On September 29, Ministry of Justice registered Masud Sobirov as chairman of the Democratic Party (DPT), thus adding another page to the Tajik governments record of marginalizing the opposition.
The story began in April 2006, when Masud Sobirov established Vatan (Motherland) faction within DPT. Although seen by the DPT mainstream as an illegitimate splinter, Masud Sobirov explained his efforts as an attempt to rebuild the partys influence.
One of the oldest parties in the country, DPT has been in deep crisis since early 2005, when its leader and main sponsor Mahmadruzi Iskandarov was sentenced to 23 years in prison on various charges, including terrorism and embezzlement.
Since Iskandarovs arrest, DPTs aging leadership has concentrated its efforts on attempts to release him. Meanwhile, the partys political influenced declined rapidly. During the February 2005 parliamentary election, DPT failed to make it past the 5 percent threshold needed for representation in the parliament. Growing dissatisfaction with the DPTs low performance that emerged from inside was actively fueled by the government.
The consequent split within the party in April 2006 was thus to be expected. Unexpected though was the newborn factions focus on contesting the DPT mainstream.
On August 27, Sobirovs wing held what they called an extraordinary congress of the party. Announced illegitimate by the DPT presidium and conflicting with the partys constituent documents, the congress named Masud Sobirov the chairman of Democratic Party.
Decisions of the congress, with their legitimacy questioned by experts and lawyers, sparked intensive debate in Tajikistan. The shocked democrats were quieted by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), which announced that the only chairman of DPT recognized by the state was its jailed leader Mahmadruzi Iskandarov.
An official in the ministry was quoted as saying:
Current situation around the Democratic Party of Tajikistan is an internal problem of its members. Ministry of Justice is not in a position to resolve this problem (Asia Plus, September 1, 2006)
MoJs decision of September 29 to register Sobirov as the chairman therefore filled the mainstream democrats with indignation.
DPT Presidium accused the ministry of illegal interference in the partys internal affairs. The partys deputy chairman Rahmatullo Valiev suggested that the MoJs decision was prompted by DPTs intention to boycott the upcoming presidential election:
Someone on the top did not like out decision to boycott the election. This someone decided to debar us from political struggle and make Masud Sobirov chairman of the Democratic Party.
Just a week before the controversial decision, DPT Presidium announced that they would not field a candidate in the upcoming election. They criticized the government for election manipulation and suggested that the upcoming ballot would be illegitimate and unconstitutional. Masud Sobirov, on the contrary, suggested that his Democratic Party would actively participate in the vote.
While some experts argue that MoJs verdict is a punishment for democrats unwillingness to take part in the election, this action was perhaps only modest part of Emomaly Rakhmonovs wider strategy aimed at marginalizing opposition parties in the country.
President Rakhmonov, who has been consolidating his power since the end of the civil war, is very sensitive towards any attempt to ease his grip on power. Opposition parties were always perceived by him as a threat. However, close attention of foreign donors and international watchdogs made him tolerate the presence of opposition and maintain a vision of democratic institutions in place.
This policy has recently begun to change. Confronted with the need to tolerate multiparty system, Emomali Rakhmonov realized that the authoritarian regime of his Uzbek neighbor Islam Karimov has much to learn from.
International observers describe Uzbekistan as one of the most authoritarian post-Soviet states. Uzbek government is known for absolute intolerance of any sort of opposition. Yet Islam Karimov tries to maintain the visibility of multiparty democracy by having five state-funded political parties competing for representation in the parliament. The only problem here is that all five are so called pocket parties controlled by Karimov, while truly independent political parties have never been able to register.
Uzbekistans approach to multiparty system represented by pocket parties must have had a great appeal for Emomali Rakhmonov and approved for realization in Tajikistan. In autumn 2005, just months ahead of parliamentary elections, the Ministry of Justice registered two parties Agrarian Party and the Party of Economic Reforms. These parties have never had independent capacity. However, similarly to Uzbek parties, they claim to represent the interests of farmers and entrepreneurs. Neither opposition parties, nor political analysts have ever doubted governmental affiliation of the both parties.
Rakhmonovs new policy aims not only to create new parties, but also to transform the older ones. In June 2004, governments awkward interference led by advisor to the president Qurbon Vosiev fueled schism in the Socialist Party (SPT). Qurbon Vosiev and Abduhalim Ghafforov, public servants expelled from SPT in 2000, summoned an extraordinary congress of the party, which dismissed SPTs then-chairman Mirhuseyn Narziev and appointed Abduhalim Ghafforov instead. Officially registered by MoJ, Ghafforovs Socialist Party joined the club of organizations loyal to the regime.
