In early September, Tajikistan is expected to celebrate pompously its 25th independence anniversary. What are the country’s accomplishments and failures? Temur Varki, an expert from France, Tajik by origin, answers this and other questions of EADaily.
Did the collapse of the Soviet Union bring the cherished independence to Tajikistan? According to polls, Tajikistan is one of the countries where people are nostalgic about the Soviet Union less than others are. This indicator is lower only in Uzbekistan. According to a public opinion poll conducted by Sputnik, only the residents of Tajikistan (39% vs. 55%) and Uzbekistan (4% vs. 91%) above 35 believe that life has become better after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
First of all, I would like to recall that Emomali Rahmon and other deputies of the Supreme Council of the Tajik SSR, including the current speaker of the lower chamber of the parliament, supported the State Committee of the State of Emergency on August 19 1991. It was under the pressure of the opposition rally of the then unregistered Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), the Democratic Party, and the movements Rastokhez and Lali Badakhshon, outside the Supreme Council building that parliamentarians, including Emomali Rahmonov (the original surname of the future president) banned the Communist Party and adopted a declaration on the sovereignty of Tajikistan. The authorities and the entire country are indebted to the opposition and particularly the IRPT for the Independence Day. Rahmon has recently banned IRPT and 16 members of the Party have been sentenced to life imprisonment. The statue of Ismoil Somoni, the founder of the first Tajik statehood, replaced the statue of Vladimir Lenin in September 1990 by the demand made at the opposition rally. Interestingly, the outward resemblance of Somoni’s statue and young Rahmonov is striking.
Speaking of the independence fruits, the former communists gained first, as they used the fruits of the fight of their opponents. The governing establishment of the Party grasped the benefits of the unrestricted privatization of the state property, raiding, and illegal takeover of the private business, as well as turning of the country with all its resources, including the human ones, into a colony and reservation of its private company. The government borrows foreign loans to be redeemed by the population, builds paid highways for the population, and exempts the son-in-law of the president from all taxes. The governing establishment of the former communist party in the parliament exempts the firms and companies of Rahmon’s family of customs duties and taxes, from electricity bills, and audit. The aluminum smelting plant in Tursunzoda belongs to a private company managed by the president’s relative. Rahmon’s relatives and friends control banks, both the airlines, roads, large food and commodity markets, construction companies, factories and plants, public transport, production of building materials, energy resources and food shipping companies, generation and sale/export of electricity and much more. It is not surprising that Rahmon likes independence so much. The oppositionists presented the independence on a platter before he jailed and exiled them.
For the population, I think, the only benefit was the opportunity to travel abroad. About 2 million or every fourth citizen of Tajikistan uses that opportunity to work as farm-laborer in Russia or seek fortune elsewhere. In addition, the youth can study abroad. Now, one can buy land lots from Rahmon’s family to build houses. This is an advantage too. Tajiks used to be very domesticate. They worked in the country and did not travel. Now, they have to seek fortune everywhere they can find labor and more opportunities to use their potential. As for the data of Sputnik’s polls, I cast no doubt on their reliability. Independence granted the Tajik people with the right to vote with feet against Rahmon’s political authority based on clan affiliation.
What are the accomplishments and failures of that period?
What the true independence is based on? It is the financial independence of a country. Paradoxically, Rahmon praises the independence granted to him to go around with hat in hand and ask for loans and grants. Then, it is the transport independence. Uzbekistan dismantled the railway and built a tunnel passing by the north of Tajikistan. Turkmenistan decided against building a joint road passing by the north of Afghanistan. The Chinese are building roads and tunnels. The Chinese are building border-crossing points in the east. Chinese markings are on the Tajik roads. Can you tell me why an independent country needs markings in Chinese language when the population does not speak, write or read Chinese? At the same time, the committee for terminology fines the owners of public places for non-Tajik names, medics for non-Tajik terminology, and suggests fining journalists for the non-Tajik words that are unknown to the committee.
Maybe, we have achieved an energy independence. No, we have not managed to build the Rogun hydropower plant within 24 years to supply villages, schools, and hospitals with electric power in autumns and winters. I am afraid the Rogun project will become outdated within the next 25 years, as new sources of power will become popular. We import fuel, oil and lubricants from Russia. The supply of gas from Uzbekistan was halted yet long ago thanks to Rahmon’s shining diplomatic talents. Maybe, we have achieved a food sovereignty. Our stores are packed with Russian goods that are even more expensive than in Moscow. Our markets are packed with Kazakh flour, Pakistani and Chinese vegetables and fruits. Now, they have entrusted Tajikistan’s food security to Chinese agricultural firms that have leased our best lands for decades to come and for whom the wives and children of the migrants that earn their living in Russia work. As for the sovereignty from the viewpoint of defense, inherently foreign troops – the 201st Russian military base – provide it.
A quarter of a century has passed but the Tajik politicians still speak of creating a statehood system. Does it mean that the authorities have not decided upon the country’s policy yet?
The incumbent authorities have no idea of democracy, supremacy of the law, parliamentary system, or a development model. To retain power and extort more money is what they care about. As for the so-called foreign multi-vector policy, China has become they major “source of inspiration,” since it does not bind human rights, does not deport migrants, but sends its “emissaries” to catch the authorities and economy of Tajikistan in a web before swallowing them. Contrary to the Constitution saying that the territory of Tajikistan is inseparable, part of the territories has been given, or as evil tongues says, sold to China without any referendum. During the past 25 years, the government has not managed to ensure an uninterrupted electricity supply and jobs for the population and failed to overcome the stalemate in the communications sector.
Does Tajikistan still depend on Russia and economically on China too?
Tajikistan not just depends on Russia. This dependence is growing despite the growing dependence of the country on China. Like Truffaldino of Bergamo – a servant of two masters. China is feeding the political elite and building, Russia is protecting and employing migrants that feed the biggest part of the population. I think Rahmon did not want and did not manage to use the advantages of independence for the population of Tajikistan. The authority is based on the family/clan affiliation and localism, and representatives of other regions and parties have no place in the country’s government. Staff scarcity and incompetence coupled with high crime rate have become the reason of many failures in the establishment of the independent country, its foreign and domestic policy, economic, education and medical sectors. The country and the public were thrown back to feudalism and are degrading rapidly.
Independence gives an opportunity to negotiate, trade on mutually advantageous conditions with neighbors, implement local projects, free the people from excessive burden, give the people a chance to build and earn, receive good education and use their talents and knowledge for the development of the country. Nothing of the kind has happened in Tajikistan, unfortunately. From all types of independence, the authorities of Tajikistan have succeeded only in getting independent from their own citizens, law and justice.