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While some taste good times, Tajik leader grows wary

Some seen growing rich by profiteering from drug trade with Afghan neighbors

While some taste good times, Tajik leader grows wary

From the crippling amounts his people spend on weddings to the local fashion for gold teeth, Tajikistan's leader is on the warpath against extravagant spending.
Tajikistan President Emomali Rakhmon, an authoritarian figure who clinched a new term in office at flawed elections last November, has plunged into a campaign to restore homespun virtues.
This is sometimes wrapped in appeals to purge lingering Russian influence from the country, which was ruled from Moscow in Soviet times.
Change has been in the air since the president launched into a diatribe against gold teeth on a school visit last autumn.
He criticized the teachers' gilded dentistry, saying they were alien imports and explaining that they could damage the country's ability to attract foreign aid.
"How are we to persuade donors that we are poor when our teachers have gold teeth?" Rakhmon demanded.
Since then there has been a slew of decrees and pronouncements on lifestyle and culture in this country that has a secular state but a mainly Muslim population.
This month the president gave notice to school and university students about their behavior, ordering a probe by the anti-corruption agency into how so many managed to come by expensive cars.
He has also ordered civil servants to rein in personal spending on weddings and more arcane rituals such as parties celebrating the first haircut of a newborn child.
"The main purpose is not to obstruct the continuation of our traditions but to prevent the proliferation of unnecessary events. ... The point is to raise living standards and prosperity," Rakhmon said.
Questionable wealth
The president's appeals may strike a chord with some in Tajikistan, where the vast majority of the population lives in poverty after a devastating civil war in the 1990s.
A small slither of society is growing rich, sometimes in questionable ways such as the drug trade with neighboring Afghanistan.
"The offspring of the new oligarchs have exceeded all boundaries. They don't recognize society, ethics or the law," said an analyst at the president's official center for Strategic Research, Abdulvokhid Shamolov.
"Under the pretense of national tradition, corrupt people are spending huge amounts of money on things like memorial events.... In the guise of Muslim tradition uneducated religious leaders are laundering the money of these new Tajiks," he said.
'Too high-handed'
The president is also trying to banish traces of Russian rule, which date from Russia's expansion into Central Asia in the 19th century.
Last month, Rakhmon officially announced the de-Russification of his own surname, changing it from Rakhmonov. Tajik parents are now required to register newborn children with Tajik names.
And this month he called for the return from London's British Museum of a collection of artifacts dating from the fifth century BC known as the Oxus Treasure. The collection includes a gold scabbard, model chariots, rings and coins.
But the British Museum disputes Tajikistan's claims that the treasures came from Takhti Sangin, on the Tajik-Afghan border, saying that they actually came from another site.
For some critics, the Tajik leadership is becoming too high-handed.
A recent university visit by Education Minister Abdudzhabor Rakhonov in which he personally tried to enforce a ban on mobile phones in classrooms by confiscating students' phones did not go down well with everyone.
"A mobile phone is not a luxury but something essential that helps you keep tabs on your children in school and after lessons," commented one Dushanbe parent, Nigina Nugmonova, 29.
On the subject of extravagant weddings, 52-year-old businessman Gulchekhra, who declined to give his surname, was defiant.
"No one can stop me holding a wedding where I want and how I want," he said.
"If people are spending money it means they've earned it. It's a sign that we want to live better. Let people decide for themselves how to spend their money and how many guests to invite," he said.


Updated : 2021-04-18 21:43 GMT+08:00