The club also includes the presidents Peoples Democratic Party and Communist Party, whose loyalty is rewarded with minor representation in the parliament. The new DPT will soon join the club, thus bringing its membership to six of the eight registered parties in the country.
The only remaining opposition parties Islamic Revival Party (IRP) and Social-Democratic Party (SDP) will not be able to contend Rakhmonovs grip of power. But their presence will be appreciated by Rakhmonov, who needs them to complete the picture of multiparty Tajikistan for international consumption.
There is another party that Rakhmonov will never be able to control the ill-famous Khizb ut-Tahrir. Though its members are still few and its impact on Tajikistans politics minor, this can change soon, not least due to the regimes policy. Emomali Rakhmonov will repeat Islam Karimovs mistake unless he understands that in the country where the political opposition is not allowed to operate freely, radical Islamic groups remain the only outlet for public discontent.
Recently, Rahmon has raised the issue of cotton-pickers in Tajikistan. The main point of his article is that the cotton-pickers in Tajikistan are more like slaves than farmers. He is using in his article the Russian word hlopkorab instead of hlopkorob to describe the cotton-pickers. The official name of cotton-pickers in Russian is hlopkorob which is made of two words hlopok (cotton) and rabochi (worker), literally meaning a person who works with cotton. The word hlopkorab, sounds more like hlopkorob (cotton-picker) but has a different meaning. “Hlopkorab” also comes from a mix of two words hlopok (cotton) and rab (slave) which literally means a slave who works with cotton.
By using the word hlopkorab (cotton-slave) Rahmon tries to make his article more colorful. I also think that hlopkorab (cotton-slave) is the exact word which can be used in description of the whole cotton sector in Tajikistan. It is the truest word to use in case with students of secondary and higher educational institutions, who are recruited for cotton-picking in the beginning of the academic year. Besides the meager wages which students get, they live and work in terrible conditions. Only slaves can work in such conditions. Most of the time it happens to students in rural areas of Khatlon and Sughd regions.
The government officials and particularly Rahmonov himself claim that students labor can not be used in cotton-picking and those who break this rule will be punished.
From the beginning of the academic year, according to the edict of the Ministry of Education of Tajikistan, it is prohibited to recruit students of secondary and higher educational institutions for cotton-picking. Minister of Education sent a special letter to all the departments of national education and hukumats (local governments), which rigorously reminds not to recruit students for cotton-picking. The president of the country on 12th of September on the meeting of the government ordered to observe the edict, which bans the use of students labor for cotton-picking. It is also banned by the Article 26 of the Law On Education. It says that: recruitment of students for all kinds of agricultural works is prohibited.
In reality all these rules are violated all over the place. It is strange that so many normative acts are passed by state authorities and none of them works. Most probably, the government is not really interested in enforcement of these edicts. It is not profitable to follow these rules. The state will lose millions of dollars, if it stops practicing the Soviet methods of recruitment of cotton-pickers. Who else is going to pick the cotton if not the students? Students are considered as the main labor force in picking of this strategically important agricultural product. Though, it is worth saying that Tajikistan is not the only country in Central Asia which practices the recruitment of students in cotton-picking. Uzbekistan and Turmenistan are also terrible in that.
I would very much agree with the state authorities, if they would recruit students during the summer for agricultural works, provide them with good wages and good conditions for living. But no way during the academic year. Students miss the classes and it badly influences on their academic success and consequently on their future career.
In spite of Tajikistans laws against child labour, 40% of cotton is picked by school-age children. About 70% of parents report that cotton harvesting has a bad effect on the health of their children. Working in the fields also has detrimental effects on their education. According to Frédéric Chenais, IOMs chief in Tajikistan, children miss up to a third of their classes for meagre wages. Speaking at a press conference in the Tajik capital of Dushanbe he said that for four or five months of work the kids are paid less than 20 US dollars.
In addition to that the state officials who recruit students are claiming that those who work in the fields are going for cotton-picking voluntarily. I would say voluntarily-compulsively.
Presidential election in Tajikistan is a first past the post game where the winner gets everything. One month prior to the ballot scheduled for November 6, it is clear that the upcoming election is won ahead by the incumbent Emomali Rakhmonov. With the outcome of election largely pre-determined, Tajikistans leading opposition parties decided that being the second is not worth participating in presidential race.
