is called:

As Uzbekistan’ s permanent representative to UNESCO, Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva is playing an increasingly prominent role in promoting the centuries-long heritage of Central Asia in Europe, the goal primarily aimed at advancing a better understanding between civilizations and respect for their values.  
And about her country:

Uzbekistan has come far since then as independence opened up new opportunities for the country with important reforms launched in the political, social, economic fields as well as in the fields of education and sports…Since gaining its independence, under the leadership of the President Islam Karimov the country has seen large-scale work to revive and further develop the country’s rich historic and cultural heritage.

And I’ll just end with this pearl:

Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva has always adhered firmly to her belief that education, culture and sports are key factors in promoting peace and tolerance, and function as a bridge between civilizations, helping to overcome ignorance and stereotypes.

Photo of Nadejda Atayeva from her blog. Bellucci photo from WikiCommons (credit: Manfred Werner – Tsui).

Jeremy Druker

Jeremy Druker is the executive director and editor in chief of Transitions Online. Twitter: @JeremyDruker Email: jeremy.druker@tol.org

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