Turkmenistan's Costly Independence Party
|Publisher||Institute for War and Peace Reporting|
|Publication Date||31 January 2011|
|Cite as||Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Turkmenistan's Costly Independence Party, 31 January 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4d4ba4df1e.html [accessed 20 September 2014]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
The Turkmen authorities have set aside funding for celebrations this year marking two decades of independence from the Soviet Union, but people in the Central Asian state still fear they will have to pay for the events out of their own pockets.
In January, President Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov instructed the central bank to allocate 1.2 million US dollars to fund the cost of the events, which will peak in October. Each of Turkmenistan's five regions will get an equal amount.
Despite the allocation of funding, many people in Turkmenistan believe they will be required to make more of the "voluntary" contributions that are customarily exacted to pay for public events.
"The independence anniversary will be held at the people's expense," a media-watcher in Balkan province in western Turkmenistan said.
Independent Turkmenistan's first leader Saparmurat Niazov, who died in 2006, regularly staged set-piece public events involving colourful performances and crowds of banner-waving happy citizens. He left a legacy of some 30 dates on the calendar celebrating Turkmen horses, melons, carpets and so on. These are paid with contributions from public-sector institutions, either as lump sums or deductions from staff wages.
One local analyst calculates that the average public servant hands over the equivalent of one month's salary – about 200 dollars – in such contributions over the course of a year.
A rug weaver at a state-run carpet factory in the east of Turkmenistan admitted that she hated "her" holiday, Carpet Day, as she had to hand over so much cash to pay for official festivities.
"Guests and officials sit on soft carpets in yurts, celebrating and eating and drinking on our hard-earned money, while we dress up and pretend to be the happy hosts," she said.
A print house employee in the eastern town of Turkmenabat complained that he had to fork out money to pay for Turkmen flags ahead of Press Day in February.
"The flags always tear in the wind, fade in the sun, and wear out during the endless celebrations," he said. "So they take money from us to buy new ones."
A commentator in Bairamali in the southeast said coerced contributions were becoming increasingly common. Whereas before, they were paid by institutions or out of the wages of those workers whose national holiday was being marked, now the fundraising was more general. Last May, for example, a meeting of elders from around Turkmenistan was held in the northern Dashoguz region, and all local teachers, doctors and other state and private-sector organisations had to pay between 20 and 30 manats – up to 11 dollars – to pay for it.
Those who refuse to contribute are liable to find themselves in trouble.
"Everybody keeps quiet, as they know that refusing to contribute to the festivities fund, or showing that they are unhappy about it, will lead to them being persecuted or even dismissed," an Ashgabat-based lawyer said.
This article was produced as part of IWPR's News Briefing Central Asia output, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.