On September 24, Democratic and Social-Democratic parties announced their decision to boycott the upcoming ballot. Next day, Islamic Revival Party suggested the party would not announce a presidential candidate and will reserve its participation in the vote to mere observing.
For the Democratic Party (DPT) election boycott is probably the only chance to avoid further split. One of Tajikistans long-standing parties, DPT has been in deep crisis since early 2005, when its leader Mahmadruzi Iskandarov was arrested and sentenced to 23 years in prison on various charges, including terrorism and embezzlement. Instead of electing a new chairman and focusing on political struggle, DPTs aging figureheads have been demanding the release of their leader and criticizing the government without proposing any viable alternative. Consequently, the party lost popularity and split into two rival camps.
While the DPTs mainstream wing labeled the splinter faction illegitimate and hinted at governments hand in the schism, the event itself had shown the partys current leaderships inability to preserve internal cohesion and stand political competition. Amid growing division, democrats decided to boycott the ballot an action that can bring them political dividends and concentrate on the partys internal affairs.
Social-Democratic Party (SDPT) chose to boycott the election following their leader Rahmatillo Zoirovs continuous rhetoric that the incumbent Emomali Rakhmonov has no right to seek re-election. Therefore, they argued, the upcoming election with Rakhmonov running for another term will be illegitimate. In addition, SDPTs retirement from presidential race can be viewed as a consequence of the partys failure to negotiate fielding a unified candidate representing all opposition parties.
The decision of the Islamic Revival Party (IRP), widely seen as a leading contender against the pro-presidential Peoples Democratic Party, was anything but unexpected. IRPs new chairman Muhiddin Kabiri decided to concentrate efforts on preserving internal cohesion of the party that was close to splitting into two camps following the death of its prominent leader Said Abdullo Nuri. Besides, as Muhiddin Kabiri suggested, they did not see any viable alternative to the incumbent president and also feared that a rigorous presidential campaign risked causing renewed tensions among the population.
Whatever the official explanations given by the three parties, it is obvious that their decision was prompted largely by the predictability of Rakhmonovs victory. In such an environment, they decided not to lose their resources and efforts in vain, but concentrate on internal affairs instead.
Amid growing obviousness of Rakhmonovs imminent re-election, Tajikistans four remaining parties other than the ruling Peoples Democratic Party have nevertheless announced candidates for the upcoming election.
Tajikistans youngest and weakest in terms of membership Agrarian Party (APP) and the Party of Economic Reforms (PERT) were the first to name their candidates. Predictably, the both parties nominated their leaders. Professor Olimjon Boboev, Head of the Institute of Transport was registered as PERTs candidate and Amir Karakulov, Vice-President of the Academy of Agricultural Sciences as APTs candidate. Socialist Party nominated Abduhalim Gaffarov, Head of the Centre for University Teachers Capacity Building. And finally, Communist Party nominated young member of parliament Ismail Talbakov.
The list is not necessarily complete. More candidates will likely emerge before October 6, the Central Commission for Elections and Referenda deadline for registering candidates. But the question that most political analysts and experts now seek to answer is why these parties chose to participate in the vote despite the predictability of the upcoming election?
The most obvious answer to the question is that the four parties are part of the governments attempts to build a democratic façade for Emomali Rakhmonovs authoritarian regime. By running their candidates, these parties help create a vision of democratic institutions and grounds for competitive elections in place in the country.
As soon as the Agrarian Party and the Party of Economic Reforms were established in autumn 2005 several months ahead of parliamentary elections opposition parties unanimously labeled them as pocket organizations. The young parties problem-free registration in the Ministry of Justice looked very suspicious against the background of other political parties most notoriously Sultan Kuvvatovs Taraqqiyot (Development) failing to register for several years. In addition, the two parties have from the beginning chosen not to participate in the opposition parties coalition For Fair and Transparent Elections that aimed to create a counter-balance to the ruling PDPs control over the entire election administration.
Another pocket party emerged when the governments awkward interference fueled schism within the Socialist Party (SPT). The Ministry of Justice was quick to announce that the splitter wing of Abduhalim Gaffarov was the only legitimate body recognized by the state. With the new leader closely affiliated with the party in power, SPT has lost its popularity.
Once-powerful Communists have been facing rapid decline in membership since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Well aware of the partys fading status, communist leadership were eager to display their support to Rakhmonovs administration and thus joined the ranks of organizations loyal to the regime. In return for loyalty, Tajik communists got minor representation in the parliament.
Therefore, the decision of Agrarians, Economic Reformers, Communists and Socialists to run their candidates in the election can be viewed as the governments tactic to build an image of democratic regime for consumption of international watchdogs and donors.
