MAHALLA IS A SECULAR, MODERN MECHANISM OF SELF-GOVERNANCE
Uzbekistan has defined the directions of its development and followed principles of cohesive restructuring in all spheres of life making sure that reforms, reality, a humanistic approach and the uniqueness of the country, its traditions and innovations are all interlinked.
It is important to note here that a skewness to a position of primitive populism and obsession with demagogic excitement about “sparkling wording”, as was observed in many post-soviet states, was avoided in principle. The “loud words strategy” and the intention to gain political capital of the leading international “players” is not our goal. Uzbekistan does not find it ration al to claim that we are speeding ahead with light handed attempts to create an image of an “island of democracy” in order to score points and support from extern al “mentors”. This contradicts the fundamental nation al interests of the country. Uzbekistan, despite attempts of applying direct and non-direct pressures, has employed and will continue to employ the strategy “From a strong state to a strong civil society”.
This strategy reflects a logical approach based on strict observance of interests relating to the sustain able development of Uzbekistan and conditions within the country in all spheres of life. This logic underpins the approach to achieving long term dynamism, ensured by the instrument that is the strong state. This in turn excludes any “wandering from side to side” and social “experimenting”.
Strong power is oriented towards as stematic approach to ensuring the balanced integrated development of Uzbekistan through creative use of worldwide and n ation al experience. The state today is a guarantor of building democracy and civil society blending common human kind values with the Uzbek ones that reflect the interests of the country and the interests of the people.
Within the structure of Uzbek civil society everything has its place and role – the individual, t he family, t he Mahalla, different non-governmental and non-profit organisations, and other social institutions including political parties, movements, communities and etc. Mahalla has a specific role as a self-governing institution within this structure. Mahalla reflects how diverse and unique the regions of the country are and it works as a mechanism that is similar to instruments used by other institutions of civil society. Of course, in the conditions of an independent and secular state Mahalla has an enriched meaning. Preserving the appropriate elements of communalism, Mahalla is being transformed into a secular, modern mechanism of self-governance.
The integration of Mahalla into modern society will not happen automatically and is not intended just to follow tradition. Under new requirements Mahalla, having been resurrected after it was “destroyed” during the USSR, is developing new functions to respond to new demands. This is a constructive institution that has been built not to satisfy somebody’s wish or order but because it is needed for the wellbeing of the people. Mahalla, being flexible and pragmatic, has a lot of potential and can play a significant role in building democracy.
In 2014 as a part of the state program “The Year of a healthy child” Mahalla is implementing many activities in the regions and through this strengthening its role in Uzbek society as one of the most effective mechanisms for social stability and the development of civil society.
Taking into consideration that the nature of civil society is specific to each country and builds upon experience of different countries, absorbing best practices, it is believed that both specialists and a broader group of readers will find that this book enriches their understanding of the Uzbek experience. They will see the constructive force of traditions in modern eastern secular society that never refutes but actively supports religious values. Uzbekistan’s experience in building links between family, Mahalla and society may be interesting to all due to its uniqueness.
As a historically evolved form of living together within one or several residential quarters Mahalla is a unique part of the Uzbek people’s lifestyle. Throughout the centuries, specific methods of uniting the people via Mahalla have been developed, contributing to the enrichment of moral values and the nation al consciousness. Community relationships, which are rooted in folk traditions, have assigned to Mahalla the role of a bridge between the state and the population.
Mahalla enters people’s minds as a natural carrier of the will and preferences of society. Over the centuries, at a household level, the practice of mutual help and support has been formed, which is reflected in the organization of khashars, support to the poor and those who are in need, and guardianship of elderly citizens and people with disabilities. Imbued with nation al characteristics, a system of local self-government has been formed. It can be seen as the prototype of an institution of civil society embodying the best features of our people - sincere generosity, kindness, magnanimity, solidarity and creative aspiration.
Since gaining independence, based on the current strategy of building a legal democratic society with a socially oriented market economy and strong civil society, Mahalla has received appropriate official status. Article 105 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uzbekistan states that there must be institution of local self-governance involving a union of citizens who elect a chairman and his advisers; election procedures; organization al activities and the legally regulated authority of bodies of self-governance. On the basis of these constitution al norms a legal framework has been formed which allows significant enhancement of the role of Mahalla and the involvement of citizens in the governance of state and society, contributing to the growth of their political activity and culture. The revival and further development of the Mahalla system serves educational purposes while strengthening comprehension of nation al and universal values and shaping in people, especially the youth, patriotism, diligence, and an understanding of patriotic duty and social responsibilities.
The Republican Charitable Fund “Mahalla” plays a central role in developing the framework of local self-governing institutions. The fund was established according to the decrees of the President of the country “On organizing Republican Charitable Fund “Mahalla” of 12 September, 1992; “On allocation of funds to Republican Charitable Fund “Mahalla” of 8 October of the same year; the resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers “On organizing Republican Charitable Fund “Mahalla” effective on 17 October, 1992.
