Tajikistan, the Forgotten Country

http://liva.com.ua/tajikistan-crisis.html
The Forgotten Country
Farrukh Kuziyev
The only stable resource supporting the national economy is migrant laborers. Their remittances account for the lion’s share of the country’s GDP.

In my view, the Soviet Union’s collapse had the most devastating impact on Tajikistan.

First, Tajikistan was one of the most heavily subsidized Soviet republics. In some years, sixty percent of the republic’s budget consisted of federal subventions, and eighty percent of the budgets of some areas in the republic were subsidized. Tajikistan could be considered Central Asia’s industrial, economic and cultural periphery. Despite the fact that a number of different enterprises were built in the republic itself, the region’s real centers were Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. The steep terrain (ninety-three percent of the country is mountainous) significantly increased the costs of transporting goods and people, as well as the construction of important facilities, which was paid out of the Soviet budget.

Second, because of its specific geographical location, Tajikistan was heavily dependent on neighboring republics, especially Uzbekistan. The closure of the Uzbek border has had grave consequences for the country’s food and energy security. The railway lines to Tajikistan run through Uzbek territory, and now trains carrying vital goods idle for long periods at the borders; in cases of conflict, they are not let through at all. The once-integrated Soviet energy system, under which Tajikistan supplied surplus electrical energy to Uzbekistan during the summer, in exchange for electricity, fuels and lubricants in the winter, has been destroyed. Many of the cross-border power lines have been disconnected, and Tajikistan cannot afford natural gas and oil. It is agriculture that has primarily suffered as a result. Food prices are among the highest in the post-Soviet countries.

Third, immediately after the Soviet Union’s collapse, in 1992, unrest broke out in the capital, Dushanbe, with such Islamist parties as Rastokhez (Rebirth) playing a central role. This led to a bloody civil war between the United Tajik Opposition and government forces. Both sides engaged in looting, property seizures and atrocities, resulting in the most profound social and economic trauma for the country. According the most conservative estimates, more than 175,000 people were killed in the civil war, and hundreds of thousands of people became refugees. The country’s intellectual elite—teachers, scholars, politicians and artists—fled the country, leaving it at the mercy of militant clans. Tons of narcotics and weapons constantly flow into Tajikistan from neighboring Afghanistan, and members of terrorist groups slip through the border as well. That is why in recent years government troops and police have been involved in armed clashes with drug traffickers and religious extremists in the east of the country, for example in the Pamirs in 2011 and 2012. The banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and Hizb ut-Tahrir are active in the north of Tajikistan.

The collapse of secular education and the cultural sector has led to an intensive Islamization of the population, especially in rural and suburban areas. In addition, relations with Uzbekistan have deteriorated, primarily because of the “water problem,” caused by the Tajik government’s plans to build the Ragun hydroelectric power station on the Amu Darya River. China has already received part of the Pamir Mountains that once belonged to Tajikistan, and now lays claim to another section of the mountains in the Murghab district, causing widespread discontent among local residents.

Economically, Tajik society is in the midst of a deep stagnation, caused by the mass migration of skilled laborers and young professionals. This is facilitated by the total incompetence and corruption of the authorities, who completely ignore the need to support education and health care, the construction of transportation networks, housing and roads, science, and much else. In terms of its level of development, Tajikistan has been compared to the countries of sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, the only stable resource supporting the national economy is migrant laborers, most of whom work in Russia. Their remittances account for the lion’s share of the country’s GDP.

Three relatively independent camps constitute the main political forces in Tajikistan.s The first is the political and economic elite, distinguished by its close clan and family ties, which collectively supports the current president, Emomali Rahmon. The second camp is the liberal opposition, whom we might call national-liberals. This group includes businessmen in Tajikistan itself and outside the country. Although all opposition forces are united in their desire to remove the Rahmon clan from power, this camp’s position on solving social issues and Tajikistan’s future is not clear. The opposition’s political horizon is probably limited to the demand for a change of elites. However, both groups of politicians actively employ nationalist rhetoric.