Some analysts explain the four parties choice to participate in Rakhmonov-led game as a strategy of attracting publicity and reaching out to voters. Due to very limited access to the state-controlled media, opposition parties have always found it very difficult to gain popular support. Presidential campaign may thus be used by these parties to earn popular support for future campaigns.
While Tajikistans leading parties refrained from taking part in the presidential ballot with an obviously pre-determined outcome, the weaker parties use the campaign to display their loyalty to the regime, create a vision of democratic environment and attract popular support for future campaigns. In the short term, this strategy may pay off. In the long term though, pocket parties will lose because they do not offer any alternatives.
However, it is very likely that these parties are not meant for the long term. After playing their part in the game, they may disappear to later join other pocket parties or find their leaders appointed to lucrative posts in reward for loyalty and good play.
Today, on my way to work I was listening to BBC Radio in marshrutka. It was a road show by Anora Sarkorova (famous Tajik journalist on BBC Russia) who was reporting on problems that Tajik passengers have when they cross Russian and Uzbek borders by train. She was interviewing the passengers of the ill-fated train, which follows the route Dushanbe-Moscow-Dushanbe. Usually people call it train Dushanbe-Moscow.
I was very much surprised to hear a news from Dushanbe because, first of all I was in Bishkek not in Dushanbe and secondly the marshrutka drivers in Bishkek usually force the passengers to listen to music, whether you want it or not. The marshruka (mini-bus, public transportation in post-Soviet countries) was very crowded, I could hardly move but I could hear the radio and I was literally enjoying it. This road show made me write down some thoughts about this train.
The train Dushanbe-Moscow has lots of informal names in Russian mass-media due to its reputation as a heroin carrier. The most popular are Heroin Express (Geroinovi express), Train from the south (Poezd s yuga) and Narcoechelon (Narkoeshelon). Russian experts claim that the railroad from Dushanbe to Moscow is the main route which is used by the drug-smugglers to transport heroin to Russia and further to Europe. They say that this route poisons the whole Russia and Eastern Europe.
Due to its reputation all the passengers of this train have many problems when they want to go to Russia or back to Tajikistan from Russia. The customs and border control on the Russian and Uzbek borders give a hard time to the passengers, especially those who have the Tajik passport. Actually, it happens everywhere in the post-Soviet countries, wherever you show the Tajik passport you are in trouble. Thanks God that in the rest of the world Tajiks dont have the image of drug-smugglers. The customs and border control officers of other countries become happy when they see this passport because it is a chance to line their pockets.
The other major problem is corruption. There is formed a whole mafia which controls the ticket purchase-sale process. Most of the prospective passengers are not able to buy tickets in the official pay office and they need to buy from another person who is waiting for prospective passengers. The ticket sellers come up to you after you get a negative response from the official pay office and propose to make a deal. He increases the cost, sometimes to more than fifty percent of the official cost. People who urgently need to go home have to overpay, otherwise they need to stay in the terminal station for a long time which is not safe.
Due to corruption suffers the state-budget and the budget of the State Unitary Enterprise Tajik railroad (Tadzhikskie zheleznie dorogi). Consequently the lack of resources results in lame service. Russian government regularly prohibits the train Dushanbe-Moscow to enter the territory of Russia because of unsanitary (!). In reality Russian government is concerned about the fact that this train is the main carrier of drugs to Russia and this way it makes the Tajik government sort out the mess. It is some kind of prophylaxis.
The unsanitary thing is also not far from truth. The train is literally dirty on both inner and outer sides. The furnishing leaves much to be desired. You would be lucky to have the bad-clothes. In most of the cases people sleep with their clothes on. If you go from Moscow to Dushanbe the train is stuffed with huge bags and there is no place to sleep. Taking into consideration that it takes several days to get from one point to another it is not really comfortable to sleep on the bags.
Not matter how difficult it is to travel by train Dushanbe-Moscow it remains to be one of the main trains which feed half of Tajikistan. Most of the labor migrants (gasterbaiteri) go to Russia by train in search of earnings because there is no means of subsistence in Tajikistan.
Tajikistan is moving ahead towards what can be the countrys first genuinely free and fair presidential election. For Emomali Rakhmonov, who on September 23 was unanimously nominated by the ruling Peoples Democratic Party to seek another term in the office, the election scheduled for November 6 is a mere formality.
