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The great discrepancy of Tajikistan: the rhetoric of poverty and the practice of state festivities

The Tajik authorities have long pursued a policy of regulating citizens’ spendings on weddings, birthdays and other events. At the same time, the government spends huge amounts of money on lavish celebrations and festivals. More on this contradiction in the following article on CABAR.asia.

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Navruz celebration in Khujand, 21 March 2020, Photo: Press-service of the President of Tajikistan
Navruz celebration in Khujand, 21 March 2020, Photo: Press-service of the President of Tajikistan

For more than a decade, the Tajik authorities have continued to fight poverty by limiting the population in their personal spendings. However, the obsessive “asceticism” does not apply to the official policy of Dushanbe, which traditionally spends hundreds of millions of dollars on festive events, the erection of pompous architectural structures and the president’s official trips to the regions.

 The Committee on Religious Affairs, Ordering Traditions and Rituals from the beginning of December began to conduct a survey among the population, covering more than ten thousand people. The main subject of the survey was the question of how much the Tajik society supports the law “On streamlining the traditions, celebrations and ceremonies in the Republic of Tajikistan.”[1]

The committee notes that the survey is being conducted in order to ensure the effective implementation of this law and take into account the opinion of the population in matters of further exercise of regulating traditions.[2] Perhaps, according to the survey results, certain changes will be made to the law. The government however does clarify what kind of changes are to be devised.

The Tajik authorities are confident in the success of their specific method of fighting poverty by confining the population’s expenses. Nonetheless, this specific approach does not prevent the authorities themselves from spending huge amounts of money on objects and events, the expediency of which systematically calls forth criticism from critics of government’s actions.

The ambiguity of the law

In 2007, President of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon signed the law “On streamlining the traditions, celebrations and ceremonies in the Republic of Tajikistan” justifying it “by protecting the true values ​​of national culture, respect for folk customs and improving the social and economic standard of living of citizens”. The new norm obliged the citizens of the republic to limit their celebrations, on the occasion of a wedding, memorial events, anniversary of death, etc., to a strict framework. A special authorized body for streamlining traditions, celebrations and rituals, whose representatives have the right to come to the event at any time and start checking, monitors the implementation of the law.

(Video: A brawl with road patrol officers started due to exceed number of cars on wedding celebration)


During the existence of the law, there have been no independent polls on whether the citizens of the country really support interference in their privacy, with the exception of those polls initiated by state bodies, the results of which cannot be called objective. Independent lawyers have repeatedly noted that the law contradicts the Article 22 of the Constitution of Tajikistan, which guarantees the inviolability of home and private life. However, the authorities did not consider this reasoning, pointing out that the limitation of public spending entails an increase in the standards of living.

“Concern for citizens” in this case was interpreted above constitutional norms and human rights, which strengthened the argument about the authoritarianism of the existing political regime in the country.

President Emomali Rahmon, summing up the results of the ten-year operation of this law in 2017, said that over ten years the people had saved over two billion dollars by restraining the scales of their ceremonies. “The saved funds of the citizens of the country are directed to educating their children, to improve the standard of living, as an example – over the past 10 years, more than 525 thousand cars have been imported to Tajikistan,” Rakhmon stressed then.[3] It is not entirely clear by what method these statistics were calculated, but further, all state bodies in the comments of the media appealed to it.

An attempt by the authorities to impose an “ascetic lifestyle” on the population and to show the success of the initiative of the head of state was very clearly traced. However, no methods of calculation and convincing arguments in favor of improving the well-being of the population were provided.

Moreover, not a word is mentioned about how these restrictions affected local business, which fills the budget by 60%. After all, funds would be spent inside the country, which would benefit the national economy and budget revenues.

Did Dushanbe manage to overcome poverty?

Back in 2017, Mahkam Mahmudzoda, Chairman of the Constitutional Court of Tajikistan, noted that the adoption of the Law “On the Streamlining of Traditions, Celebrations and Rituals in Tajikistan” led to a reduction in poverty. According to him, if in 2007 the level of the poor population in the country was 70 percent, by 2017 this figure dropped to 30 percent.[4]

At the end of 2019, President Emomali Rahmon noted that the poverty level in the republic had dropped to 27.5%.[5] But is it really so?

