Freedom vs. stability: Lessons from Uzbekistan and Tunisia

I was chatting with a friend who has been living and doing business in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, since the early 1990s. I asked him to compare the old days with the present. His observations were quite insightful when comparing a country that had just emerged from the Soviet Union and was still influenced by its old codes to today's more modern and free Uzbekistan:

"Yes, there was no freedom back then. People were under significant pressure, and even praying in congregation was a problem. But there was economic stability and security. Because the state tightly controlled customs and the market, the budget didn't have large deficits, and there was no inflation. In terms of security, we knew the boundaries of the regime and what we needed to be careful about. As long as we didn't cross those red lines, we could live peacefully. Now, freedom has come, and pressures are being lifted. Economic and social reforms, which we could call liberal, are being implemented. But as a consequence, stability is being shaken, and as we open up to the world, many of its problems are flooding in. Economic uncertainty erodes people's morality and makes countries insecure. We're already experiencing some of these negative outcomes."

I brought up a similar topic a few months ago with an elderly man in Tunisia. I asked him, "You've seen both the Habib Bourguiba and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali eras. Considering what has happened since 2011, what do you think about the old days?" His answer was quite similar: "There are two things I miss about the past: Economically, there was no uncertainty or surprises. We knew what we earned and spent. The state tightly controlled the market, so we could see ahead. Since the system had a single ruler, there were no speculations or sudden fluctuations. Unemployment wasn't as widespread, and everyone was occupied with their small lives. The second thing I miss is safety and security. We felt and saw the state's presence everywhere. As long as we adhered to the regime's boundaries, nothing bad would happen to us. There wasn't freedom as it's talked about today, but there was no theft, robbery, or pickpocketing either. Because the state’s fist was right in front of us, everyone was afraid and cautious. Now there's total chaos and lawlessness."

It is quite striking that the comparisons of past and present in two different countries, thousands of kilometers apart with completely different histories, are so similar. It seems that the sociological rules governing societies carry similarities beyond times and places.

(This issue can also be discussed for Türkiye. As pressures and prohibitions are lifted, society is completely unleashed. Our country is turning into an arena where rules and regulations no longer matter and everyone is driven by their own whims. Freedom of thought has brought us to a terrible cacophony where no one listens to anyone, and the concept of truth is non-existent. Headscarves were once banned in public spaces; a "freedom struggle" was fought, but now we have ended up with a "freedom" package that nearly allows bikinis and shorts in schools. In removing the ban, rules and regulations have been thrown out as well.)

Democracy, freedoms, liberal economy, globalization, individual independence, freedom of thought... All these concepts, idealized in today's world as the ultimate virtues humanity can achieve, are now being debated in entirely different contexts. It's not possible to defend oppressive regimes, of course, but what does this "atmosphere of freedom" replacing them truly offer to people? As unlimited freedoms are idealized, how will the resulting ruleless and uncontrolled crowds be kept in check? As customs and traditions unravel everywhere, who will define "values" and according to what? When you ponder these issues, you encounter a lot of unpleasant details.

It appears that the current direction of the world and the experiences we are going through will lead to more debates about many modern concepts, especially democracy and freedoms. Perhaps these discussions will introduce humanity to new systems and solutions, who knows...

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Freedom vs. stability: Lessons from Uzbekistan and Tunisia
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