Tajikistan is no different from its neighbors in Central Asia in terms of rich history of falsified elections. Fraud and manipulation have been general features of all elections held in the country since independence. One important characteristic however distinguishes Tajikistans presidential elections: their outcome has never been falsified; only the numbers were manipulated. It was done mainly due to the regions inviolable tradition of granting no less than 90 percent of the vote to the leader, with Turkmenistans Sapharmurat Niyazov setting the record of 99 percent.
President Rakhmonov, in office since 1994 and now having a chance to stay for at least seven other years after amending the constitution, has never had much problems with winning the election. The problem was the percentage of votes that had to be no less than what his neighbors in the region were getting. This is where election manipulation came from: the winner got everything, including the votes of his opponents.
This years elections however will serve as a benchmark in Tajikistans modern history as the first presidential elections free of any manipulation. The reason for that is that the incumbent president has no opponents except on paper.
Tajikistans leading political parties have silently allowed Rakhmonov to stay in the office without any struggle at all. Islamic Revival Party, Democratic and Social-Democratic parties announced this week that they will not participate in the upcoming presidential election.
With the Communist Party nominating perhaps the most unfamiliar to the voters candidate, Socialist party divided by two rival factions and the two youngest parties nominating their unknown leaders, the November election will be a mere formality.
While international election watchdogs prepare to deploy their observers in Tajikistan, Emomali Rakhmonov has a chance to be re-elected through the procedure of genuinely free and fair election and get his no less than 90 percent of the vote in a fair play.
Recently BBCRussian.com published an article, titled Tajiks are asked to put their golden teeth on the shelf (Таджиков попросили положить золотые зубы на полку). The title of the article seems weird but it caused lots of discussions in the web. Many Russian websites just copy pasted the article without mentioning the source and the author of the article. If you google the title of the article in Russian, you will see a lot of websites which borrowed it. I bet the author Anora Sarkorova is upset and happy at the same time.
The article is about the new unwritten rule in Tajikistan which was initiated by president Rahmonov. In one of the visits to rural schools he met a teacher who had golden teeth and it disappointed him very much. He was disappointed because teachers are considered to be one of the poorest parts of population but there he could see an ordinary teacher who had a mouth full of golden teeth. I guess she was very much excited to meet the president and broadened out into a beaming smile and it became a spark for a new rule, which prohibits having golden teeth for teachers in the secondary schools. Recently it was extended to governmental officials.
Rahmonov gave an explanation to his initiative
We talk a lot about poverty reduction. Teachers are complaining about low salaries but they have golden teeth. How the representatives of international organizations can believe us that we are poor if the mouth of a teacher is full of golden teeth? It is not our culture and not our tradition. Imagine how difficult it is for students to look at golden mouth of a teacher for ten years.
However as the author mentions, Tajiks are oriental people and they like gold and other shiny things. It is part of their culture and tradition. It will be difficult to eliminate this phenomenon in a day. The government of Tajikistan will have trouble in struggling against the golden mouths.
Probably, soon during the interviews for a job applicants will be asked to open broadly their mouths. Those who have golden smiles will have problems in getting a job, especially in schools. The admirers of yellow metal will need to take it out or look for another job in nongovernmental section.
Actually, says the author, the story with golden teeth had its beginning not in the school but earlier. The president was upset to meet a Tajik businessman in Switzerland who had golden teeth.
Once I met a Tajik in Switserland – recalls the president, How did I know that he was a Tajik? Because he had shiny mouth. It was shameful. He thought it was beautiful. People in the world are laughing at us. It shows the lack of culture.
Recently there was a case which shows a love of Tajiks for golden teeth. One Tajik who was coming back from Mongolia, where he worked, was detained in Novosibirsk (Russia) with thirty grams of gold hidden in the lighter.
The detainee claimed that three months he worked in Mongolia as a constructor and in order to save some money he lived an ascetic form of life. He even did not pair him an extra pair of socks. Before going home he decided to buy some gold for $150 US in order to put in golden teeth for his seventy year old mother (!).
The issue of personality cult has never been discussed in Tajikistan that much as it is discussed today. Recently there appeared several articles in the Internet which have become part of this discussion. In previous years Rahmonov publicly said that he is against the personality cult and gave orders to remove all his portraits from the public places and make less emphasis on his personality. However the situation is changing before the forthcoming elections and Ramonov does not seem to be that much against it as he was several years ago.
I heard from several of my friends that Rahmonov is now everywhere thanks to television, radio and newspapers. It seems like nothing else is happening in the country and nothing else is important but him. He must be seen and heard everywhere. Local population has no other chance but watch and listen to the endless speeches of Rahmonov. Nargis Zokirova is reporting on IWPR website that ‘Tajiks are particularly annoyed because programmes suddenly switch to the presidential specials without any prior announcement’.
