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Qishloq Ovozi

President Sooronbai Jeenbekov promised he would continue in the path of his predecessor and party colleague, but is that the right way to go?

Kyrgyzstan's new president, Sooronbai Jeenbekov, comes from the same party as his predecessor, Almazbek Atambaev. Jeenbekov promised when he was campaigning that he would continue Atambaev's policies, but those policies did not resolve many of the issues Kyrgyzstan faces, and something different is needed.

Muhammad Tahir, RFE/RL's media relations manager, moderated a discussion that looked at the problems Jeenbekov inherited, what he is doing about them, and what he needs to do to move Kyrgyzstan forward.

Joining the Majlis from Istanbul was Mihra Rittmann (@MihraRittmann) Central Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch. Rittmann was declared persona non grata in December 2015 when Atambaev was president. From Bishkek, Medet Tiulegenov (@tiulegenov), assistant professor at the American University of Central Asia, participated in the talk. I've been unimpressed by Jeenbekov's first months in power so I had a few things to say also.

Majlis Podcast: Jeenbekov's Two Months In Office
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Listen to the podcast above or subscribe to the Majlis on iTunes.

A disabled man is helped off a bus in Ashgabat by a fellow passsenger. (file photo)

The Turkmen government’s quest to cut state expenditures seems to be coinciding, officially, with some miraculous recoveries by disabled citizens.

Residents of Turkmenistan’s northern Dashoguz Province tell RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service, known locally as Azatlyk, that some infirm citizens are being called in for medical checkups.

We should note that we will avoid identifying the Azatlyk sources by name; Turkmen authorities strongly discourage citizens from speaking to RFE/RL, and bad things can -- and do -- happen to people after they speak to Azatlyk.

One resident of Dashoguz who suffers from diabetes told Azatlyk, “If you want to keep your Category Three [disability status], like diabetics, you have to pay 500 manats" -- or around $142, at the official rate -- "to the doctors.”

The status of those who won’t or can’t pay off doctors is frequently upgraded, curbing or cutting off completely certain state benefits.

Category Three is for those with mobility challenges that do not require the help of another person, or those in need of medications, such as diabetics.

But another person in Dashoguz who receives state benefits for a disability told Azatlyk: “Even if you are Category Two, and everyone can see you’re hurting, you have to pay 5,000 manats to the commission that recognizes you as a disabled person.”

A Category Two disability acknowledges the need for a caregiver or special equipment to get around and may or may not also require medication.

Previously, I received 250 manats per month from the government, but that still was not enough to pay for insulin, which cost 280 manats.”
-- Diabetes sufferer in Dashoguz

Turkmen authorities have not publicly announced any major cutbacks in social benefits for the disabled. But they also haven't publicly acknowledged that the country is experiencing its worst economic crisis in 26 years of independence.

Basic foods -- flour, sugar, cooking oil, bread, eggs, and other items -- are often difficult to obtain at state stores, where prices are controlled. Private stores appear to have a variety of goods, but these are often imported and cost two or three times as much as those in state stores.

That is now beyond the reach of many in Turkmenistan, where unemployment is thought to affect a majority of the workforce.

In 2017, Turkmen authorities announced the gradual reduction of subsidies for gas, electricity, and water that the population had enjoyed since 1993. Some believe that move was prompted by shortfalls in state revenues.

The government has also cut back on subsidies for medications, which in some cases rose by some 50 percent in 2017.

The diabetes sufferer in Dashoguz said, “Previously, I received 250 manats per month from the government, but that still was not enough to pay for insulin, which cost 280 manats.”

The source said the state is now giving even less than 250 manats a month and supplies of medicines are sometimes in short supply.

“Medicine costs more now anyway,” the diabetic said. “It’s scarce, and often we have to give money to people going to Ashgabat or abroad to buy the medicine there.”

Other people from around Turkmenistan have reported shortages or steep price rises on medicine for almost a year now.

Turkmen authorities spent at least $5 billion to host the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in September and $2.3 billion more on a new international airport before those games started.

It is unlikely that any new guidelines on the classification of “disabled” citizens would be confined to Dashoguz Province. In the past two years, reports of problems like shortages or price hikes in one region have frequently been echoed in other parts of the country.

RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service contributed to this report.
The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL.

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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. Content will draw 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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