Far out of the center of town, and well out of the mainstream of local affairs, the building which once housed the North Korean embassy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, is surrounded by reminders of a different era.
The wide boulevard onto which the one-storey edifice faces is named after the Georgian poet Shota Rustaveli. The building next-door, a hotel, is a monument to the distinctive shapes into which Soviet concrete was molded in Central Asia.
Apartment blocks on both sides of the street are exactly the kind of solid, if crumbling, rectangles of plastered brickwork which line Pyongyang’s own thoroughfares.
All serve as memorials to international socialism and socialist internationalism whose bonds persisted into the post-Soviet era, but which now appear definitively to have been severed here.
At one time the DPRK had several embassies and consulates in the former USSR, including in Kyiv, Moscow, Tashkent and Astana.
But Central Asian operations ended a year ago with the closure of the Tashkent mission in July 2016, reportedly a decision linked to Uzbekistan’s enforcement of international sanctions following North Korea’s fourth nuclear test in January that year.
Moscow and Minsk are now the only post-Soviet capitals where Pyongyang is diplomatically represented
Today, after lying empty and dormant for several months, the building is a hive of activity, as builders work to spruce up the space for its new occupants.
The tenants, ‘Gas-Meter OSC’, are a local company which is refitting the interior as an office to sell gas meters made by Sensus, a North Carolina, USA-based firm, to efficiency-conscious Tashkent residents.
Even in Uzbekistan, which retains a non-convertible currency and other barriers to entry for foreign goods and capital, the direction and focus of international trade has shifted decisively away from the old socialist brother countries.
The closure of the Uzbek embassy followed the shuttering of the mission in Astana, Kazakhstan back in 1998.
Moscow and Minsk are now the only post-Soviet capitals where Pyongyang is diplomatically represented and, even where it does have a presence, the estrangement between the DPRK and its erstwhile allies is reflected in the speculation and intrigue which surrounds these embassies.
September 2016 saw NK News report that the Belarus-based office had opened without an ambassador being appointed and quizzing local residents on comings and goings at the building, whilst in April 2017 reports of a fire at the Moscow embassy proliferated, only to be proven false soon afterwards.
The direction and focus of international trade in Tashkent has shifted decisively away from the old socialist brother countries
Ideas circulating locally about the Tashkent embassy are similarly full of uncertainty.
Residents interviewed by NK News offered differing opinions regarding whether the mission had closed for good or just moved elsewhere.
Locals also suggested that nothing had been going on in the building for a very long time: even with less than a year having passed since the closure, memories of the place are already receding.
Despite its almost forgotten former role, many referred to the attractiveness of the building in comparison to its concrete surroundings, and the marble columns and interior do indeed recall comfortable diplomatic lives here.
With the arrival of Gas-Meter OSC, their permanent departure has been confirmed.
Little reflects this more clearly than the flag-less rope which now flaps in the breeze against its flagpole, rusty holes in the façade where the DPRK insignia was once affixed, and a wheelbarrow of cement left outside the building at 95A Shota Rustaveli Avenue.
This article’s author chose to remain anonymous
Edited by Oliver Hotham
All photos credit to NK News
Join the influential community of members who rely on NK News original news and in-depth reporting.
Subscribe to read the remaining 624 words of this article.