YOUTH EXCHANGE WITH DENMARK
Starkville High School senior Laura Bridges tells of her year as a Rotary Youth Exchange student in Denmark.
NEXT WEEK: HOOPS ON THE HORIZON
Mississippi State University Men’s Basketball Coach Rick Stansbury gives us a season preview next week.
FOR THE RECORD
Invocation and Pledge: Carey Hardin
Present — 96 (33 exempt)
Absent — 96 (26 exempt, 12 honorary)
Guests and visitors: Member guests were Allison Matthews of Jon Maynard, Andrew George of Ernie George, Graham Wells of Martha Wells, Joel Kivett of Frank Chiles, Paul Scott Sellars of Prentiss Gordon, and Sue Blackburn of O.A. Cleveland. Guests of the Club were Dave Sites, Gulam Umarov, RYE student Jessie Hsu, and Paul Sims, Starkville Daily News.
Present — 54 (20 exempt)
Absent — 138 (39 exempt, 12 honorary)
Despite the second annual golf tournament’s falling victim to schedule conflicts with a number of other area tournaments, the Club came together for its annual fall social last week.
An estimated $1250 was raised in the silent auction. Thanks to Melissa Dixon for setting up the auction, to Melanie Mitchell, who is on leave, for promoting donations, and to auction item donors.
Once again, chairman Bobby Crosland’s cooking crew turned out some fine steaks and chicken. Thanks to Tommy Prentice, Larry Mullins, J.C. Patton, Jeff Read, Bill Robinson, and Bob Daniels for sweating out the cooks’ duties.
And, thanks to Roy Ruby for making a cameo appearance to provide the night’s entertainment.
The Club’s contribution to the East Mississippi Community College tuition guarantee program was recognized by a thank-you note from Robin McCormick of the West Point Club and the CREATE Foundation.
Since the event was promoted across the Golden Triangle, we designated last year’s rodeo and golf tournament proceeds to go to Clay County and Lowndes County students as well as our local students.
With plans underway for the Fourth Annual Rotary Classic Rodeo in February, the committee will approach the West Point and Columbus Clubs for assistance in promotions and sponsorships. New members are expected to help with the event. And, all members will be responsible for ticket sales.
THE COST OF DEMOCRACY IN UZBEKISTAN
Dr. Sanjar Umarov, a former Cochran Fellow at Mississippi State University, “came home” to tell of his efforts to establish democracy in his native Uzbekistan.
Umarov’s connection with MSU began in 1992 when university faculty began exploring joint programs with central Asia’s major cotton producing nation.
As a leader in post-Soviet Uzbek economic development, Umarov soon came into conflict with the ruling party led by President Islam A. Karimov.
The head of the Sunshine Coalition, a well-to-do physicist and businessman, was convicted of “extortion, plunder, embezzlement and theft.”
His real “crime” was protesting the government’s bloody 2005 suppression of protests in Andijan. The massacre that took the lives of hundreds of Uzbeks led to international condemnation.
Eventually, relations with the West were so soured that the Uzbek government evicted the U.S. from a key airbase in 2006.
Umarov’s 2006 conviction resulted in a 14-year prison sentence and an eight million dollar fine. In solitary confinement he was tortured and subjected to mind-altering drugs. His voice box was crushed, resulting in an inability to speak above a raspy whisper.
To cope with the voice damage, he spoke to the Club through his son Gulam. It was noted that doctors have given the elder Umarov hope that the damage can be reversed.
The younger Umarov is a graduate of Starkville High School and MSU, having spent several years with Rotarian O.A. Cleveland’s family. Following his father’s imprisonment, he interrupted his budding telecommunications career to campaign for Sanjar’s release.
That effort, benefiting from high-powered allies in the U.S. Congress and the European Union, led to amnesty and asylum in the U.S. in late 2009.
The address to our club is one of his first public appearances since he has renewed his quest for democracy in his homeland. The younger Umarov credits people in Starkville and at MSU with igniting the campaign that ultimately brought his father home to Memphis.
Sanjar rejects violent confrontation with the ruling Uzbek party, preferring a steady, reasoned approach. His core message is that Uzbek prisons should be more open to international scrutiny. His simple solution—install video surveillance so that lower level officials and guards will be accountable.
Umarov gained his wealth as the founder of Uzbekistan’s first telecommunications company focusing on a mobile phone system. Following his 1991 success, he went on to found agriculture, transportation and energy businesses. Among others, he was instrumental in developing the country’s first supermarket and first automobile dealership.
Long before his becoming a prisoner of conscience, he had established a base in Memphis. There he has spent this year restoring his life and now is launching his new quest. He believes that Uzbekistan will become a true democracy within the next two decades, but only if the international community maintains a focus on it.