Nurali Dawlat: New elites of Tajikistan – the “old guard” in the new reality
“Contemporary Tajik elites is a direct product of the civil war of the 1990s. And no other elite is expected in Tajikistan”, said Nurali Dawlat, a journalist and analyst (Dushanbe, Tajikistan), in his article written exclusively for CABAR.asia.
The current Tajik elite has been formed not so long ago – at the end of the 1990s, in the most severe fratricidal conflicts, when the old Soviet nomenklatura and demo-Islamists (Democrats, who formed an alliance with the Islamists) were on different sides of the barricades. These dashing 1990s affected Tajikistan negatively, and at the beginning of the war, it was clear that the old Soviet elites lost control of the country. Then the “old guard” had to agree to create a coalition government, which lasted only six months. Then, unable to withstand the onslaught of the Popular Front under the command of Sangak Safarov, a former criminal, who had spent 23 years in jail, that government was forced to resign at the beginning of November 1992.
The same fall, during the 16th session of the Supreme Council, the old Soviet nomenclature and demo-Islamists were replaced by the so-called new constitutional authority, which, however, also consisted of communists, but mainly from the middle and lower-level managers who had no experience in governance. New constitutional authority in Tajikistan was formed on the basis of a coalition of representatives from the regions, who fought against demo-Islamists, mainly from Leninabad, Kulyab region and from part of the Hissar valley.
Despite the fact that the Supreme Council declared peace, the new government decided to continue the war until victory and crush their political opponents – demo-Islamists, resulting in the Tajik civil war broking out with renewed vigor.
In 1997, due to a sharp change in the international situation, especially the capture of Kabul by the Taliban, the warring parties signed a peace agreement, being under heavy pressure from the countries concerned. Under this agreement, signed in June 1997 in Moscow, 30% of the seats in the government were handed over to representatives of the armed opposition of demo-Islamists.
Thus, after five years of war in Tajikistan, a coalition government was formed for the second time. At this time, it included representatives of demo-Islamist opposition, too. But less than 10 years later, all political opponents of the constitutional government were thrown out of the government.
Then, at the 16th Session of the Supreme Council, a younger generation of politicians came to power. For example, Emomali Rakhmonov, President of the Supreme Council, was then 40 years old. He became the youngest head of state in the former Soviet Union.
Prime Minister A. Abdullajanov was 43 years old, Deputy Prime Minister M. Ubaidullaev – 40, chairman of the National Security Committee Zuhurov C – 41, the Minister of Foreign Affairs R. Olimov – 39, Defense Minister A. Shishlyannikov – 42, the Minister of Economy – I. Davlatov 46 years. The average age of the new government was 43 years old.
New elites – old problems
It would seem that new political figures or a new elite came to power in 1992, but in fact, there did not happen any changes that accompany the change of elites. Almost all members of the new government were members of the Communist Party. Among them, there were many graduates of the Higher Communist Party School in Tashkent, Minsk and Leningrad. However, as already noted, the new government members, despite their diplomas of Communist party schools, were mainly managers of the second and third level. Officials of the higher national level were too few in the new government.
Observers in Tajikistan argue that the current “democratic” government officials are the backbone of the country’s political elite, but in fact, they are the communist nomenclature, which simply changed its name after the collapse of the Soviet Union. That’s why throughout its existence, the new elites, especially on a mental level, have been committed to the ideology of a totalitarian state, but always tried to present themselves as supporters of democratic values.
Despite the fact that the new political elites had no experience of the old Communist nomenklatura, it became more independent, for example, in dealing with personnel issues, especially after the consolidation of the vertical of personal power of President Emomali Rakhmon. All appointments took place on the basis of personal loyalty to the senior management of the country. That is why the personnel problem remains most acute in Tajikistan. The president Rakhmon once said that “there is no more personnel” in his “pockets”. These words can be attributed also to the quality of modern Tajik elites.
In the Soviet Union, the personnel training system was well established. Leading cadres were educated not only in government institutions, but also in public organizations. Particularly promising leaders were already selected at secondary school. Further, students with leadership qualities were appointed heads of the Pioneer and Komsomol organizations at schools and universities. Then they were tested in the Leninist Young Communist League, which was a springboard for career advancement. Another feature of the Soviet period was that the children of the high management staff were appointed to key positions, only if they had demonstrated exceptional skills or abilities. In fact, their number in the party nomenclature was no more than 10-15%.
