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Rahmatullo Zoirov, the leader of the opposition Social Democratic Party of Tajikistan, is unable to make a living in his homeland, just like many other rank-and-file party members. (file photo)

According to the deputy leader of the opposition Social Democratic Party of Tajikistan, (SDPT) "help wanted" signs in Tajikistan should specify "opposition party members and their relatives need not apply."

Shokirjon Hakim, who earned a law degree in Moscow, has been seeking employment for three years in his native Tajikistan. The search has been frustrating and fruitless and Hakim told RFE/RL's Tajik Service, known locally as Ozodi, that he thinks he is facing discrimination because of his work in the SDPT.

Hakim said he has been searching for employment in government and nongovernment organizations. He listed some of them for Ozodi: the Institute of Philosophy, Politics and Law at Tajikistan's Academy of Sciences, the National University, Technical University, Commercial University, the Institute of Economics and Rights, the Slavic University, Tajikistan's branch of Russia's Lomonosov University, and other Russian-sponsored universities in Tajikistan.

"When you're labeled opposition, they wouldn't give you work as a janitor," Hakim said. He added that his wife, who is a librarian by training, cannot find work either even though she "is not a member of any party and does not have any interest in this [politics]."

Ozodi spoke with the deputy director of the Institute of Philosophy, Politics and Law, Khayriddin Idiev and asked about Hakim's situation. Idiev said, "I know Shokirjon well, earlier we worked together in this institute."

Idiev said that, in the three months he has held his current position, he has not heard from Hakim.

"Depending on the availability of places in this or that department, his request [for employment] would absolutely be reviewed. There are no problems here," he added.

Idiev denied that there were any political motives behind the institute's hiring policies.

But Hakim said he had spoken in early August with Deputy Prime Minister Marhabo Jabbori and other members of the government who "were surprised at my ordeals and said the situation should not have reached this point. Hakim said he had not heard from them since that conversation.

Ozodi reported that Hakim is not the only member of an opposition party to encounter difficulties finding work in Tajikistan. SDPT chief Rahmatullo Zoirov makes a living practicing law outside Tajikistan. SDPT member Amniyati Abdulnazar, who worked for the Interior Ministry, has not been able to find work for five years, and Davlatsho Shohnusayriev, who worked for the UN, has also been without gainful employment for nearly as long. The party's head in the eastern Gorno-Badakhshan region, Alim Sherzamonov, a mathematics teacher, was forced to migrate to Russia to find work after he could not find a job in his home area.

Another opposition party, the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), has received some attention during the last few years due to a long series of mishaps, which the party's leadership claims is part of a government campaign to eliminate the party. And the IRPT is now close to being banned in Tajikistan for the first time since 1997.

IRPT leader Muhiddin Kabiri is out of the country since he could face arrest on charges of illegally selling land that date back more than a decade. The party leadership just met in Turkey earlier this month, the first time the IRPT leadership has held a meeting outside Tajikistan since the days of the country's civil war.

Mirzo Salimov of RFE/RL's Tajik Service contributed to this report
Border Ceremony As Kyrgyzstan Joins Eurasian Union
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Kyrgyzstan officially joined the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EES) on August 12.

The process of Kyrgyzstan joining an economic union with Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan started several years ago when that troika were the sole members in the CIS Customs Union. Membership has been a topic of hot debate inside Kyrgyzstan ever since.

Supporters and critics had their arguments for and against entry into such a union, and as Kyrgyzstan officially joined there was still great division inside the country as to the wisdom of becoming the EES’s fifth member (Armenia joined at the start of this year).

RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service, known locally as Azatlyk, assembled a panel to look at Kyrgyzstan’s decision to join the EES and consider some of the pros and cons of the move.

Azatlyk Director Muhammad Tahir moderated the panel. Participating were Emil Joroev, a professor at the American University of Central Asia, located in Bishkek, and Peter Leonard, who covered Central Asia for the Associated Press from 2007 to 2013 and recently returned to Kyrgyzstan (after covering Ukraine for AP), where he is again covering Central Asia, now for EurasiaNet. I made a few comments as well. (Listen to the entire roundtable by clicking the link below.)

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Joroev opened, saying, “People have been excited especially about the possibilities of exporting certain goods, mostly in agriculture and food products from Kyrgyzstan to these other economies, thinking of it as a much greater market, much higher prices and so on, but…people are at the same time worried about the possibilities of inflation, of consumer prices catching up with those of Kazakhstan and Russia."

Joroev also mentioned that for Kyrgyzstan’s migrant laborers, EES membership eases regulations for working in Russia and Kazakhstan, which helps guarantee those laborers will continue to send back remittances, “a major factor in [Kyrgyzstan’s] economy.”

However, many in Kyrgyzstan were still reluctant to tie the country’s fortunes closer to a Russian-dominated organization and according to Leonard, some of Kyrgyzstan’s officials still do not seem to have fully grasped what EES membership entails. Leonard recounted that just some two weeks ago a meeting of the Eurasian Economic Council, “the watchdog of the union,” took place in Kyrgyzstan.

“This particular panel was to deal specifically with the kind of macroeconomic data that will be going on in the years to come and…the questions [from officials of Kyrgyzstan’s Finance Ministry and central bank] were sort of, 'How will you do it? How will you collect information? How will this happen?’”

“This really kind of told me about the lack of preparedness that a lot of officials have really encountered this whole situation with,” Leonard said.

As discussions of Kyrgyzstan’s entry into an economic union went on, some had the feeling Russia was pushing Kyrgyzstan to join and that Bishkek really did not have much of a choice.

Tahir said that Kyrgyzstan’s membership in the EES seemed more a political rather than an economic or trade decision.

Joroev explained, “When you say political decision, obviously it's very hard for Kyrgyzstan to distinguish its political and economic interests, especially when it comes to relations with Russia."

That is because few countries, and notably very few Western countries, have shown much of an economic interest in Kyrgyzstan. China has been making great economic inroads across Central Asia in recent years and Kyrgyzstan is no exception.

But Leonard pointed out that “Russia is offering [Kyrgyzstan] large amounts of money."

"Something in the area of $1.2 billion has been promised as part of a package to assist Kyrgyzstan into being eased into the Eurasian Economic Union. Already $200 million of that money has been disbursed and so it's not very difficult to see why Kyrgyzstan decided to make that decision [to join the EES] in the end,” he said.

And Joroev noted, “Current geopolitical tensions on the world stage, especially between the West and Russia over Ukraine and much else” have left Kyrgyzstan and other some other countries “caught in this fault line, as it were, and it's very difficult for these smaller countries to maneuver between the two sides."

“When Kyrgyzstan is faced or perceives itself to be in a position of a zero-sum choice between Russia or the West...of course for Kyrgyzstan the safest bet is to stay close with Russia,” he said.

The panel delved much deeper into Kyrgyzstan’s ties with Russia and the West and what EES membership would mean for those relationships, the prospects for Kyrgyzstan as an EES member in the years to come, and more.

NOTE: Starting in September our panel discussions will appear on the RFE/RL website under "Majlis." Qishloq Ovozi will continue to announce the posting of the discussions but will no longer produce a text to accompany the podcast.

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About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect some of the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change.

Bruce Pannier
Bruce Pannier

Content draws on the extensive knowledge and contacts of RFE/RL's Central Asian services but also allow scholars in the West, particularly younger scholars who will be tomorrow’s experts on the region, opportunities to share their views on the evolving situation at this Eurasian crossroad.

The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.

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