Wherever President Rahmonov goes, state television and private TV channels have to broadcast all his speeches – whether they are about international relations or potatoes. Then they repeat them
In early August, there was wall-to-wall coverage of a conference on potatoes which the president happened to be attending. News bulletins carried regular updates over the two days the meeting lasted, and the airwaves were cleared for a special programme on his remarks
Recently there were also published several books devoted to the activity of the president Emomali Rahmonov since 1992. These books are supposed to be one of the main source for those who want to know the history of independent Tajikistan. The Novie Izvestiya published an article about these books and it provides some excerpts from them which show how the authors of these books glorify the leader of the country. They project the positive image of the president and make him as an infallible ruler.
The books on Rakhmonov are full of hosannah to the president who is extolled as a messiah by the authors and condemned as the Tajikbashi by the opposition. “Teacher of teachers, savior of the nation, the best popular politician, another Ismoili Somoni [first Tajik leader]
There is another article where the author Umedi Sardor on Ferghana.ru says that people who are surrounding the president and those who occupy high governmental positions have some kind of competition in glorification of the president. The governor of Sogd region K. Kasimov went further than others in flattery. Here are some excerpts from his report which was devoted to 2700 years of Kulyab. This report was published in the local newspaper Leninabadskaya Pravda. I made some translation because there was no translation on Ferghana.ru
The knowledge is connecting us with the civilized world. This idea is seen in the learned works of His Excellency E. Rahmonov. The appeals of the head of state, especially the report of dearest E. Rahmonov is an unforgettable lesson of peace and knowledge, which was conducted on 1st of September this year in the Tajik Agrarian University. It was full of ideas and care about the future of the Motherland and further development of the nation. Each Tajik scholar and poet beginning from Rudaki and Avicenna to Sadriddin Aini and Bobojon Gafurov were the favorite teachers of our people. I was carefully watching and listening to the thoughtful and intimate speech of His Excellency E. Rahmonov on Central television and became proud of our Head of state because he also stands on the same line with our great philosophers.
The most scaring thing about all these examples is that this flattery is done on the state level and the president is getting used to it. I think soon there will be more and more glorification of the savior of nation after he is elected for the next term. The modern methods of elevating the president to the heavens has been inherited from Soviet Union which in its turn has deep roots in the history of Central Asian region. Seems like it is part of our culture to make our leaders as infallible sages. I remember, when I was a small boy I joked about the bold head of Gorbochev, my grandmother became angry said that I could not say like that because the Padishah (king) is the shadow of God on earth (!). I think that people in the rural areas of Tajikistan think the same about Rahmonov.
The British visa application rules for the citizens of Tajikistan have been changed. The information agency REGNUM reports that from 22nd of August the Tajik citizens who live inside the country will apply for British visas in Almaty and Moscow. Previously Tajik applicants had to go to Tashkent (Uzbekistan) which was more problematic because in order to obtain the British visa first they had to obtain the Uzbek one. Sometimes it was more difficult to obtain the Uzbek visa than the British one. Taking into consideration the transport expenses from Dushanbe to Almaty or Moscow the Tajik citizens will need to spend more money to obtain the visa. It means that the solution of one problem created another one, though the transportation expenses from Dushanbe to Tashkent are also not cheap.
The British ambassador to Tajikistan said that ideally it would be better if the Tajik citizens obtained visas in the embassy in Tajikistan, but unfortunately the demand for British visas is low in the country so it is inexpedient to issue them. Also, he said that the opportunity to obtain visas in Almaty and Moscow will ease the burden of future Tajik visitors to Britain.
It is one of the strangest things to me. I do not understand why Tajik citizens can not obtain visas of some foreign countries in their own country. The main reason as the British ambassador says is the low demand. All other, European and American ambassadors to Tajikistan give the same reason, for example the US visas are also obtained in Almaty. It is like in economics, no demand no supply. However, I think there is something more than that. The low demand is not the main reason. I will not guess but I would appreciate if someone knows the main reason and comment on it.
US has one of the biggest embassies in Tajikistan but they dont give visas for the Tajik citizens. In Kyrgyzstan the embassy is smaller and the population of the country is less than in Tajikistan but the Kyrgyz citizens have the right to obtain visas in that embassy. I dont think that there is a big difference in demand for visas between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
For Tajik citizens it would be easier to get to Bishkek than to Almaty and it is much cheaper to live in Bishkek than in Almaty in case if the visa or the flight is delayed, but Tajiks can not apply to US embassy in Bishkek.