Finally, there is the Islamist underground, concentrated in different areas of the country, mainly in rural areas. This movement’s stated objective is the overthrow of the current ruling elite and the establishment of a Shariah Islamic state. The Islamist movement is quite active. Aside from terrorist activities (attacks on military convoys, murders of policemen, stockpiling of weapons), Tajik Islamists are engaged in extensive outreach work, recruiting followers on social networks, and distributing leaflets and brochures. In addition, they have extensive contacts with Islamists in neighboring Uzbekistan and Afghanistan.

With the exception of a few activists, journalists and bloggers, there is practically no secular intelligentsia in Tajikistan capable of giving critical voice to a social issues agenda. Prospects for the future are thus bleak. The authorities attempt to rule the country in the repressive style of autocratic monarchs, and the only ideologies capable of consolidating society are the religious and nationalist discourses. Most likely, we can expect a local variation on Islamic revolution to be implemented here. Nearly everything in Tajikistan is ripe for this: the long years of social and economic stagnation, the collapse of the secular education system, the extremely difficult economic situation in the provinces and the unresolved conflicts left over from the civil war. There is almost no hope for a peaceful outcome.

Editor’s Note. Reader Olja Jitlina made the following comment on this article, which she has kindly permitted us to reprint here:

In the autumn of 2011, I spent six weeks in the Sughd Province of Tajikistan, in the capital city of Khujand (formerly Leninabad), and the towns of Chkalov and Taboshar, which was once a closed town where uranium was mined. There had been a huge cotton mill in Leninabad. Nowadays, a very small number of the production units, which have been bought by Italian companies, are functioning. When you travel north from Khujand, you first pass pomegranate fields, then the mineral-rich mountains begin. Near one village there are mines, which have been acquired either by a Chinese or an Italian company, depending on whom you talk to. Gold and other minerals are extracted there without compliance with any environmental and health standards. According to the locals, the soil has become unsuitable for agriculture, and the miners die after working there for five years. As you approach Taboshar, Geiger counter readings go off the scale. The uranium tails in the large mines a kilometer from this beautiful semi-ghost town were not properly buried. The locals distinguish the town’s radioactive irrigation ditches (there is no running water) and the ones whose water is suitable for farming. By Russian standards, the prices are ridiculously low. But for local, whose wages amount to twenty or thirty dollars a month, they are sky-high. People survive mainly through agriculture and remittances from migrant workers in their families.

Advertisements

Migrant Labor and the 2018 World Cup in Russia

iuf.ru
Migrant Labor in Russia: From Golyanovo to the 2018 World Cup

On July 11, 2013, the Russian Federal Law “On the Preparation and Staging of the 2018 FIFA World Cup and 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup in the Russian Federation and the Amendment of Certain Russian Federal Legislative Acts” came into force without any uproar, something inadmissible in such delicate matters. (Hereafter referred to as FZ-108 for brevity’s sake, the full text of the law in the original Russian can be found here.)

While the name of the law might not sound too promising, its content opens up truly outstanding prospects for any Russian employer even tangentially connected with the 2018 World Cup. FZ-108 establishes special conditions for the employment of “foreign nationals and stateless persons” (i.e., migrant laborers) involved in the preparations and staging of the World Cup and Confederations Cup.

Article 9 Chapter 4 generously eliminates the need to obtain permits for the employment of migrant labor and notify the relevant authorities of the conclusion or termination of contracts with foreign workers, or of their arrival or departure. Nor are migrant workers themselves required to obtain work permits. Quotas for the issuance of visas and work permits are waived for those employers involved with the 2018 World Cup. Article 10 is even more interesting: it abolishes all regulation and control over the recruitment of foreign nationals and stateless persons as volunteers—that is, it practically and plainly permits employing migrants without remuneration. Article 11 exceeds all limits of generosity. It allows employers to set long working hours right in the contracts of all workers “employed in the preparation and staging of the events” (with no explanation of what that phrase means) and waives the requirements for the compensation of night work, the compensation of work on weekends and holidays, and the duration and compensation of overtime (as stipulated by Articles 154, 113, 153, and 152, respectively, of the Russian Federal Labor Code). The icing on the cake is Article 56 Chapter 14, which exempts all payments made to migrants under labor, civil, and volunteer contracts from obligatory social security and insurance deductions.

