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A Glance From The USA: What Price Is Turkmenistan Paying For Prosperous Authoritarianism?

Wednesday, March 29, 2017 - 10:56

Like a blue streak, Turkmenistan is rolling into the open embrace of a political, economic and genetic collapse. It's hard to escape such a gloomy conclusion after getting acquainted with the report of the Carnegie Endowment, which was published recently under Paul Stronsky's authorship. The report of the American agency is based on a study, which was conducted with the support of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Thus, it contains an external view on the country – on the part of both the American establishment and, partially, the European one.


This view is reflected in the very title of the report: “Turkmenistan Celebrating Its 25th Anniversary: the High Price of Authoritarianism.”


Point by point, paragraph after paragraph, Paul Stronsky plays the solitaire of his arguments, demonstrating how President Saparmurat Niyazov began to build a special political model on the first days of the country's independent development. The model was based on centralization of all power in the hands of the head of state and his peremptory leadership. According to Western analysts, the situation did not change during the office of the second president. Berdymukhammedov simply replaced the cult of Niyazov with one of his own. He rules with a rod of iron, and this applies to all humanitarian foundations of the life of the state.


“In Turkmenistan, freedom of speech, press, assembly and religion remains limited to such an extent that the human rights organization Freedom House places Turkmenistan on a par with the states such as North Korea, Sudan and Syria. The ability of Turkmen people to travel outside the country is limited, and the country remains largely closed to most foreigners, which makes Turkmenistan the most isolated state among all the countries of the former Soviet Union,” Paul Stronsky writes in his report.


Impressed by the degree of self-isolation of Turkmenistan, the author of the report even introduces an expressive epithet: “a hermit state.” And then, without any superfluous metaphorical speeches, he admits that the West has neither levers nor a big desire to lobby its interests in the country. “The bizarre political system, the lack of democracy, the negative investment climate – all this causes the absence of interest in this region.” The continuous, almost 20-year international criticism of the Turkmen government have not affected the regime, which actively resists any external interference.


The Carnegie Endowment analysts pay particular attention to corruption, which remains a widespread phenomenon in the republic, covering all levels of power circles around the president. Thus, Turkmenistan ranks 154 out of 176 countries in the Transparency International index of corruption levels.


The American expert also notes the sad situation in the humanitarian spheres: culture, education, healthcare. The population has somehow resigned themselves to the fact that higher education is not available to them due to the inferiority of the local nine-grade education. Besides, civil service is tabooed for a person who has studied abroad. It is extremely frightening for Americans to see the republic's increasing statistics on mortality from cardiovascular and gastrointestinal diseases, as well as tuberculosis. In November 2016, an epidemic of hepatitis A outbroke in Turkmen schools. The government had neither a sufficient vaccine stock, nor monetary resources for its purchase, which led to sad consequences.


According to the Endowment's forecasts, the situation will only worsen, as the price of conventional medicines in the republic is skyrocketing: in January 2017, drugs rose in price by 80-120 (!) percent on average. Unprecedentedly high is also the level of child mortality: 44 deaths per 1000 newborns. These indicators call into question not only the quality of healthcare, but also the genetic well-being of the nation in general.


In the near future, given the emerging shortage of food, a banal famine will add up to these serious problems, as projected by the Western political scientists. In addition, “the irrational use of water resources and outdated irrigation technology can result in 40 percent of the population having no access to drinking water of reliable quality.”


Television, print media, national holidays, popular public meetings – all this is aimed at servicing the local ideological machine, says Stronsky. Everybody knows about the lack of access to social networks and broadband Internet. Book stores, cinemas, children's sports, youth associations, as well as the opportunities to learn, share experiences, improve skills – all this is unattainable luxury for the Turkmen people; therefore, it's a shortcut to man-made disasters. In just 10 years, those who received an academic Soviet education will retire. And then the elementary engineering and technical maintenance of the basic life support networks will be jeopardized...


Summarizing the above, Paul Stronsky draws in his report the gloomy future of the country, emphasizing that the neighboring Central Asian states do not have any desire to get engaged with the troubled “brother.” Having barricaded itself from the whole world, Turkmenistan cut off all the cables connecting it with civilized and successful countries, including its closest neighbors and strategic partners: Russia, Azerbaijan, Iran and Uzbekistan.


The data given in the study demonstrate - literally every year the country brings the economic collapse - in the banking-foreign exchange system, in the agricultural sector, in foreign trade and, most importantly, in the fuel and energy complex. Yes, the key sector of the Turkmen economy is still energy, mainly oil and gas exports, which is reportedly 31% of GDP.


At the same time, “Turkmenistan has become completely dependent on China as the main consumer of its gas. The dependence grew from zero in 2007, when the Chinese National Oil Company first received a license for exploration and production in Turkmenistan. To this day, it's the only foreign company to have acquired such rights. Ashgabat's dependence on Beijing is based not only on gas sales, but also on China's financing of the energy infrastructure that produces and exports gas through the pipeline from Turkmenistan to China. Reportedly, Ashgabat was given $8 billion in loans in 2011, and an unidentified amount in 2013, which makes the republic the largest lender from Beijing.” China does not make any attempts to draw closer, having transfered Turkmenistan to a subordinate position and using the republic only as a supplier of fuel with a huge discount.


The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has already noted a sharp decline in Turkmenistan's GDP growth, which declined from 14.7 percent in 2011 to 6.5 percent in 2015. “The ADB's forecast of the 2017 growth indicator is only 5.5 percent,” the report reads.


Paul Stronsky does not try to hide his persistent conviction that the once prosperous, peaceful and well-fed Turkmen people is standing alone against the pushy repressive apparatus and the unpunished power that have led the nation to a sad degradation. That's why in his report he tried to form an opinion that the country is witnessing the onset of an era of degeneration rather than the “Golden Age of Renaissance.”

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