Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has ordered an end to the practice of window dressing ahead of his visits, his office said on Tuesday, targeting a custom that has included displays of fake buildings or equipment to hide a sometimes drab reality.
Rooted in the authoritarianism of post-Soviet states, the tradition of hastily sweeping streets, repainting fences and covering up old buildings was perfected in the Central Asian nation under Mirziyoyev's predecessor, Islam Karimov.
In some cases, school students were ordered to glue cotton wool back to empty stubble so that a field would look nicer during Karimov's visit, or attach artificial flowers made of paper to tree branches on a street he was expected to pass.
Mirziyoyev, a former prime minister who came to power after Karimov's death in 2016, promised to reform the country and has criticized some Karimov-era policies such as made-up statistics.
But the window dressing tradition has persisted. Last month, a 23-year old female school teacher cleaning up a highway shoulder ahead of Mirziyoyev's visit to the Samarkand region was hit by a truck and died, prompting public outrage.
On Tuesday, Mirziyoyev's spokesman Komil Allamjonov said he had ordered the cabinet to bar the forced mobilization of public sector workers such as teachers, nurses and doctors for "urban improvement works". Offenders would face criminal charges.
Mirziyoyev has also instructed prosecutors to investigate several cases of more elaborate window dressing by provincial authorities such as building phony greenhouses and a fake online registration system, Allamjonov said.
"Officials who organized window dressing or failed to prevent such cases will be severely punished," he told reporters.
Uzbek media have reported that dozens of greenhouses hastily erected along a provincial road ahead of Mirziyoyev's visit were dismantled just as quickly afterwards, with freshly planted lemon trees left to die. Some of the greenhouses never housed any plants in the first place.