This simplified hiring procedure is a clear incentive for employers to employ foreign workers on the widest possible scale.

Here we should stop and ask ourselves to whom FZ-108 applies. The answer: any entity that is a “FIFA business partner.” By law, this means any legal or natural person in a contractual relationship with FIFA or its subsidiaries and involved in “events.” This might be a commercial partnership agreement or an agreement for provision of services, but in any case the provisions of the law apply to the subsidiaries and subcontractors of all these “business partners.”

Thus, the list of organizations with special rights vis-à-vis workers employed in preparing the “events” is very broad. We can safely include in this list the general contractors and subcontractors involved in building the stadiums, suppliers, FIFA sponsors (all thirty-four of them!), FIFA licensees (i.e., companies that have the right to use the World Cup logo on their products), firms providing security at the World Cup, and so on. Of course, all these companies have subsidiaries and contractors—personnel and temp agencies, construction and security companies, manufacturing facilities, cleaning and catering companies, firms involved in maintaining equipment and buildings, supplying brand-name goods, producing and placing ads, and so on and so forth. By the way, the recruiting agency Kelly Services is among the official suppliers of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. In light of the new law, we can easily imagine the consequences if this or any similar firm signs a contract with FIFA.

It is reasonable to assume the Russian authorities understand they will be unable to get ready for the World Cup employing only Russian citizens and are thus counting on migrant workers. Employers in construction, residential building maintenance, cleaning, retail, and other sectors where the skill requirements are low and cheap labor is the source of profits have long ago discovered this magic wand.

But we cannot help noticing that all these measures have been proposed and ratified by the same government that is literally right now organizing actual raids on migrants and imprisoning them in special camps in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, Volgograd, Samara, Rostov-on-Don, and Kaliningrad. Does this mean that the right hand of the Russian state doesn’t know what the left hand is doing? Not in the least.

All the above-named cities are hosting the 2018 World Cup.

In accordance with FZ-108, any migrant worker needs to do just one thing to obtain legal status: become involved with the preparation and staging of the World Cup or Confederations Cup, that is, enter into an employment, civil or volunteer agreement with one of the organizers of the events, or with their contractors or subcontractors. Thus, for example, a migrant from Vietnam now being held at the camp in Golyanovo, after signing a contract with some subcontractor of a World Cup licensee manufacturing mascot dolls for the championship, will be legalized de jure. De facto, however, he or she will go back to another semi-underground workplace, but now no one will be able to exercise any oversight or supervision. Now the migrants who are liberated from slavery or buried after they burn to death in sweatshops locked from the outside will be absolutely legal. It’s a sleight of hand, as they say.

The anti-migration campaign of the authorities stokes openly racist attitudes in society, shifting public attention from societal and labor issues (which had recently come to the forefront) to the search for scapegoats. Meanwhile, there is no guarantee that the practice of stripping migrant workers who are employed in the preparations for the 2018 World Cup of their rights will not be extended to all foreign workers tomorrow, and incorporated in the Russian Federal Labor Code the day after tomorrow, thus fulfilling the most cherished dreams of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs.

The fight against xenophobia, the persecution of migrants and the violation of their rights must, therefore, become one of the main issues on the agenda of the trade union and labor movement in Russia.

__________

golianovo_a

Migrants at the deportation camp in Golyanovo, which instantly became a household name. Photo © The Moscow News.

golyanovo_slaves_a

The name Golyanovo had been linked with migration even earlier, however. In the photo we see the liberated “slaves of Golyanovo,” who had been held for years in the basement of a grocery store, and their saviors from non-governmental organizations. Despite the best efforts of human rights activists, the criminal case against the slave owners has fallen apart. Photo courtesy of the LiveJournal blog Living Tomorrow.

egorievsk_a

During a fire at a garment factory in Yegorievsk, fourteen migrants from Vietnam perished. They were locked in the factory and thus could not escape to safety. A year later, punishment for the perpetrators of this crime is still a distant prospect. Photo courtesy of 1.tv.ru.

