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Turkmen Report: July 13, 2004

13 July 2004
Turkmenistan Bans Russian Mayak Radio Station Broadcasts
Turkmenistan is playing Turkmen songs on the radio frequencies that, until three days ago, were used by the Russian radio station Mayak (Beacon), which is very popular in this Central Asian country, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 July. National radio channels Vatan (Motherland), Miras (Heritage) and Chartaran are broadcasting on the frequencies.

"The worn out radio valves have failed, they were first installed back in 1964; it is necessary to mobilize $120,000 to restart broadcasting," an official of the Turkmen Communication Ministry said. The official added, "The Russian side has not been contributing to the organization of broadcasting on its channel."

"It will take not less than 12 months to restore the Mayak channel," according to the radio and television department of Turkmenistan's Communication Ministry.

With the disappearance of the Mayak programs from the air, the newspaper "Neitralnyi Turkmenistan" remains the sole source of information for the Russian-speaking population of the republic. Russian television broadcasts are only available in Turkmenistan through satellite television. ORT broadcasts were discontinued by Turkmenistan in 1998. All subscriptions to Russian newspapers and magazines ended in 2002. (ITAR-TASS)

Turkmenistan's State Symbols Go On Space Mission
The Russian carrier "Dnepr," carrying a special container with the state symbols of Turkmenistan, was launched from Baikonur on 29 June, the government press service said on 9 July, ITAR-TASS reported the next day.

"Independent Turkmenistan has become a full member of the club of states engaged in space activities," official press reports said. This has become possible due to "the constructive dialogue between Presidents Vladimir Putin and Saparmurat Niyazov, and the fruitful atmosphere of mutual understanding and trust that is characteristic of the leaders of the two countries," reports said.

The launch was executed by the Russian Federal Space Agency as part of the bilateral agreement on space activities. The carrier also put into orbit eight foreign satellites belonging to Italy, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and France. (ITAR-TASS)

Uzbekistan Concerned Over Reports Of Plague In Turkmenistan
The Uzbek Health Ministry is concerned over reports of plague cases in neighboring Turkmenistan, Interfax reported on 5 July. An extraordinary session of the emergency antiepidemic commission was held in the Uzbek city of Urgench, the Health Ministry's press service said.

The chief doctor of the regional state sanitary and epidemic control center, Sadull Masharipov, said no infections of people or pets have been registered in the region, perhaps thanks to preventative measures. "Nevertheless, the situation remains tense, especially in regions that border on Turkmenistan. The main efforts of medics and other services involved are aimed at preventing the disease from entering the country and discovering its possible sources," Masharipov said. (Interfax)

Turkmenistan Refutes Media Reports On Cases Of Anthrax, Plague
Turkmenistan's Foreign Ministry has refuted media reports that plague and anthrax are spreading in the country. ITAR-TASS reported on 5 July. The ministry said the Emergency Epidemics Monitoring Commission said the situation in the country in terms of epidemics is normal and no cases of lethal diseases have been registered. (ITAR-TASS)

Turkmen High-School Graduates Not Issued Medical Certificates
Turkmen medical facilities stopped issuing medical certificates for high-school graduates to study at universities and colleges outside the country, Interfax reported on 5 July, citing a source in the Turkmen Education Ministry.

"The corresponding order was given by the Turkmen Health and Medical Industry Ministry and the Education Ministry," the source said. The source said this order was issued because graduates are only allowed to study at Turkmen universities and colleges after doing two years of army service or work in the profession they choose to study. "All of the country's citizens must obey the law," the source said.

Appropriate medical certificates will only be issued to citizens who intend to leave Turkmenistan to take up permanent residence in another country, the source said. (Interfax)

Buying Ignorance: Society Bears Hidden Costs of Corruption
7 July 2004

By Antoine Blua

Central Asia's students often must pay bribes to pass exams or gain admission to universities. But the costs to society -- in terms of lower educational standards and ill-trained professionals -- can be far higher.

Students and parents throughout Central Asia say the cost of a passing grade on an exam can amount to as much as a month's wage -- and that a place in university can run to hundreds or thousands of dollars. But for society the cost of such a system is medical doctors who are not qualified to practice or universities that cannot teach.

Izat Normuradov is a student in Uzbekistan who has seen the system from the inside. "By taking part in bribery, a student doesn't help his knowledge in his or her chosen field. One example is medicine. Students who obtain their degrees through bribery cannot even explain the theory of what is going on, let alone try to practice in his or her field," Normuradov says.

Medicine is one of the most difficult disciplines a student can choose. But the same weakening of standards applies to all of the sciences and professions -- lawyers unqualified to practice law, engineers who cannot build bridges or design factories.

The mother of an Uzbek student says that she fears the lack of proper knowledge among future decision-makers does not bode well for the long-term development of her country.

"They should pay special attention to reforming [the education system]. In the worst case, this is leading to a crisis. The way down. This will only lead to a crisis," the mother says.

Some local universities increasingly see it as in their own best interest to try to reduce corrupt practices -- but these are still relatively few in number. Two schools often singled out in this regard include the Kazakhstan Institute of Management, Economics and Strategic Research (KIMEP), and the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek.

In practice, the better students are often forced to study abroad, where standards are much higher. Luckier ones can find the financial and logistical support to study in the U.S. or Europe. Russia is also a popular destination.

Bagtyyar is a former Turkmen student who eventually moved to Western Europe with his family in order to get a worthwhile education. "[In Turkmenistan] I applied for the English-language department," he says. "After one month of study, they had to find room in the department for the daughter of a minister. So the university administration transferred me and another student to the Russian department. I studied there two years and then left the country. There was no chance to study there."

Tajik student Farrukh says he is considering going to Russia to complete his degree in medicine. "I finished [the first part of] medical school in Dushanbe and then tried to enter the [higher] medical university. But the professors all asked me for money. They seemed more interested in getting the money than they did in teaching the students. I tried to get in [without paying a bribe] and I couldn't. So I instead I went to a [lower level] medical college. I'll try to enroll again [in the university of medicine]. If I'm not successful, I'll try in Russia," Farrukh says.

Many of these students choose to remain abroad after they graduate to take advantage of better opportunities there.

Iveta Silova, a senior education adviser for George Soros's Open Society Institute, says the system of corruption has another hidden cost. Over time, bribery has devalued the reputations of Central Asian schools -- making it harder for local residents to study or practice outside their home countries.

Silova singles out Turkmenistan. "The worst example is Turkmenistan, which has not only corruption, but the higher education system has only two years of academic study. So no country would actually take any Turkmen student with only two years of academic study in the university for further study. In the other [Central Asian] countries, to a lesser extent, there is also a depreciation of diplomas," Silova says.

So what can be done to halt the brain drain and erosion of professional standards? In the fourth and final part of our series on corruption in education, we look at tentative efforts to reform the system. (RFE/RL)