Europe - Issue 23 - Magazine | Monocle

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Fashion dictator

Uzbekistan [social butterfly]

Princess, minister, businesswoman, fashion guru and pop singer – Gulnara Karimova comes in many guises. Daughter of Islam Karimov, the president of Uzbekistan, the 36-year-old Harvard graduate is the softer face of one of the nastiest regimes in the world.

She has wowed high society in Tashkent and Moscow, and now Geneva, where she was posted as Uzbek ambassador to the UN agencies last September. “She’s self-confident, with a party-girl personality,” says Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan. She is in her element at all sorts of gatherings. “A few years ago, she would give parties for young students in Tashkent and show up in just jeans and a T-shirt,” says Sanobar Shermatova, an Uzbek analyst based in Moscow. “Many people didn’t even realise who she was, as there were very few pictures of her and nobody knew what she looked like.”

That changed in 2005, when she released a music album under the name of GooGoosha, apparently her father’s pet name for her. For all her good looks and charm, she is inescapably linked to her father’s regime and repressive policies, as she is widely assumed to be the dictator’s chosen successor. She denies significant business interests, but many link her to a whole host of assets in Uzbekistan through the firm Zeromax – the headquarters of which are, coincidentally, in Switzerland.

Many suspect that her posting to the UN is down to a desire for enhanced diplomatic immunity. When her marriage to an American-Afghani businessman went wrong, Karimova ignored a US court order to appear for custody hearings. The US put out a warrant for her arrest, but as long as she carries out her UN duties she’ll be out of reach.

Uzbekistan facts

One of the poorest countries to emerge from the former Soviet Union, landlocked Uzbekistan has over the centuries seen many great empires come and go.

Bordering Afghanistan, western leaders turned a blind eye to Islam Karimov’s regime and courted Uzbekistan for help in the War on Terror. Worried about growing Russian influence in the region, in recent months the US and EU have been more willing to talk to Islam Karimov.

The fact that Uzbekistan security forces shot several hundred unarmed protesters in the town of Andijan in 2005 has been conveniently played down.

Minority report

Hungary [human rights]

As anti-Roma prejudice rises in Hungary, positive role models are more vital than ever. Hungary has 700,000 Gypsies, many of whom live in extreme poverty and suffer social exclusion.

Lívia Járóka, 34, is one of Hungary’s two Roma (a sub-group of the Romany people) MEPs, and represents the conservative opposition party, Fidesz, which has its own Roma organisation, Lungo Drom. She is the face of its campaign in June for the European parliament elections.

She’s a welcome example of a Roma professional at a time of social tension after several high-profile murders both of Roma and allegedly committed by Roma.The answer, she says, is for Roma middle class to mobilise their communities, and work for equality.

01 Hair

Karimova’s trademark long caramel hair has been famous in Uzbekistan since she burst onto the country’s television screens with her pop videos. Sometimes straight and sometimes curly, it’s always kept a shade lighter than her natural colour.

02 The bag

Shaped by western and Russian cultural influences, many of her accessories nevertheless display an oriental twist that gives away her Central Asia origins.

03 Jewellery

Karimova wears a lot of jewellery, much of it from her own collection. Her jewellery varies in style from simple and understated to ostentatious pieces encrusted with fat precious stones.

04 Clothes

Madison Avenue is out of bounds, but she’s able to pick up designer brands in Geneva. She is also often to be seen wearing the more showy clothes of leading Russian designers, many of whom she knows personally.

All bets are off - Russia [gambling]

From 1 July, gambling is outlawed everywhere in Russia except for four specially designated zones. The government wants to create four mini versions of Las Vegas (God help them), bringing revenues to low-income areas. But it looks as if the zones won’t be ready by July; meanwhile, casinos in Moscow are converting into “restaurants” with secret back-rooms. — sw

Triple time - The Netherlands

The average pay of Dutch CEOs (including share-based compensation) tripled from over $2m (€1.5m) a year in 2003 to over $6m in 2007.

Tough deal - Sweden

Even in Sweden, which has worked towards equal pay distribution, the wage difference between highest and lowest earners increased by 40 per cent between 1990 and 2004.

Jumping the gun - Switzerland [law and order

Switzerland is to vote on whether it’s time, after over 100 years, to abolish a law that says the country’s unique militia army and former army members can keep their weapons at home.

The 19th-century law was designed to help the nation be prepared to defend itself from surprise attacks. However, with more than 300 deaths a year attributed to army-issue weapons, popular support for the ancient law is sliding.

“While having a weapon at home was justifiable in the old days, when soldiers had to get to the front quickly, now it’s completely anachronistic,” says Eric Peytremann of the Group for a Switzerland Without an Army.

However, in March, when a proposal to change the law went before parliament, it was voted down. The centre-right and right-wing majority in parliament said it would undermine Switzerland’s security and would be seen as a vote of no confidence in its soldiers. Petyremann and over 70 other organisations have gathered enough signatures (see picture below) to force a referendum, and hope that the people will be able to decide.

Gun ownership and Swiss military service:

01 Switzerland’s gun laws are among the most liberal in the world. Proposed reforms would include stricter regulation on gun permits and a centralised federal weapons registry.

02 Military service (at least 260 days) is obligatory for men in Switzerland at the age of 19. After that they remain “on call” until they are 30.

03 There are seven million Swiss people and around 2.3 million weapons in circulation in Switzerland – of which 1.7 million are army-issue.

Just the ticket - Russia [travel]

Russia is attempting to bring its people closer together. From this summer the government will pay half the cost for residents of the far-flung eastern provinces, who are under 24 or over 60 years old, to fly to cities in the west of the country including Moscow, St Petersburg, and the resort town of Sochi. Flights take up to nine hours and can cost up to €400 one way – more than the average monthly salary. The other option is a seven-day train journey to Moscow. The government worries that the east is too isolated, and hopes this move will help glue the country together again.

Maid in Sweden - Sweden [home help]

Hiring a maid used to be a definite no-no in Sweden, considered elitist in this country of equality. But since the government made domestic services tax deductible in June 2007, many Swedes have let go of their previous principles.

According to a recent study by Demoskop, 5.5 per cent of households now buy services such as cleaning, ironing or babysitting, compared with 3.9 per cent last April.

This trend fits into the Swedish attachment to the home. A recent survey showed that if they had to save, most would cut back on travel (37 per cent), or dining out (34 per cent). Only 17 per cent would give up on home improvements.

Q & A - Jorma Olilla

National rebranding chief - Helsinki

Finland is rethinking how it presents itself to the world for the first time in 20 years. Jorma Ollilla, a board member at Nokia and Shell, is in charge of the rebrand.

What will the country’s future brand be like?
The starting point will definitely be our traditional strengths – nature, for instance – and we want to incorporate technology and Finland’s cultural life.

Is there something wrong with Finland’s image at the moment?

I don’t think so. But we’ve succeeded in keeping our strengths a secret. Finland is not well known. We are at the top of international rankings when it comes to competitiveness, but around 20 when it comes toknowing about our brand.

How much difference can it make to update the nation’s image?

Every single country is interested in its brand these days, with the exception of totalitarian countries such as North Korea and Zimbabwe. Brands and images have a direct impact in people’s lives: which band’s concert you go to, whether you go to relax in Canada or Finland or to ski in Åre or Levi – the country’s brand makes a difference. It has economic importance for people, but also mental importance. It affects people’s identity.

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