No sooner is he appointed to a new post as rector of the Tajik Pedagogical (teacher training) Institute has Abdujabbor Rahmonov hit the headlines with a publicity-friendly stunt to offer oft-stereotyped hungry students free bread. Whilst there’s no denying that bread is an important part of the Central Asian diet, it doesn’t take a higher education marketing genius to work out that this initiative lays the Rector open to all manner of jokes and criticism.
It helps for context to know that Rahmonov was until very recently the Minister for Education, until he was moved on in January 2012, allegedly for his failure to tackle corruption in the education sector – thanks to Alexander Sodiqov for this link.
To share the joy of this quirky marketing ploy, I’ve translated the original article from Asia Plus into English below. Note that the tone is entirely serious, suggesting that Asia Plus is either desperate for a story (as one of the commentators contends) or is choosing to ignore the humour that could so easily be injected into this report.
I’ve also translated some of the best Russian language comments after the article. The freedom with which people are writing underlines some of the points I made in my most recent post about the role of online media in encouraging government criticism.
The article had been live for about six hours by the time I got pointed to it via a Facebook comment and had already had over 2,200 views and 30 comments.
At the Tajik State Aini Pedagogical Institute, an initiative by new rector and ex-Minister of Education Abdujabbor Rahmonov means all students and staff are being offered free lepyoshka (traditional Central Asian bread) for three days.
Asia Plus news agency heard this news from the manager of the teaching department, Iskandar Sulaimanov.
Sulaimanov said that the university had opened a lepyoshechnaya [a bakery specialising in bread] and that the Rector had personally provided flour and given the order to provide free lepyoshka to everyone for three days.
“This is a Tajik tradition: when someone opens a lepyoshechnaya, they invite people to taste the first batch for free,” noted Sulaimanov.
The cost of one lepyoshka here is 70 dirams [15 US cents/9 British pence], when at other bakeries one lepyoshka costs a minimum of 80 dirams or 1 somoni [17-20 cents/11-13 pence].
In addition to this, the Pedagogical Institute representative reported that a hairdresser’s would shortly be opened at the university’s halls of residence. It would offer students a low rate on haircuts.
“The former minister is showing his care for his students,” assured Sulaimanov.
Story (c) Asia Plus. Originally published as Ректор Таджикского педуниверситета угощал всех студентов хлебом on 14.02.2012. , author Mehrangez Tursonzoda. The translation is entirely my own and unofficial.
Rohat: This is a clear example of “kishlakisation” [“kishlak” is a Russian word for village often used in Central Asia] – even sitting in the minister’s chair for 5 or 6 years hasn’t changed him…
Tursonboy: The Pedgagical Institute has around 8,000 students and 2,000 staff. The bread costs 70 dirams. Over 3 days, that equates to a cost of 21,000 somoni. Where has he [the rector] taken this money from? Why are the anti-corruption bodies silent?
Sovest [Conscience]: It looks like his conscience has woken up and he’s finally seen who it was that he was taking $200 for diplomas from all these years [as Minister]…
Abdullo: There are fewer bribes now so [he] needs to find a new source of income. I doubt the rector’s generosity. Everything has been thought up too craftily… he’s a clever guy. Maybe he’ll open a club there – he needs to earn money somehow…
Kto-to [Someone]: Asia Plus, do you really not have any proper news? For some days now you haven’t had any news. As a frequent reader of your articles, I think I have the right to ask you for a good job!?
Piligrim: Is this a university or a shopping centre? And what does “the rector had personally provided flour” mean? What is he, a businessman? I would suggest that the responsible department investigates this fact. The rector should care about the level of students’ education first and foremost. Yes… a new “Tajik tradition”: turn everything into a bazaar [market].
Hats off to Rustam and Gipopotam for my two personal favourite comments:
Rustam: This is called a circulation of funds in the Ministry of Education’s system… students pay [bribe] their teachers, the teachers share funds with the rector, who opens a lepyoshechnaya and offers “free” lepyoshka for three days… it’s both funny and awful… it would all be very funny if it wasn’t so sad!
Gipopotam [Hippopotamus]: The rector of the Tajik Pedagogical University has treated all students to bread. This is to help them get used to a teacher’s rations from the outset. If they were in the Law Faculty there would be shashlik [donor kebabs] to go with the bread.