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Tajikistan: President Seeks Limits On Wedding, Funeral Spending

A wedding in Tajikistan (file photo) (RFE/RL) May 29, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The Tajik parliament has been given three months to discuss legislation that would ban lavish weddings, funerals, and other private ceremonies. The ban is the idea of President Emomali Rahmon, who initiated the legislation after criticizing increasingly expensive private gatherings in his country.

Rahmon's initiative to officially ban large and lavish private ceremonies has evoked mixed reactions in Tajikistan.

Some criticize the move as a restriction of a civil liberty, and argue that people should have the freedom to decide how to conduct their private lives. But others welcome the proposed ban, saying it is time to end the tradition of increasingly unaffordable parties and ceremonies, which have left many families in serious debt.

Some hope that the tradition of high-priced weddings and unaffordable funerals will die out by itself once people realize that in many cases they are using their life savings just to compete with their neighbors.

Too Many Parties?

During a meeting with some 4,000 representatives from Tajik society on May 24, Rahmon harshly criticized those who spend thousands of dollars on such things as a wedding or a circumcision party, which can last for days.

"A wedding ceremony today includes several parties, such as asking for the bride's hand, an engagement party, the sending of chests [as a gift], and even an exhibition of the bride's wedding outfits, in some districts; also there is 'hen night,' 'stag night,' official registration, the religious ceremony, a party in a restaurant, welcoming parties for the bride, the bridegroom, and their in-laws, and many other unnecessary and unaffordable gatherings," he said.

The president criticized government officials, businesspeople, and religious figures for "showing off their wealth" by throwing elaborate parties and thereby setting a standard for others who try to appear wealthy by holding a large party despite having only modest incomes.

Peer pressure and comparisons with neighbors are indeed key factors in holding lavish ceremonies in a country in which almost half of the population lives in poverty. When someone spends $2,000 for a wedding, a neighbor will usually try to spend the same or even more money for their ceremonies.

Funeral Costs

Even funerals and the subsequent 7th-, 20th-, and 40th-day anniversaries of someone's death cost thousands of dollars for the family of the dead. According to the modern funeral tradition in Tajikistan, during each of those anniversaries the family is expected to organize separate ceremonies for male and female guests, spending considerable amounts of money on food and beverages for dozens or even hundreds of people.

Funeral ceremonies have become similar to wedding parties in their lavishness. "The only thing missing is the music," some Tajiks say.

Rahmon said on May 24 that Tajiks spend some $1.5 billion on private ceremonies each year, while the country's annual budget is only around $1 billion.

Many young Tajik men spend a year working as a migrant laborer in Russia to earn enough money for their own or a sibling's wedding.

Thus, the new legislation restricting the cost of a wedding ceremony, the length, and the number of guests, is welcomed by many Tajiks.

Welcomed By Some

Suhrob, who lives in the capital, Dushanbe, told RFE/RL that the legislation will allow people to use their money to improve their standard of living instead of wasting it on parties.

"The implementation of this decree has to be closely followed," he said. "They usually issue a decree, but do not control its implementation. Once the spending on weddings is reduced our people's living standards will go up because they will spend money on the family's everyday life."
Wedding ceremonies are equally extravagant -- if not more so -- in other Central Asian countries.
Throughout the region many low-income families save money for many years in order to have a big party that will match the scale of the ones their neighbors hold.

Emomali Rahmon

In Kazakhstan, wedding parties can last up to seven days and sometimes cost tens of thousands of dollars.

A "chapan," a traditional overcoat that Kazakh families are expected to present as a gift to their new in-laws, costs about $5,000.

In Kyrgyzstan, excessive spending on weddings has been the subject of many debates in the local media.

In Uzbekistan, the government tried but failed to break the tradition of holding costly weddings.

Failed Attempt

The late Turkmen president, Saparmurat Niyazov, had ordered citizens to minimize spending of private ceremonies.

Michael Hall, a representative of the International Crisis Group in Central Asia, told RFE/RL that people should be able to decide themselves what kind of a lifestyle they want to have.

"In areas such as this -- such as culture and conducting of events, such as weddings and funerals, fundamentally, people ought to have the right to decide for themselves, and to judge for themselves what ways are the most appropriate to conduct them."

The Tajik president's latest initiative is dubbed by some local journalists as a "new cultural revolution." However, many Tajiks says they do not believe that Rahmon will be able to change his people's culture and traditions with a new law, no matter how costly and unreasonable the tradition is.

Some hope that the tradition of high-priced weddings and unaffordable funerals will die out by itself once people realize that in many cases they are using their life savings just to compete with their neighbors.

(RFE/RL's Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Tajik, Turkmen, and Uzbek services contributed to this report.)

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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate and reintegrate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

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