For over 21 years the Fund has been engaged in activities aimed at integrating the institution of Mahalla into modern democratic society; purposefully promoting the improvement of the organizational foundations of Mahallas; and expanding its functions and the provision of close cooperation with public authorities.
A major priority of the Fund is to enhance the legal foundation of Mahalla. The adoption of revised laws “On local self-government institutions” and “On electing the chairman (aksakal) of citizens’ gathering and his advisors” in April 2013 became an important step in this process. Certain proposals agreed upon and submitted by the Fund were adopted within these legal documents.
Conducting surveys of citizens’ opinions on improving the performance of self-governing institutions took 2 years; over 10 thousand campaigns were delivered, with every participant able to express their viewpoint regarding the further development of Mahalla. At workshops, round-table discussions and conferences, with the participation of representatives of citizens’ gatherings, activists gave suggestions regarding the structure, articles and content of the law.
During the reforms of man agement systems and the transition from a strong state to a strong civil society, over 30 socio-economic functions previously under the authority of local municipalities, were handed over to Mahallas. Mahalla’s function in the development of entrepreneurship and family business, rendering targeted social assistance and in the implementation of public control of local civic authorities has been reinforced.
While strengthening its cooperation with state governing bodies, Mahalla is building social partnerships with non-governmental, noncommercial organizations and other institutions of civil society through the development of those functions which meet the objectives of modern civil society.
Currently around 10,000 Mahallas are operating in the country. Each of them runs committees on the fundamental aspects of civil society which include: committee on spiritual enlightenment issues; social assistance committee; conciliatory committee; women’s committee; committee on issues regarding juveniles, the youth and sports; committee on the development of private entrepreneurship and family business; committee on ecology and environmental protect ion, landscaping and gardening; committee on public inspection and protection of consumer rights etc. The list of activities above gives us an opportunity to describe the versatile effects of Mahalla on local affairs and the importance of this civil society institution as the authority “closest to citizens”, protecting the rights and interests of citizens in and around their place of residence.
The joint implementation of the recent State programs the “Year of a family” (2012) and the “Year of prosperity and wellbeing” (2013) can be seen as a sound example of close cooperation between the state, Mahalla and other civil institutions in the provision of state funded social support to the population. Within this co-operative framework certain actions have been taken to enhance the social activities of young people and women; improve targeted support to people in need; improve vocation al education; develop entrepreneurship and family businesses; establish a strong spiritual and moral atmosphere; and attract girls and boys to sports.
Based on the principles of legitimacy, transparency, social justice and humanity the “Mahalla” institution operates in all regions of the country, disseminating best practice to citizens’ gatherings, providing social support to the population, reshaping Mahalla into a development center of entrepreneurship and family business as well as developing civil society through the further enhancement of public control over civic administration authorities. In each citizens gathering public committees on social support have formed consisting of 15 people - trustworthy and respected local residents and representatives of public and state organizations. The main principle governing assignation and payment of allowances and financial aid is to ensure the provision of social justice, publicity and transparency.
The Fund regularly delivers research on contemporary international practice and developing trends of civil self-governance via information exchanges in various special symposiums, research seminars and conferences. The Fund has thoroughly studied the experience of leading developed countries in the sphere of creating and enhancing civil society institutions – countries like the USA, France, Japan, Germany and many others.
Aiming to increase the level of legal literacy and profession al qualifications of the citizenry, the “Mahalla” Fund – with the support of the Academy of Public Administration under the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, ministries, departments and local governing bodies -organized and conducted education al seminars which attracted around 40 000 citizens. As it has already been mentioned, one of the main tasks of the “Mahalla” Fund is the continuous enhancement of Mahalla’s activities by summarizing and disseminating best practice to communities and consultants in religious, spiritual and moral enlightenment. For these purposes, contests like “Most exemplary self-governing body”, “Most exemplary consultant in religious, spiritual and moral enlightenment” and “Learn the history of your Mahalla” are being held annually.
The Mahalla environment has been continuously improved: sport fields for children built, outdoor lighting systems (using energy saving technologies) modified, and landscaping and gardening initiatives conducted. In 2013 a project called “My comfortable home” was implemented which aimed at enhancing the social infrastructure of rural areas by attracting NGOs, and improving public services and the ecological conditions of rural life. The Fund and its territorial units help to refine the material and technical facilities of civil self governing bodies, providing them with modern computers and furniture.
All in all, the “Mahalla” fund activities, blessed with humanistic ideas, serve the further development of Uzbekistan and the enhancement of the well-being of our people.
Embassy of Uzbekistan
Perleberger Str. 62
Embassy of Uzbekistan in Berlin is located in the building with historical significance... You can find more information under: www.uzbekistan.de
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