A slightly light-hearted post today as I’ve spent the last few days unwell and my mind is not in serious analysis mode right now!
As anyone in Central Asia will know, the American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton paid a short visit to Tajikistan and Uzbekistan over the weekend. This post is a round-up of some of the stories about the visit, which offered a rare occasion for Central Asia to get an airing in the international press. I think the opportunity was a missed one judging by the quality of the articles I chose…
Ahead of her arrival, ABC News published a handy pronunciation guide for anyone struggling to work out just where the stress goes in ‘Tashkent’. No, seriously.
Further help came from the American Washington Post, who described the two countries as ‘Afghanistan’s neighbours’. I’m not sure that’s an appellation most people would feel overly excited about.
Avesta.tj has several reports about the visit, including one entitled “Рогун и саксофон” (Rogun – a huge dam construction project that is always short of funds – and saxophone). With high hopes for a good local view on events, I was quickly disappointed. Clearly the journalist had become distracted by the novelty of a senior female politician.
Here are two short extracts: “Hillary is a good-looking woman. A strong woman. She was able to swallow the insult following the scandal of Bill and Monica’s saxophone lessons.” And just in case you didn’t think that was bad enough: “Hillary is a beautiful woman, but she came here as a politician, not a woman.” What a shame that trashy British tabloid News of the World has closed down, as the journalist could have had a great career with them.
Finally, over to CNN’s report on the visit. Two things about it made me laugh out loud. Firstly, the title’s focus on human rights discussions. Seriously? Just refer to my earlier post about forms of violence in the region to dispel any optimism on that front. And secondly – with apologies for my childishness – if you watch the short film on the webpage of Clinton being shown around the Botanic Garden in Dushanbe by Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, look out for the gesture Rahmon makes with his hands about three quarters of the way through and Clinton’s bemused laugh in response.
A friend of mine was due to be present at a speech given by Clinton in Dushanbe, and I’m hoping she will post a more balanced first-hand account of the visit – watch this space!
To end today, a postscript that speaks volumes about where power lies in the post-imperial Western world…
With all the talk about Clinton’s visit, almost everyone has overlooked the fact that the UK sent its first ever government minister to Tajikistan. Follow that link for the only article I saw on this event. I’ll leave you with a quote from minister Alan Duncan – the word IF in sentence three should be up in huge letters:
“The future could be bright for Tajikistan. There are decision makers here we can work with. If they can attract international investors to their agricultural businesses, and encourage a better environment for entrepreneurs, Tajikistan could be a Central Asian success story.”
Several conversations I’ve had and articles I’ve read recently have been about violence in Central Asia. This isn’t just about physical violence – although this seems to loom large – but political and economic violence too.
First, on physical violence. I heard that a friend of a friend was beaten up after leaving a wedding in Tajikistan recently for no apparent reason. He doesn’t know who did it and as they took his phone and left him practically semi-conscious, it took him a few days to get home. Fortunately, he seems to be recovering now – but isn’t that just a hideous example of random and wanton violence?
Secondly, political violence. I know Ukraine isn’t really in the remit of this blog, but in keeping with the violence theme I’d like to register my disgust at the imprisonment of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Most people are saying that she’s likely to be released soon but that doesn’t excuse the state of using political violence to try and keep an opponent quiet.
On a smaller scale, evidence of this political violence extends to Tajikistan too. The trial of journalist Urunboi Usmonov has ended with a conviction for complicity in the activities of a banned Islamist organisation, Hizb ut-Tahrir. Throughout, Mr Usmonov has vigorously denied this to be the case and the trial seems to have had very little evidence to support the prosecution. There has been national (muted, though, due to limitations on press freedom) and international outcry about Mr Usmonov’s arrest, which may explain why he won’t actually be jailed, having been granted an amnesty. As with Tymoshenko’s case, that’s just not good enough.
Finally, the interesting concept of economic violence and a very enlightening article by Bruno de Cordier of Ghent University in the Netherlands (thanks to Zaynura for bringing this to my attention). He argues that economic violence was extreme in the aftermath of the Soviet Union, but has now become more embedded and localised. He picks out the cotton trade and bazaar activity as two examples of this. Here’s an example he gives about cotton in Uzbekistan:
“While cotton exports are in the hands of a state-owned company and the political elite in the capital, and most of the cotton farm land is state-owned, crop production is overseen by provincial and district governors who are left with a great deal of discretion and autonomy as to how they deliver the requested harvest quota. Since both the income and political survival of these provincial strongmen depend on the delivery of the quota, crass exploitation, eviction threats against farmers from land that they lease from the state, and the forced replacement of staple crops like wheat and rice with cotton, are all common. Similar practices exist in other cotton areas…”
I encourage you to read De Cordier’s article in full and would be interested to hear your views on these various large- and small-scale examples of violence.
The UK-based Telegraph newspaper today has a story on what will be the one of the world’s biggest mosques. The start of building on the 115,000-capacity building closely follows the official launch of the world’s tallest flagpole in the same country.
Can you guess where?
A further clue: the mosque, 70% funded by Qatar, has a budget of US$100m, whilst the flagpole is estimated to have cost around US$30m.
Have you guessed yet?
It must be some rich country, right? So perhaps it’s Kazakhstan, the most affluent of the Central Asian countries.
Or maybe it’s closed-to-the-world-Turkmenistan, which has a fine tradition of building grand budget-busting monuments, such a revolving gold statue of the former President.
No again. OK, I’ll put you out of your misery.
Those statistics are so stark compared to the expenditure against the two enormous building projects that it’s almost impossible to know how to try and reconcile them.
But surely a good start for the government would be to pump as much funding into developing the country’s people and resources through improved education, health care, infrastructure, industrial investment – and not into wild constructions that serve only to grab international headlines for a second or two.
What do you think?
Wrapping up a deal done earlier this year, China has now formally taken over 1% of Tajikistan in the desolate eastern Tajik Pamir mountain range. A short but interesting – and ever so slightly sardonic – story on this is on the Asian Correspondent .
At the time, the Tajik government claimed moral victory over their gigantic and ever more powerful neighbours because they had not conceded (sorry, should I say “traded”) the full amount of land that China had asked for.
But friends and colleagues in Tajikistan complained to me over the summer that for a country the size of Greece, even 1% of landmass makes a difference. The main question I heard was “but why does China need even more land?”
It seems to me that the answer is: China doesn’t need more land, but what it does want to do is demonstrate its strength and cement the trading relationship that is putting Tajikistan increasingly into the hands of its new eastern master.
Chinese goods are already apparent everywhere, from “odnorazovie noski” (a pejorative Russian term for the quality of the Chinese socks that are sold in Tajik markets, suggesting they’re only good for one use) to Chinese workers re-asphalting the roads in the capital Dushanbe ahead of the country’s 20th anniversary celebrations earlier this year.
It makes you wonder what China’s next step will be…
You could provide several answers to that question, but the article I’m posting here looks at Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. No, really.
Intrigued? Read the full article on the wonderful Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty website for more.
By the way, this is my first post in the ‘bureaucratic madness’ category and it shows the really very detrimental impact that a poor taxation and manufacturing situation can have on a country.
An interesting story from the Washington Post, reprinted here in the Seattle Times, focussing on the lifestyle of Tajik and Uzbek migrants working in Moscow.