Most of all, talking about "civil society" gives authoritarian states far too much credit. Catherine Ashton should not be talking as if civil society exists in Uzbekistan. She should be talking about the tiny group of embattled activists persecuted for promoting democratic ideals. That is not a society. That is an abomination, indicative of the triumph of authoritarianism in Uzbekistan and the inability of Western policy officials to realize meaningful reform.
To acknowledge this defeat is not to preclude hope for a better future. Rather, it is to ground future initiatives in reality instead of abstractions of little local relevance. Authoritarian states need to be challenged, literally and figuratively, on their own terms.