News of Ismail Karimov’s “ill health” reminded me of a chilly February night in London eight years ago, watching a play titled ‘The British Ambassador’s Belly Dancer’.
The envoy in question was Britain’s disgraced real-life ambassador in Uzbekistan Craig Murray. The belly dancer was his then-girlfriend Nadira Alieva, who he met in Tashkent and for whom he left his wife and children. (The story is more complicated – Mr Murray was recalled for speaking out against the Karimov regime; and the couple do clearly seem to have been in love. Ms Alieva is a gritty survivor and has ideas and talent besides.)
Anyway, the point about the play was Ms Alieva’s determination to write the story of her life up till then and her desperation to leave Uzbekistan. She was willing to do anything to achieve this, including running off with a man she did not love and who was twice her age.
In a 2008 Daily Telegraph story on the play, Ms Alieva said as much to the reporter:
“Love had nothing to do with it,” she says, when I ask her how she ended up with Murray.
“It looked the quickest way out. I was determined to get to the UK or America.”
As a lifelong resident of Uzbekistan, she had known only the Soviet Union and Mr Karimov as a leader (in the year Ms Alieva’s play appeared in London, he would have been in power nearly two decades). That is why her views on life under the despot were illuminating. She said she was relieved to be in Britain because it was never possible to be an actor “at home. They are considered to be prostitutes where I come from. You cannot have self-expression.”
And she went on to describe the glorious freedoms she found in the UK: “Here I find it so wonderful to be able to go out on a Saturday night and get drunk, then walk home and not get arrested and asked for my paper or worse.”
There you go then.