The people’s dam, but what price for energy security?
Editor’s note: Officials of Tajikistan, Central Asia’s poorest republic, are forcing its 7 million inhabitants to buy stocks in a dam project and donate money for its construction. It’s an innovative statist solution to resolve Tajikistan’s historic electricity problems — but is it at the cost of regional security and personal liberty? This is a translation of TajikVoice‘s post (RUS). Also check out this editorial by neweurasia’s Botur.
The Roghun hydroelectric dam was a long-term Soviet industry project, developed in Tashkent in 1976. According to the latest blueprints, the height of the dam will be 335 meters, making it the world’s tallest. Its projected power is 3600 megawatt, with an average annual output of 13.1 billion kilowatt hours. Uzbekistan has objected to the construction, arguing it would give Tajikistan control over the region’s main water supply, thereby threatening the security of lower-lying countries.
It should be noted that, according to intergovernmental agreements, the Russian company RUSAL was supposed to have finished construction on the dam; however, three years ago Tajikistan withdrew from the agreement, accusing the Russian side of not fulfilling its obligations. At the same time, it was announced that the dam belonged to the people, and that Tajikistan would finish construction on its own. “Tajikistan” is an abstract concept. In this case, it meant the people of Tajikistan. Several attempts were made in 2008 and 2009 to start a national fundraising campaign.
It was unclear even then how a poor country with a high level of corruption could handle a $3 bn project. Recent figures cite $1.3 bn – the number needed to activate the first part of the dam (two out of six assembly units). Under the most favorable conditions, this will take at least 4 years. But then Tajikistan’s president, Rahmon, devised a bold solution.
The people’s dam
On 5 January 2010, Rahmon called upon his people to each make a financial contribution to the project. He emphasized that every family should buy stocks in the dam (voluntarily, of course). His speech was broadcast by all state media.
It marked the beginning of a massive pressure campaign. The country’s leadership has been using various methods, including the tried and true, such as brainwashing using television. Day and night, state media broadcast images of ordinary people “overjoyed” by their purchases. Yet they look grim and sound like they are reading a prepared text. Pensioners obediently enunciate memorized sentences, asking the rest of the population to follow their example and allocate parts of their salaries towards the construction project or buy stocks. Religious figures have been preaching that it is the duty of every faithful Muslim to help his fatherland, so everyone must invest in the dam.
Some media have reported that there is a certain list of Tajik organizations with mandatory donation sums listed next to each of their names. Experts believe it will negatively affect businesses, particularly the banking sector, the internet and mobile communications. On 11 January 2010, a number of students from the capital city’s universities attended a quarterly press conference at the Ministry of Education, complaining that their professors are giving them “Incomplete” marks until they purchase stocks. Minister of Education A. Rahmon replied that “the purchase of stocks is voluntary” and that he would look into the matter.
Yet, officials on all levels have been foaming at the mouth at press conferences pronouncing the absolute freedom of citizens not to buy stocks or donate. The entire population, they say, has experienced a surge of patriotism and is willingly giving all it can despite the crisis. Time will tell.