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Korea, Uzbekistan discuss experiences from Saemaeul Undong and Uzbek’s MahallaLocal governance in Uzbekistan: Bringing tradition back in

An extensive academic meeting was between the representatives of the Republic of Korea and the Republic of Uzbekistan at the Lotte Hotel in Seoul on April 29, 2014 on the theme of Korea-Uzbekistan Round Table on Self-Governing Institutions?Important Mechanism of Strengthening Civil Society. It was co-hosted by the Embassy of Uzbekistan in Seoul, the Korea Silk Road Foundation and Hanyang University in Seoul.

▲Photo shows Rector Abdujabar Abduvahitov of the Academy of State Governance under the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan (left) and President Yoo Young-Je of the Central Officials Training Institution at MOU Signing Ceremony on April 28, 2014.

Among the main topics discussed at the meeting were the experiences both Korea and Uzbekistan had in the process of implementation of various similar projects carried out in the two countries, namely the Saemaeul Undon (New Community Movement) in Korea in the 1970s and the activities of Mahalla, the traditional local autonomy organization of Uzbekistan.

Taking part in the Round Table from the Uzbek side were Rector Abdujabar Abduvahitov of the Academy of State Governance under the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan (who had until recently been an advisor to President Islam Karimov of the Republic of Uzbekistan), who led the Uzbek delegation, and Ambassador Alisher Kurmanov of Uzbekistan in Seoul.

Among the participants from the Korean side were Chairman Choi Jae-Geun of the Silk Road Foundation, President Yoo Young-Je of the Central Officials Training Institution and President Park Choonbae of Inha University.

Throughout the period of independent development of Uzbekistan, the Republic of Korea has always stood among its most reliable and strategic partners, providing consistent support in the implementation of large-scale national programs of fundamental reform and modernization of the economy and the social sphere.

▲Members of the Uzbekistan delegation headed by Rector Abdujabar Abduvahitov (seated at left, front row) at the meeting with President Park Choonbae of Inha University.

The Abduvahitov Delegation from Uzbekistan also had a number of bilateral meetings with government entities, educational institutions and holding a joint seminar. Reviving traditional practices of local governance and community organization in Uzbekistan has become the focal point of the extensive discussions held during the visit.

On the first stop of the three day visit the Uzbek delegation visited the Central Officials Training Institution (COTI) of Korea and held a meeting with the institute’s President Yoo Young-Je. COTI, which leads in the training and development of government officials, aspires to strengthen its leadership worldwide by providing assistance to developing countries through guidance and training of the new generation of committed civil servants.

The meeting was accentuated by the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation between COTI and the Academy of State Governance under the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan. The parties agreed to cooperate in the implementation of educational programs in the field of extended vocational training, upgrading professional skills of civil servants and methodological and scientific training of faculty members of both COTI and ASG.

▲Participants at the joint round table held at Lotte Hotel on April 29, 2014: They are (fourth to sixth from left, respectively) Chairman Choi Jae Geun of Silk Road Foundation, Reactor Abdujabar Abduvahitov of the Academy of State Governance under the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan and Ambassador Alisher Kurmanov of Uzbekistan in Seoul.

Uzbek officials also held meetings in some of Korea’s top universities. The presentation of a documentary film called “Mahalla Institution in Uzbekistan: Historical and Modern Perspective” and book presentation “From the Strong State to the Strong Civil Society” at Hanyang University’s Asia-Pacific Center and Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, aimed at explaining the traditional mechanisms of community organization and the key policy of social stability in Uzbekistan. Among few universities in Korea, Hankuk University’s center for international and area research has a faculty on Central Asian studies and Uzbek language.

The participants have largely emphasized that the development of Uzbekistan has been guided by the principles of gradual and cohesive transformation in all spheres while ensuring the interconnectedness of “reforms, reality, a humanistic approach and the uniqueness of the country, its traditions and innovations.” Balanced and integrated development can be achieved through application of both local and best international practices. In Uzbekistan, state acts as a guarantor of democracy and strong civil society, combining universal values with authentically Uzbek.

The delegation also had a chance to visit Inha University in Incheon city. The Embassy of Uzbekistan in Korea has been working closely with the educational institution, bringing the bilateral cooperation up to the level of the annually organized forum “Potential Projects of Practical Cooperation for Further Development of Strategic Partnership between Uzbekistan and Korea”. The university has also opened its branch in Uzbekistan’s capital and its very first students will start their education as early as in October this year. President Park Choonbae welcomed the Uzbek delegation and stressed the importance of the topics discussed at the presentations made by the officials, and the relevance of the current event in the wider context of Uzbekistan-Korea relations.

▲Rector Abduvahitov (behind podium) speaks to the Round Table.

The highlight of this visit, however, was the Round Table titled “Self-governing Institutions ? Important Mechanism of Strengthening Civil Society,” organized by the Silk Road Foundation and the Embassy of the Republic of Uzbekistan in Korea in close collaboration with Asia-Pacific Research Center at Hanyang University.
The choice of holding such an event in Korea was not accidental. In fact, one can draw many similarities between the functions of “Mahalla” (Uzbek traditional institution of self-governance) and “Saemaeul Undong” (a model community development program) which put great emphasis on community traditions, actively promoted and implemented in the 70s.

▲Participants in the Round Table view videos showing the rapid development attained in Uzbekistan under the leadership of President Islam Karimov.

The round table has gathered prominent academics and experts from both countries who discussed the relevance of the traditional community institutions, their role in strengthening civil society and cooperation prospects between Uzbekistan and Korea in the sphere of community development. Korean experts gave presentations on the experience of Korea in local governance, and held extensive discussions on the significance of community traditions in building strong civil society. The participants also drew parallels between Mahalla and the New Village Movement, emphasizing the crucial importance of cultural peculiarities of a region and country before applying widely accepted models of civil-society building.

This visit, gave the participants both from Uzbekistan and Korea, yet another great opportunity to exchange views and share experiences in society development and local governance.

이경식 기자  edt@koreapost.com

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