According to the World Bank methodology, the poverty line is defined by an income per person of less than 16.6 somoni (1.9 USD) per day or about 498 somoni (57 USD) per month. According to the 2019 UN World Food Program survey, almost half of the country’s population lives in poverty, that is, on less than  1.33 USD a day, and 17% on less than 0.85 USD.[6]

In Tajikistan, since 2008, in accordance with government decree No. 379, families are recognized as poor, where each family member accounts for less than 50% of the minimum wage (400 somoni or less than 40 USD).[7]

The data indicate that, in fact, during this time, it was not so much the level of well-being of the population that changed, but the method of counting people with low income.

Wage increases and inflation

In August 2020, before the presidential elections, Emomali Rahmon issued a decree to increase public sector wages, pensions and scholarships by 15%. The last time salaries and pensions were raised two years ago – in September 2018, also by 15 percent. However, the population practically did not feel such an increase against the background of the rise in food prices and inflation on the food market. Since the beginning of this year, the somoni has depreciated against the dollar by more than 9%, and inflation in the consumer market was 5.1%.[8]

Due to the closure of borders and a decrease in imports into the country, the cost of certain essential goods has risen in price by more than 30%.[9]

The minimum wage in Tajikistan is 400 somoni (less than 40 USD); the average monthly nominal salary is 1406 somoni (124 USD); the average pension in the republic is 303 somoni (less than 30 USD). With such indicators, it does not seem realistic to talk about a real decrease in the poverty level of the population.

An example not to follow

With very modest incomes of the population and traditions that encourage celebrations and holidays, the adoption of the law “On streamlining the traditions of celebrations and ceremonies” on the one hand seems logical, since it allows poor families to take the necessary measures at minimal cost.

At the same time, the government that does not have the necessary resources and has a large debt to creditors does not seek to show the population its own example of minimizing costs.

Tajikistan is famous in the region for its pompous architectural objects built for tens of millions of dollars. In 2011 the government has already built one of the tallest flagpoles in the world, the largest library in Central Asia in 2012, a museum in 2013 and a teahouse in 2014.

In 2015, the president laid the foundation stone for the largest theater in the region, which, according to various estimates, will cost 100 million USD.[10]

At present, an agreement has been reached between Tajikistan and China on the financing by the Chinese side of the construction of a parliamentary complex in the center of Dushanbe for 250 million USD.

The country is building expensive facilities, while receiving loads of humanitarian aid from a number of countries and development partners. From 2010-2018, the republic received humanitarian aid worth 614 million USD, weighing more than 180 thousand tons. The main donors of the country were the USA, Russia, China and Germany.[11] During the coronavirus pandemic, Tajikistan received hundreds of millions of dollars in aid from partners such as ADB, World Bank, EU, USA, China, Russia, Uzbekistan, etc.[12] The authorities did not disclose the total amount of aid received.

“Let there be the festivities”

However, as the political practice of Tajikistan shows, being a beneficiary of humanitarian aid does not mean giving up expensive celebrations. In 2020, it was planned to spend about one billion somoni (88 million USD) out of state budget on organizing cultural and sports events. This volume was equal to the expenditures on the development of agriculture, industry and the construction industry in aggregate.[13] Such big amounts of funds are allocated despite the fact that the state has set strategic goals for ensuring food security and accelerated industrialization of the economy. Only 4% of the budget was directed in order to achieve the latter.

Representatives of the Ministry of Finance of Tajikistan last year, in an interview with Radio Ozodi, noted that expenses for regional and city-level holidays, as well as industry holidays are carried out at the expense of local farmers and private entrepreneurs, which caused a heated debate among journalists.

The official was reminded[14] that after such events on the ground, doctors and teachers face delays in their salaries every three months. Moreover, In 2017, after the celebration of “Unity Day” in Vahdat, the city’s budget was left without funds, and only after President Rahmon personally criticized such negligence, the Ministry of Finance transferred 15 million somoni (1,3 million USD) to them.

Opening ceremony of new stadium in Vahdat within the celebration of 20-year annuversary of The Unity Day. Photo: Tajikistan Football Federation

The expenses for the visits of the President to the regions of Tajikistan, which continue almost all year round, continue to remain undisclosed. On his trips thousands of military men, representatives of his staff, all ministries and departments, accompany Rahmon. On the ground they are settled in expensive hotels; for all the high guests are traditionally arranged holidays and celebrations, etc. The authorities cover many expenses at the expense of local entrepreneurs on a “voluntary-compulsory” basis. However, the authorities do not report how much one visit of the president to the region costs for the state treasury.

