When word came that the Uzbek prime minister would be driving past their village, local officials wanted to impress him with roads lined by snowy white fields of cotton.
The only problem was that the cotton had already been picked.
So, locals say, farmers were told to glue cotton balls back on the bushes to give an impression of a bountiful harvest of the country’s most important crop.
Ahead of the expected visit by the prime minister, Shavkat Mirziyaev, at the end of September, some 400 men and women in the village of Shaharteppa in Ferghana province were reportedly pressed into service along the main road where the official convoy was expected to pass.
“Some of them were applying glue inside the bolls and others were putting cotton on the bolls, while another group was attaching cotton capsules onto stalks in the front rows of the cotton field,” a resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service.
“When I asked them why they were gluing cotton, they told me, ‘Apparently the prime minister is coming and we’re told everything should look good here,’” the resident said.
Meanwhile, hundreds of others swept the area along the main road to keep it clean for the prime minister.
A farmer appeared to confirm the claim. “People were put through so much trouble,” he said. “More than 500 people had to leave their work and come and glue cotton here. They said it was being done at the provincial governor’s order.”
Fearing reprisals from the authorities, the farmer did not want to give his name.
Yet it seems the farmers labored in vain as the prime minister changed his route at the last minute and did not pass by the village after all.
It wasn’t the first time the province had gone to such lengths to create a good impression. Ferghana officials reportedly had cotton glued back on bushes to please the president, Islam Karimov, during a trip in October 2009, and fake flowers were apparently attached to trees when Karimov visited the region in March 2015.
In neighbouring Tajikistan, the facades of private and official buildings are given a hasty facelift alongside main roads before the convoy of President Emomali Rahmon passes during regional trips.
The practice is also commonplace in other former Soviet republics including Russia, where the phrase “Potemkin village” refers to fake facades that are said to have been put up as a show for dignitaries in tsarist times.
Last week, workers reportedly had to remove cracked asphalt from a new road hurriedly launched ahead of a visit by Vladimir Putin to the town in Zabaykalsky Krai in September.
In Suzdal, a historic city outside Moscow, the facades of shabby buildings were covered by custom-made posters to please the visiting president, media reported.