Russian state agency Rossotrudnichestvo announced cutting ties with Sherzodkhon Qudratkhoja, rector of Uzbekistan’s Journalism and Mass Communications University and chairperson of the National Mass Media Association. The agency, overseeing cooperation with the Commonwealth of Independent States, Russian citizens living abroad and international humanitarian cooperation, made this decision after Qudratkhoja’s interview to Kirill Altman’s Alter Ego project.

“I am not Russophobic”

In the interview, Qudratkhoja commented on an incident from September 2018, when during an argument with an elderly woman, he asked her to speak in Uzbek. The incident prompted diverse reactions from Internet users, with some accusing him of nationalism, while others supported his stance.

“I believe that I was right. I have not changed my opinion at all, especially now, after the statements of these Prilepin, … Smolin (Russian politicians, the former said Russia should annex former Soviet republics, while the latter said Uzbeks had not existed before the 1917 October revolution — I realized that I was right,” he said.

The journalist claimed the woman shouted at hokim of Yunusabad district, “told me to speak Russian”, and “slapped me”. In response, Qudratkhoja asked her to speak Uzbek, a move that led to accusations of nationalism.

“She said she would complain to the Russian embassy. I asked, what the Russian embassy had to do with it. She answered that she would complain to Putin. I continued with ‘What's Putin got to do with it? You have a different president.' Then came the attack on me,” he shared.

According to him, the “compromising” video of the incident was published by someone “for 10,000 bucks”.

“That's when society split into two groups: those supporting me, saying ‘He's right.' In Kazakhstan, they also said, “Why do we still consider ourselves as a colony? We are not a colony, we are an independent country, we speak our own language,” Qudratkhoja stressed.

He noted that he agreed to be interviewed in Russian, after not having done so for five or six years, out of respect for the interviewer, Kirill Altman.

“Many people think I cannot express myself in Russian. I can communicate the language of Bulgakov: ‘Don't ask from the powerful, they will ask for it themselves.' I can speak with the language of Anton Pavlovich Chekhov, speak any language. I can also quote Pushkin. So, let them calm down. I am proficient in Russian language, and I am not Russophobic, I have a normal attitude. Though here, they have shown themselves, they think differently,” the rector said.

“We stayed silent for too long”

Sherzodkhon Qudratkhoja stated that “many Russian pseudo-scientists, who are more demagogues, have monopolized history”.

“The masses express a certain nostalgia: ‘A loaf of bread cost 20 kopecks.' ‘The USSR was good.' Do you know the amount of gold and uranium drained from us? I want to respond to those who now say about us ‘dark-skinned, black-*ssed' who force our men to walk in a crawl. I’m very offended by that. ‘Let's kick these gastarbeiters („guest workers“) out,' they say. Why didn’t they bring this up in 1941−1945?” he inquired.

Qudratkhoja spoke of Uzbekistan’s contribution to World War II. He highlighted that millions of people from Uzbekistan participated on the front lines and did not return.

“Why didn’t they say then, 'Hey, „black-*ssed,“ what are you doing here?' Why didn’t they call us gastarbeiters? Why did we, Uzbeks, harvest raisins, apricots, melons, dry everything and send it to the front? Why were there about 20 hospitals around Uzbekistan, Tashkent? Military personnel were sent here from all over Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, countries situated on the front line. They were aware of the good sun, hospitality of the Uzbeks,” he commented.

The journalist remarked that Russian politicians' and historian’s attacks on Uzbekistan should not be left unanswered. He recalled the speech of historian Mikhail Smolin on Russia’s NTV channel, who said “there were no Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Azerbaijanis before the revolution in Russia”. Qudratkhoja also commented on the statements of Russian presenter Sergei Mikheyev, who on the Russia 1 channel claimed: “If there are 5 million [Uzbek] migrants working here, what interest do they have?.. Their economy is completely tied to ours; without us, they would be ‘left without pants'.”

“We cannot stay silent! We have been silent for too long,” Sherzodkhon Qudratkhoja stated.

“One comes and says that Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan would be ‘left without pants'. This is also a myth, you know? Uzbekistan used to produce 50−60 tons of gold annually back in the days. During that time, a minister of mechanical engineering was from Russia, residing in Navoi, and the airplanes wouldn’t even land in Tashkent. Perhaps they were afraid that some 5 grams would be stuck here. Everything was taken to Moscow. For 40−50 years, Uzbek gold, uranium — everything was exported to Moscow, not to mention cotton, 5.5 million tons of cotton,” he noted.