Instead of the conclusion

The poverty level in Tajikistan is actually several times higher than the data published by official statistics. The data on the increase in the well-being of the population are the result of a different calculation method that does not comply with UN standards.

Incomes of the population, mainly state employees, hardly grow due to the depreciation of the national currency and the continuing inflation in the food industry.

The presence of a large number of relatives and a traditional way of life forced the population to resort to large expenses when conducting various festive rituals. Perhaps with this in mind, the authorities tried to regulate these rituals and cut costs, despite the anti-constitutional nature of this measure.

However, the well-being of the population is impossible without increasing incomes and improving the economic performance of the state.

On the one hand, the authorities set goals to ensure food security and industrialization of the economy, the success of which can create thousands of additional working places. On the other hand, they channel huge budgetary funds to hold holidays, the feasibility of which raises serious doubts.

Frugality in spending can only be effective if it is observed at the official level, and the savings are spent on the necessary reforms and real economic recovery. Otherwise, the behavior of the authorities can be characterized as a constant race to demonstrate the spectacle to the population, which is in need of bread.

This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project.

[1] Закон Республики Таджикистан “Об упорядочении традиций, торжеств т обрядов в Республике Таджикистан. Сайт МИД РТ https://mfa.tj/ru/main/view/3960/zakon-respubliki-tadzhikistan-ob-uporyadochenii-traditsii-torzhestv-t-obryadov-v-respublike-tadzhikistan

[2] А. Зарифи «Закон об упорядочении традиций и обрядов: за и против» Радио Озоди https://rus.ozodi.org/a/30989431.html

[3] Asia-Plus, 11.07.2017, Эмомали Рахмон убежден: таджикский народ стал жить лучше. Из-за закона о традициях и обрядах, https://asiaplustj.info/news/tajikistan/power/20170711/emomali-rahmon-ubezhden-chto-tadzhikskii-narod-stal-zhit-luchshe-iz-za-zakona-o-traditsiyah-i-obryadah

[4] Radio Ozodi, 08.12.2020, Закон об упорядочении традиций и обрядов: за и против, https://rus.ozodi.org/a/30989431.html

[5] Sputnik Tj, 26.12.2019, Рахмон заявил о снижении в Таджикистане уровня бедности


[6] CABAR.Asia, 28.06.2019, Таджикистан: За порогом бедности, https://cabar.asia/ru/tadzhikistan-za-porogom-bednosti?pdf=20815

[7] Ibid.

[8] Radio Ozodi, 30.07.2020, В Таджикистане в условиях пандемии COVID-19 зарплаты бюджетников, пенсии и стипендии повысят до 15%, https://rus.ozodi.org/a/30756401.html

[9] Radio Ozodi, 22.10.2020, Таджикистан: пандемия угрожает продовольственной безопасности?, https://rus.ozodi.org/a/30906946.html

[10] Eurasianet, 17.04.2015, Таджикистан потратит $100 млн на театр, но где он возьмет столько театралов?, https://russian.eurasianet.org/node/62021

[11] Asia-Plus, 19.12.2019, Уровень бедности в Таджикистане сократился, но гумпомощь все еще отправляют, https://www.asiaplustj.info/ru/news/tajikistan/economic/20191219/uroven-bednosti-v-tadzhikistane-sokratilsya-no-gumpomotsh-vse-etshe-otpravlyayut

[12] Radio Ozodi, 05.05.2020, Счёт идет на миллионы: кто помогает Таджикистану в борьбе с COVID-19, https://rus.ozodi.org/a/30593729.html

[13] Asia-Plus, 20.01.2020, Бюджет Таджикистана – 2020: Танцуют все!, https://asiaplustj.info/ru/news/tajikistan/economic/20200120/byudzhet-2020-na-razvlecheniya-v-tadzhikistane-potratyat-stolko-zhe-skolko-i-na-promishlennost

[14] Stan Radar, 18.02.2019, Глава Минфина Таджикистана рассказал, на какие деньги проводятся пышные праздники в стране, https://stanradar.com/news/full/33038-glava-minfina-tadzhikistana-rasskazal-na-kakie-dengi-provodjatsja-pyshnye-prazdniki-v-strane.html

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