Recently, I wrote about the appointment of Nuriddin Saidov as the new Education Minister in Tajikistan. I wondered at the time whether there was anything underlying the move of President Rahmon’s close relative Abdujabbor Rahmonov from the Ministry to Tajik State Pedagogical University.
It seems I’m not the only one who’s been thinking about this move, which was part of a wider government reshuffle. Two recent articles have looked at the way the media has reacted to the reshuffle. Here I briefly summarise the two articles and conclude by asking whether growing media criticism is a symptom of a wider cause.
The ever-reliable Konstantin Parshin on Eurasia.net has a good article on the subject, which suggests that Rahmon may have been influenced by criticism from some media outlets. Online media is proving to be an effective way for independent news agencies and in particular individual Taijks to express themselves: just look at comments left under articles on news sites or the use of Facebook to circulate and discuss information.
“With the spread of the internet, authorities have found it increasingly difficult to control the flow of information in the country. No longer can the government rely on the use of traditional means of coercion, in particular libel cases, to thwart journalistic scrutiny of its actions.”
However, he concludes that:
“Despite all the attention-grabbing headlines since the New Year, it is still too early to say whether Rahmon’s responsiveness to the media will last, or is just a temporary phenomenon.”
Lola Olimova of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting has an interview with political analyst Nurali Davlatov on Ground Report’s website. Entitled ‘Tajikistan’s limited options’, it also discusses the recent reshuffle and demonstrates why increasing media criticism is important:
“The danger is that the public’s trust has its limits, and could soon be at an end. These media reports are a warning sign that people’s patience is running out.”
On the reshuffle, Davlatov’s points are in keeping with findings that are emerging from my study abroad research:
“Tajikistan has professionals, although they don’t necessarily live here – they are scattered around the world these days.
The people who are actually in power came from rural districts and collective farms…. [but] we need government that is conscientious, not corrupt, and that regards itself as servant rather than master of the nation.”
I find it very interesting that Davlatov also touches on the issue of the lack of a Tajik national identity:
“A nation’s psychological makeup takes decades or centuries to form. Tajiks are currently at a stage where they will place more reliance in their avlod [clan], their village, or their district than on outsiders.”
This is interesting because it correlates closely to comments made in a report by the Geneva Centre for Security Policy and the OSCE, based on its September 2011 conference. The report, which is available here, says:
“Tajikistan is still in the process of constructing a suitable national identity, that is, a foundational and unifying national narrative that can mobilize the support of all its citizens – one that answers the questions: Who are we? What does it mean to be a citizen of the state? Where are we collectively heading?” (page 8)
It thus seems to me that the growing swell of media criticism is something bigger than a series of responses to specific events: it is a collective expression of discontent at the government’s lack of ability to answer the question: where are we collectively heading?
Whilst there has been some economic growth, this has not been enough to prevent drastic under-investment in critical public services. Talented people, as Davlatov notes, leave the country because there aren’t any opportunities for them at home. For people that stay, poverty abounds. The government looks and acts in an increasingly authoritarian and corrupt way.
It is hard to see how Tajikistan can progress from its current state of malaise until there is a government and a leader prepared to seriously address and offer answers to some fundamental questions about the country’s future.