It is really detrimental to get visas in Almaty and Moscow for Tajik citizens. When I was obtaining the US visa I had less problems than usually Tajik citizens have because at that time I was already living in Bishkek and Almaty is not far, three hours to drive. However, I met three Tajik guys in the US embassy who came from Tajikistan and they were rejected. They were upset and counting their losses.
First of all tickets from Dushanbe to Almaty were expansive, almost 200 USD one way. They had to stay in Almaty for two more days because the flights are only three times a week. They were lucky with the flights and had no flight delays but it happens often. The US visa itself is expensive, something like 100 USD, which is not reimbursed in case you are rejected.
They were waiting for almost one hour in the room and within 2 or 3 minutes they were rejected. To the above mentioned expenses they added food and accommodation expenses and it came out that each one of them lost something like 600 dollars. This amount of money would be enough for a family consisting of five members to live a relatively good life three to four months in Tajikistan.
The British visa application rules are changed but it is still difficult to obtain them in terms of finance and time. I dont know all these international rules but Im truly convinced that people should apply for visas in the nearest embassy or I would say in the embassy where it is more convenient to go to.
What do you think?
The collapse of Soviet Union had a great influence on further developments in post-Soviet countries and the rest of the world. The consequences of this event were tragic for Tajikistan. In the process of transition was accelerated a struggle for power and the result of this political crisis in the country was the erupted civil war.
I was raised in Khorog, the administrative center of Gorno-Badakhshan. The civil war did not reach this region in the form that it was in other parts of the country but it had a great influence on the social and political life. The collapse of the union was unexpected for most of the people in Gorno-Badakhshan. They could not imagine how they were going to live without the support from Moscow. Everybody was concerned about it but still no one could realize the scale of the event and what the consequences were. Gorbochev and Eltsin are still blamed for the destruction of the Soviet state but people still do not understand that the whole system was eroded.
The population of Tajikistan realized that the Soviet Union no more existed only when the war started because they suddenly realized that Moscow has no more power to stop the conflict. Here how Rahmon describes the life in Dushanbe after the collapse.
In 1991 collapsed the super-power named USSR. Tajikistan came across the unprecedented violence. The natives of different regions of the republic severely struggled for power. Thousands of people died. The warriors executed representatives of intelligentsia, journalists, and other innocent people. The factories and plants stopped working, the production of goods was stopped. There were lots of refugees, many people fled to Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan. Some of them went to Russia, Israel and United States. Most of the refugees were the Russian-speaking population. During the Soviet Union the percentage of Russian speaking population constituted 10% of the whole population, today the number barely reaches 1 %. Those who remained in the country had to bare all the difficulties of the civil war.
We lived on the outskirts of the capital [Dushanbe], while the main armed hostilities took place in the center of the city. However, the bullets, shells and missiles reached our district. Once, me and my mother were hiding in the room where the window was covered with the blanket, from the bullets which reached our balcony and the glass on the window was destroyed. When the battles were over we went outside in search of bread. In the streets we could see some killed people. It was February, cold winter. We had no gas, electricity and food. After half a year the situation was better, we were standing in the line for bread from 4 a.m. One person could get only two loafs of bread. The whole families were standing in the line to get more bread, because no one knew when they were going to stand in line for bread next time.
In comparison to Dushanbe in Khorog the situation was better. International aid reached the region on time and as I said the armed hostilities which took place in Gono-Badakhshan were not at such a big scale as they were in Dushanbe. However, people were suffering of hunger and cold. Especially in the winters there were times when people had no electricity and electricity for most of the population was the only energy resource.
The Gorno-Badakhshan have not acquired anything else except the economic crisis after the collapse of Soviet Union. People with nostalgia recall the Soviet period, when everybody had enough food. During the independence in Gorno-Badakhshan not a single factory or plant was built and those which existed during the Soviet time were destroyed. The big amount of male population is working outside the country, mostly in Russia, as a common labor. The fertility rate is decreasing and the mortality rate in reverse is increasing. Students are still using textbooks which were published during the soviet era. The number of drug-addicts is increasing almost everyday, and consequently is increasing the number of HIV-positive population. People drink more alcohol, mostly the counterfeit vodka. The roads are destroyed, schools and hospitals are suffering of lack of resources. The media is under a severe censorship.