The system was characterized by the fact that the interests of the Soviet state were priority for Soviet officials. The vast majority of the population believed in communist ideals, so people were willing to serve them faithfully.
Now completely different principles are used in the selection of personnel. Today, as common people in Tajikistan say, “geography, biography” and loyalty to the government, especially to President Emomali Rakhmon, who was recently declared the leader of the nation, are the main determining factors in selecting cadres.
Over time, the young government begins to get old. For example, on the eve of presidential elections in 2013, most members of the government had already been retired. Even 50-year old officials are very few in the government of Tajikistan today.
Becoming the fourth time President, Emomali Rakhmon sacked a number of representatives of the old guard, including Prime Minister Akil Akilov, his Deputy Matlyubhon Davlatov, ministers of defense, industry and finance – Sh. Khairulloev, C. Gul, S. Nadzhmiddinov and others. However, almost all of them would soon be appointed to government positions of slightly smaller importance.
All members of the government who came to power after the presidential election of 2013 are now 50 to 60 years old. Only the first deputy prime minister D. Saidov is not yet 50 years old. Emomali Rakhmon himself is 64 years old.
In addition to the natural aging, the representatives of the broad coalition that brought the current elites to power have gradually withdrawn into the shadows, due to the fact that they were replaced by the countrymen or relatives of Emomali Rakhmon.
Multi-party system on paper
As you know, in many democratic countries, political parties have a direct influence on the formation of the elites. The situation in Tajikistan in this regard, too, has its differences.
When in the mid-1990s, during the civil war, the government committed itself to the construction of capitalism in Tajikistan, and there emerged first non-communist parties, at the origins of which, there were again former members of the Communist Party. Even a cursory glance at the history of political parties shows the essence of multi-party system in Tajikistan. To put it more precisely, they have no influence either in the creation of a new elite, or in addressing critical problems at the state level.
With the exception of the Social Democratic Party, all others are allies of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and play rather the role of decor in the parliament. The way, how they overcome the 5% threshold during election campaigns, reminds fiction. Therefore, observers from the OSCE and other Western international organizations constantly question the election results.
In 2005, the Socialist Party, destroyed from the inside, failed to pass the 5% barrier in the parliamentary election. However, one and a half year later, with a new leader, it collected the necessary number of votes to nominate its candidate for the 2006 presidential election. In 2010, the party again failed to pass the 5% barrier, but 3 years later, it collected the necessary number of votes to nominate its chairman as a candidate in the presidential election in 2013. In 2015, its leader and presidential candidate, Abduhalim Gaforov, became a member of the parliament.
Party of Economic Reform (PERT) was formed after the parliamentary election in 2005. A year later, the leader of this political organization took part in the presidential elections. In the parliamentary elections of 2010, this little-known party won 2 mandates. It received the same number of seats 5 years later.
Shokirjon Khakimov, a leader of the Social Democratic Party, says that the government is using all its resources, in order to create favorable conditions for the party, which is headed by the President of the country, and sometimes gives more opportunities to assert themselves to those parties that have been created with the support of the political leadership of the republic.
In contrast to these new parties, the old Communist party, which had 15 seats in parliament in 2000, 5 years later, had only 4 seats, and in 2010, it received only two seats in the parliament. Following the results of the presidential election in 2013, the candidate of the Communist Party was in second place. On the eve of parliamentary elections in 2015, the party split. It also received 2 seats, but the new communist deputies were among the dissenters who went against the general line of the party and who were not recognized by its leaders. No one ever heard the voices of these MPs. Not all inhabitants of the country even know their names, as opposed to its leader, Shodi Shabdolov, who is one of the moderate critics of the current government.
The Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP), the second largest party, was announced terrorist and closed by the government in September of this year. But its members and leaders, for the most part, have never been the elite, which would be recognized by all other citizens of the country. Its departure from the political scene was seen only in terms of the fact that among a large part of the population, there is a growing fear of a repetition of the Civil War.
Yet the country has a Social Democratic Party (SDPT), a small party, composed mainly of representatives of the intelligentsia. It is also one of the opposition parties. Despite the fact that it has its supporters, it has never got any seats in the parliament.
Civil society in Tajikistan cannot be called the political elite either, since it does not have any influence on the decision-making centers.
Most of the leaders of non-governmental organizations, as well as the current leadership of the country, grew out of the party nomenclature. The non-governmental sector is largely represented by those of its representatives who did not fit for public service on a geographic basis. I mean, they do not come from the regions, from which representatives of the ruling elite come.
