Tuesday, February 28, 2012

tuesdays in turkmenistan: closing in some more

This month's presidential election here serves as an excellent example of what seems to be the regression in progress that has been occurring here. Of course it was a sham. The results make that clear with 97% vote share for the president on 97% turnout. The next nearest candidate had 1.2% of the vote, but like the other non-incumbents, was never a viable candidate because this is not a viable democracy. I can lament on the restrictions of the U.S. system that will endlessly shunt us into a two-party system, but that's still a choice. Here, choice does not exist, at least not when it comes to the government. At this point, the question I most wonder about the election process here is if there will be another presidential election in five years like the current rules say there should be, or if he will simply declare himself "president for life" before that time.

Four weeks ago, I commented on report season, wherein Turkmenistan was universally getting some of the lowest marks. Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, Reporters Without Borders, Economist Intelligence Unit, Transparency International, and probably several others I have missed have all conducted different surveys measuring different things using different methodologies. However, the common thread is that any study ranking freedom, rights, choice, etc is one in which Turkmenistan fares poorly. There was a U.N. report that came out late last year that was highly critical of some elements of the situation here. It is available for download here (and this is a direct link to a .doc file). It points out concerns with several aspects of society including discrimination against ethnic minorities and women in education and employment, poverty, concerns about worker rights, insufficient access to education, domestic abuse, human trafficking, and the list just goes on and on. I'm not sure what presence the U.N. has here, but for an anecdote, I remember seeing a U.N. plane on the tarmac at the Ashgabat airport back when I was going on days off in October. It was a small jet with large "UN" letters on the side.

Another way it is slowly closing in here is a rule about dual passport holders. There are many people here who hold dual Russian and Turkmen citizenship. However, by the end of this year, they will be required to give up one of those passports. It strikes me as another form of the Turkmenization of ethnic minorities that occurred during the rule of the previous president. There is particular animosity towards Russians, and while the historical reasons for why it exists are clear enough, that hardly excuses it nor does it make it acceptable. Anyway, about this passport rule, this is going to have a very clear impact on some people I have met here. At least two people I know intend to move out of Turkmenistan as a result of this rule about no longer being a dual Russian/Turkmen passport holder. It is something management is aware of as well and attempts are being made to place and accommodate people within reason. Valued employees are valued and if they go from being home-country Turkmenistan to home-country Russia at least we sort of draw at a corporate level. The real loser is Turkmenistan for marginalizing useful members of society and coercing them to leave.

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