Tuesday, December 06, 2011

tuesdays in turkmenistan: anti-glasnost

It's difficult to say if it's the shine wearing off a new locale or if actual changes are afoot, but there's a feeling that things are changing here, and not necessarily for the better. It could also just be that I am starting to see a bit more behind the curtain. For those of us who remember a bit of their history class or actually lived through it, there were two terms that were frequently used to describe the end of the Cold War and the changes going on in the Soviet Union. One was perestroika for restructuring. The other was glasnost to indicate openness and transparency.

Here, it feels a bit like anti-glasnost. The concept of glasnost has no place here. Infrastructure is for naught when there is no access. Our own internet at the base runs through a satellite (hence the limited bandwidth) so we don't go through the local internet. But if we did, I am sure I would be unable to access several services due to the blacklisting of many sites. Interestingly enough, while there is 3G (when it's up) available from the only mobile phone provider, their ability to block some sites is not very sophisticated.

It's more than just information and media that lack openness, but those are some of the hallmarks of a functioning democracy. The idea that people can and will be informed and use that information to make supposedly good decisions about governance is a tenet of democracy. Of course, with the election looming in February, one should never assume that this is a functioning democracy. It could be worse but not by much. When you're only ahead of North Korea and Somalia in a study, and it doesn't even matter what it's a study of, that's not good news. In fact, I mentioned the coming election in February to two local engineers today and their reaction was surprise. Neither one knew there was an election in two months. That should tell you about how well democracy here functions.

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