Centuries of tradition as settled people left the Uzbeks in a better position than their nomadic neighbours to fend off Soviet attempts to modify their culture. Traditions of the Silk Road still linger as Uzbeks consider themselves good traders, hospitable hosts and tied to the land.
The focal point of society is still the network of urban (mahallas) districts, where neighbours attend one another's weddings, celebrations and funerals. Advice on all matters is sought from an aksakal (revered elder, literally 'white beard'), whose authority is conferred by the community. In sinister, Soviet fashion, Karimov has usurped these structures by employing aksakals as district custodians and informants.
While Uzbek men toil to make ends meet, women struggle for equality. Considered second-class citizens in the workplace and in the home, women are not given the same rights as their Western counterparts, or even their Kyrgyz and Kazakh neighbours. Although the Soviets did much to bring women into the mainstream of society, no amount of propaganda could entirely defeat sexist attitudes. There are some signs of change - dress codes continue to liberalise, for example, but old habits die hard and women in conservative families are expected to be subservient to their husbands.
Domestic violence occurs in 40% of Uzbek homes, yet overall household control lies in the hands of the husband's mother. Abuse, however, rarely leads to divorce, and there are occasional reports of suicide by self-immolation, a cultural trait that dates back to pre-Islamic Zoroastrianism.
Tashkent is Uzbekistan's biggest city and the Fergana Valley is home to Uzbekistan's largest concentration of people, a third of the population. Samarkand, the second city, is Tajik-speaking, as are many of the communities surrounding it, including Bukhara and Qarshi. The further west you travel the more sparsely populated the land becomes. Karakal-pakstan, home to Kazakhs, Karakalpaks and Khorezmians, has seen its population dwindle as a result of the Aral Sea disaster (p77). Around 40% of Uzbeks live in cities, with the rest in rural farming towns and villages.
The national population growth rate has fallen since independence (although it's still high at 2.5% per year) with tens of thousands of Slavs emigrating each year and with the sudden disappearance of subsidies for large families. Over half the population is under 15 years of age. A number of minority groups make up a tiny portion of the population, most notably Koreans and Russians in Tashkent. There is still a miniscule Jewish population in Bukhara (p237) and an even smaller one in Samarkand.
Around 85% of Uzbeks claim to be Muslim (nearly all are the Hanafi Sunni variety), although only around 5% to 15% are practising. Around 5% of the population are Christian. The Fergana Valley maintains the greatest Islamic conservative base, with Bukhara ranking number two. In the wake of the 1999 bomb attacks in Tashkent, mosques are no longer permitted to broadcast the azan (call to prayer), and mullahs have been pressured to praise the government in their sermons. Attendance at mosques has fallen for fear of practising Muslims being observed and harassed by government agents.
Although Uzbeks are tolerant of other religions, Western Christian missionaries have failed to gain a foothold, many having been harassed out of the country.
Traditional art, music and architecture - evolving over centuries - were placed in a neat little box for preservation following the Soviet creation of the Uzbek SSR. But somehow, in the years to follow, two major centres of progressive art were still allowed to develop: Igor Savitsky's collection of lost art from the 1930s, stashed away in Nukus (p258), and the life-stories told inside Tashkent's notorious II-khom Theatre (p207) both survived as puddles of liberalism in a sea of communist doctrine.
Nowadays, Uzbekistan's art, music, film and literary figures are divided into those that are approved by the government and those that are not. Patriotic odes and art - those that glorify the young nation and its leadership - are welcomed and financed by the central budget
The Amir Timur Museum in Tashkent is one of the best examples of state-supported art, with its mock Timurid dome and interior murals filled with scenes of epic nation building.
Local pop and rap stars also sing to Uzbekistan's greatness. Yulduz Usmanova, a parliamentarian from Margilon, resurrected a scandal-filled career with ballads that urged dedication to the yurtbashi (national leader). Dado's classical Uzbek pop sounds vaguely Latin American. The ever-changing girl band Sitora is another one to look out for. Grizzled rockers Bolalar date back to the perestroika-era.
Many other forms of art, particularly those offering a philosophy and expression deeper than nationalism, aren't officially banned, but with scant means of private finance, their creators are left with little outlet for creativity.
The most notable 'dissident group' is the Fergana School, made up of a dozen or so artists and writers whose works were published in the early 1990s literary magazine Zuizda Vastaka (Star of the East). The government ordered the publication closed in 1994 and the Fergana School has since gone underground.
The Uzbek language is the only official state language, and since 1992 is officially written in latin alphabet. The Tajik language is widespread in the cities of Bukhara and Samarkand because of their relatively large population of ethnic Tajiks.
Russian is an important language for interethnic communication, especially in the cities, including much day-to-day technical, scientific, governmental and business use. Russian is the main language of over 14% of the population and is spoken as a second language by many more. The use of Russian in remote rural areas has always been limited, and today school children have no proficiency in Russian even in urban centres. However, it was reported in 2003 that over half of the population could speak Russian, and a renewed close political relationship between Russia and Uzbekistan have meant that official discouragement of Russian has dropped off sharply.
In 1992 Uzbekistan officially shifted back to Latin script, but many signs and notices (including official government boards in the streets) are still written in Uzbek Cyrillic script that had been used in Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic since 1940. Computers as a rule operate using the "Uzbek Cyrillic" keyboard, and Latin script is reportedly[who?] composed using the standard English keyboard.