From 2002 to 2014, when the country felt slighly more freedom for NGOs, a new generation of activists, supported by Western donors, emerged. Their activity has been noticeable in the field of human rights protection. However, since last year, the authorities tightened control over human rights defenders and non-governmental sector. Now most of them left the country under various pretexts or handed over the management of these organizations to new people.
Elites and Youth
In 2011, the ruling PDP party created a youth wing “Sozandagoni Watan”. It is expected that it will be a “source of manpower” for the political elites. Over the past few years, the organization’s representatives held numerous events in various regions of Tajikistan to support the policies of the ruling party.
But the most memorable event was the protest of the leader “Sozandagoni Watan” Isfandiyor Abdurakhmanov in May this year, who accused the Vice-chairman of the party in regionalism and left the organization as a sign of protest. Now I. Abdurakhmanov is in the Russian Federation and a member of the party “United Russia”.
All other youth organizations in the country can be considered pro-governmental. It is not hard to guess that they perform only the instructions that come down from above. We do not have statistics on the presence of young people in government. However, even with the naked eye, one can see that today there are much more of them in ministries and agencies. There are individuals who are not yet 40 years old, but they are already first deputies and deputy heads of key ministries. This means that the government understands that youth must be specially trained. However, mainly representatives of the so-called “jeunesse doree”, who are closely linked to the representatives of the supreme power, are appointed to such positions.
Other active Tajik youth, well-trained in foreign universities, is poorly represented in the elites. During meetings of the President with students who were studying abroad, students are constantly asking the same question: Will the students who studied abroad be able to find a decent job in Tajikistan upon their return? The answer they get is “yes, the country needs young professionals”. But in fact, making a good career in Tajikistan is very difficult for them. In the opinion of the young people themselves, the contemporary government structure of Tajikistan does not need young people with a new open worldview, because sooner or later, they either leave their positions, or accept the “rules of the game”, and become part of the older generation of bureaucrats and officials. Therefore, for various objective and subjective reasons, young people abstain from active participation in political life.
In Tajikistan, as in many other third world countries, business and government are identical notions, therefore, the business elite is formed on the basis of nepotism. This is a very small group, which may be composed of several families who are of closest kinship to the representatives of the supreme power. The business elite may also include a small stratum of people, which has partnership relations with the representatives of the ruling elite.
Should we hope that there will be more young people in the elites, and not only among from the relatives of influential people? Hardly, taking into account the current situation.
We have already said that in Tajikistan, the elite is formed not so much on indicators of professional performance, but more on the relations of nepotism and the degree of loyalty to the current government.
It should be noted that today, many new Tajiks are linked by kinship. We can assume that in the future they will try to intermarry each other.
It would be unfair to say that all the representatives of the golden youth are conformists and love to live beautifully, drive the best cars, since some of them are well-educated people who keep pace with the times. The trouble is that they constitute a small percentage, so they are not even noticeable against the general background. The bulk, in spite of the received local and international diplomas, has not shown any great achievements in public service or in the private sector. The current golden youth is different from the Soviet peers in the fact that they think less about the welfare of society. They even prefer to avoid military service in the national army, though it is a “sacred duty” of every citizen of the country.
Therefore, every year, local commissariats have to organize “round ups” to replenish the human potential of the army. Over 24 years of independence, there has not been a single example, when a high-ranking official could show off by saying that his son served in the National Army.
Historical examples have shown that the more heterogeneous and politically diversified the elites are, the more stable they are. The political elite of Tajikistan cannot be called diversified. We can assume that the qualitative upgrade of the Tajik elite cannot be expected in the next 15 to 20 years. Of course, if the situation does not change…
Today Tajikistan urgently needs the intellectual elites, which should include not only political, but also economic and cultural elites. The future elite must be trained regardless of region or social origin. The modern world has accumulated vast experience in training youth elite. We just should study and implement the achievements of other countries in this area. To do this, we must promote creative youth to the managerial positions, desirably of 25-30 year olds, so that by 35 to 40 years old, they could lead the entire industries and Ministries. They could be graduates of not only local but also foreign universities. The main criteria in selecting such cadres should be professionalism and responsibility, not their place of origin. Otherwise, our country will never become a country with developed economy.
Nurali Dawlat, a political analyst
The views of the author may not necessarily represent those of Cabar.asia