“Let them decide whether they are occupiers or idiots”

The journalist pointed out that many workers from Belarus, Ukraine and Russia stayed in Tashkent after the 1966 earthquake that destroyed the city.

“But they have not learned our language for 40 to 60 years. Quoting Karl Marx, it belongs to him, or they say it belongs to him: two types of people do not know the language of the country they live in — the first is an occupier, apparently in many people’s minds they are occupiers, the second is an idiot, someone who cannot think, reason or read. So let them [decide for themselves] whether they are occupiers or idiots. No offense intended,” Qudratkhoja said.

The university dean noted that when he visits other countries, such as Turkey, China and South Korea, he tries to learn basic words in the local language to better communicate.

“I can manage in about 15−16 languages, not to mention Kazakh, Turkmen or Tatar. I’m able to explain myself well [in these languages]… I speak, even though I haven’t lived in these countries. They live in Uzbekistan. I’m referring to people who do not speak our language… I’m addressing those people who live in our country, eat our plov and somsa, love and respect us deeply, yet do not speak our language. Well, perhaps some may not like it — I think this is either idiocy or a continuation of that colonial arrogant attitude towards Uzbeks. But the Uzbeks themselves are also to blame. Our attitude is too kind. We’re too hospitable, we’re too soft. When we encounter someone, we forget our language. This is our fault too. The Turkic people and Koreans don’t have such a thing,” Sherzodkhon Qudratkhoja said.

“I would like to believe that this is not the official position of the Kremlin”

The head of the National Mass Media Association recalled the friendly relations between Uzbekistan and Russia and, in particular, between presidents Shavkat Mirziyoyev and Vladimir Putin.

“I think, I would like to think so, that what they say is not the Kremlin’s official position, not of the authorities… I, as an Eastern person, fail to comprehend why the authorities give a platform to those like Smolin, Prilepin to broadcast on TV, saying “there was no Uzbek nationality, it didn’t exist; the northern territories of Kazakhstan are ours,'” he continued.

“I have shared with you the history of Rus separately. Russia wouldn’t exist if Amir Temur hadn’t defeated Tokhtamysh (khan of Golden Horde) in due time. I’m certain about it. It’s not up to discussion… After crushing [Tokhtamysh], appanage princedoms, which were not Russian at that time, were great princedoms: Nizhny Novgorod, Moscow separately, Suzdal separately, Kyiv separately. Afterwards, the Rusich began to grasp the idea: ‘Guys, till when we shall pay these labels, labels for reigning? Until when will we be paying tribute?' And after [Amir Temur] destroyed all the Chingizids, they became friends. It was forced… They began to unite. And then a very strong statesperson emerged — Ivan IV, followed by Peter I, a century and a half later, who became an emperor and opened the window to Europe, forming this great Russia,” Qudratkhoja said.

Rossotrudnichestvo’s reaction

Following the release of the interview, Yevgeny Primakov, head of Rossotrudnichestvo, announced that his agency had severed ties with Sherzodkhon Qudrathoja “due to his anti-Russian statements” and accused him of Russophobia.

“In light of the publicly offensive Russophobic statements made by Sherzod Qudratkhojayev, chairperson of the National Mass Media Association of Uzbekistan, Rossotrudnichestvo, following established internal protocols, ceases all communication and contacts with him, as well as with entities under his leadership, until a comprehensive and credible apology is issued by Mr. Qudratkhojayev,” the announcement read.

“Mr. Qudratkhojayev’s Russophobic opinions are not popular in Uzbekistan,” Yevgeny Primakov stated, adding that it would be “easier for responsible representatives of the republic to disavow these disgusting statements, considering the actually existing friendship, sympathy, alliance between our countries and peoples”.

Reaction of Russia’s MFA

On February 14, ambassador of Uzbekistan to Moscow Botirjon Asadov was summoned to Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The protest was lodged against the statements made by Sherzodkhon Qudratkhoja, as reported on the website of Russia’s MFA.

The ministry noted that Sherzodkhon Qudratkhoja characterized residents of Uzbekistan who do not speak the Uzbek language “in an extremely offensive and absolutely unacceptable manner”.

Russia’s MFA conveyed to the ambassador of Uzbekistan that “the content and tone of such remarks are in complete contradiction with the relations of deepened strategic partnership and alliance binding Russia and Uzbekistan.”