It is only a small part of all the problems which came after the collapse of Soviet Union, and these problems exist not only in Gorno-Badakhshan but in the whole country. In some areas the problems are solved to some extent but in others the situation is even worse. Most of the population still wants to live the life that they lived during the Soviet Union.
What follows is one part of a cross-blog initiative that commemorates the 1991 Moscow coup and evaluates the years in between.
Early Years of Independence
The fall of Soviet Union lead to two major changes in Tajikistan. Following the 1991 coup in Russia, Tajikistan declared independence September of 1991 and plunged into a civil war.
Early years of independence were very chaotic. They marked themselves by a sudden loss of economic ties with Soviet Republics, reinforcement of Islam on peoples daily lives and growth of nationalistic sentiment among Tajiks. With those came a growing concern among the population about the future of the country and its final course.
The Civil War
Early political frictions were mild (as a teenager I remember how the first Tajik president Mahkamov was voted out by the Tajik parliament and replaced by Rahmon Nabiev). Those were the times when political thought just formed in Tajikistan. When political thought took its final form and later consolidated, Tajiks split into two major political factions (Secular and pro-Islamic/Democratic). This is when things started to get serious. Pro-Islamic movement initiated antigovernment demonstrations in Dushanbe aimed to discredit and replace the government lead by Rahmon Nabiev.
A large crowd was gathered from all over the country to represent the movement. Majority of people (as far as I could tell) were ordinary folk, who were told to get on buses by their respective leaders and taken to a square in front of the government building (now The Presidential Palace). The square would later be referred to as Maidoni Shahidon (trans. Martyrs square).
Perhaps one of the most bizarre things was the fact that many people in the crowd were hungry students who came to the demonstration to eat. When asked the protesters had no idea about the purpose of the demonstration. I recall an interview on the local TV where a journalist asked a protester why he was there. The response was because I was told to come. I believe, the mere fact that the crowd was present allowed the movement to push its agenda onto people. Pro-Islamic movement envisioned Tajikistan to be a state governed by Islamic law and had strong nationalistic views. Soon the movement gained a strong following.
The secular political faction almost simultaneously organized its own demonstration in a square across the Tajik Parliament building, which would later be dubbed Maidoni Ozodi (Freedom Square). The methods of recruiting supporters were pretty much the same: plenty of food and constant speeches about how the movement saw the future of the country. The main political position was for the separation of religion from government.
Violence started in Dushanbe in 1992 when pro-Islamic forces seized the government building and countrys only central TV station. Rahmon Nabiev was forced to resign in front of cameras. Those who supported secular movement had to flee Dushanbe as they no longer felt safe.
Khatlon Region prepared itself for civil war. Large number of people were gathered in mosques and shown footage of dead men presumably killed by pro-Islamic militants. The language of the footage played on publics fear. Communities started self-mobilization and prepared to defend themselves against attacks.
In picking sides, ideology was not relevant. Divisions were clan-based. Anyone who came from Kulob Region was seen as secular and anyone from Pomir and Gharm were Islamists by default. All these clans spoke Tajik in a dialect distinct to their location so identifying an enemy was as easy as talking to them.
During 1992-1993 a large-scale civil war erupted in Khatlon Region leading to an estimated 30,000 to 100,000 deaths. Thousands took refuge in neighboring Afghanistan driven out by secular forces.
By 1994 secular movement secured the capital and held a vote among the members of parliament for the head of state. In that vote Emomali Rahmonov (incumbent President) was elected as a head of state. The event marked the defeat of the pro-Islamic forces in the country. Although the Islamists would not stop their struggle (mainly information war) for another 3 years (till 1997), the main war was won by secular Tajiks.
In 1997 the Tajik President signs an agreement with the pro-Islamic opposition, granting it a 30% representation in Tajik government.
The Tajik civil war took a heavy toll on the countrys development. Tajikistan was devastated both politically and economically. Russia abandoned Soviet ruble as a monetary unit after the fall of Soviet Union, while replacing it with new Russian rubles. For many old-generation folks like my parents, the move cost their entire life savings. The Russian currency was later replaced by Tajik rubles, which lost their value faster than Tajikistan could produce them.
Lack of production, high levels of unemployment and hunger pushed many Tajiks to look for new sources of income. Russia became a major destination (equivalent of Wild West) for many young generations of Tajiks who traveled there to work and earn money. Among the 40 students in my class in University 30 would eventually end up in Russia. Some would further pursue their education but most would opt for low paid jobs in order to support their families.
By late 90s the country became politically more stable and began its economic recovery for the first time since the fall of Soviet Union.