Anti-Immigrant Pogrom on the Obvodny Canal

http://www.colta.ru/docs/29793
Migrants: “Come out, children, and brush your teeth”
Daniil Dugum
19 August 2013

Morning Visitors

The windows of the pricey Finnish supermarket Prisma, in Saint Petersburg’s former Warsaw Station, look out onto a structure with a half-collapsed roof and scruffy walls. People live there, however. They pay rent to the mysterious “proprietor” of the resettled residential building. He probably managed to “come to terms” with local “law enforcement” for a time, but the building is slated for demolition.

Early in the morning of August 13, uniformed OMON riot police and plainclothes officers raided the homes of migrant workers in this building on the city’s Obvodny Canal.

DSC05079

Human rights activist and sociologist Andrei Yakimov, from the Memorial Anti-Discrimination Center, recounts what happened.

“At around 6:30 a.m., the ‘police’ arrived—about nineteen uniformed men and five or six plainclothes officers. After the riot policemen kicked everyone out of the building (they were not stingy in dishing out insults and shoves, nor did they give pregnant women and mothers with infants any break), they checked everyone’s papers and began ransacking the rooms where people lived, breaking down doors and searching for valuables. The migrants claim that jewelry was pilfered, money was snatched from wallets, and video cameras, tablet computers and laptops were stolen: many of the workers were preparing to leave the country and had bought presents for loved ones in Uzbekistan. Some had taken out small loans to buy tickets home. A pregnant women had the ninety thousand rubles [approx. two thousand euros] she had borrowed for medical treatment (maternity ward expenses) confiscated. The riot policemen handed all these things over to the plainclothes officers, who loaded them into cars. The total loot came to about six large plastic bags. The uniformed thieves made several trips there and back to get everything.”

Three days before the pogrom, the Federal Migration Service and regular police had done a check at the building. After looking at their papers for the umpteenth time and warning the migrants that the building would be boarded up and all tenants must vacate it by August 20, the authorities had then left. They knew that most of the workers were soon returning to their homelands. The robbery thus appears to have been carried out with a suspicious punctuality.

In the Building

Ibrahim, an Uzbek worker, meets me at the threshold of the house on the Obvodny.  Limping, he leads me through a maze of dilapidated walls. In some places, oilcloth covers the leaks in the ceiling and the gaps in the windows. Surrounded by total poverty, people have managed to create some sort of living environment in several rooms. An elderly woman sits in one of these rooms: she is Ibrahim’s wife, Mavlyuda. Next to her is a pregnant woman, the one from whom police confiscated the money she had borrowed to give birth. Mavlyuda tells me that during the raid she lost everything she had earned. The riot policemen had told the plainclothes officers, “Go in and take what you want.” Not only did they steal rings, jewelry, money and new shoes, they even stole an unopened bottle of shampoo. (“What, they have no shampoo? And yet they stole it!”) A twelve-year-old boy had his new tracksuit confiscated. Police messed with the residents’ food supplies. They sprinkled laundry detergent into cooking pots, and tossed food out windows that they had smashed with the same pots. They poured cooking oil and flour onto rugs, clothes and beds. They took special pleasure in disposing of religious objects. Ibrahim holds a board in a broken frame—engraved verses from the Quran. Muslims hang such boards over the door. The riot policemen had trampled and spit on this board.

Ghalib, a construction worker from Uzbekistan, was beaten in the hallway of his refuge while attempting to prevent the robbery. Police confiscated his ticket home and tore it up in front of him. The women say that Ghalib is ashamed to tell where he was beaten. Police beat him in the kidneys and the groin so badly he urinated blood.

On the second floor, a girl of twelve or thirteen recounts how, first, stones were thrown at the windows, then men came and dragged the adults outside, saying to the children, “Come out, children, and brush your teeth.” Then the men began tossing televisions and household utensils out the windows.

His wife had warned Azamat, a truck driver, about the danger that day, and so he watched the pogrom from a hiding place. Later, he discovered that his money and a present (a watch) for his father, who has cancer, were missing. Azamat tells me how three of the policemen beat up a teenager whom he did not know. Non-Slavic in appearance, the boy did not live in the building (none of the residents had seen him before), he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. “He got scared and ran, but they caught up with them and kicked him around like he was a football. When they picked him off the ground, he was limp like a rag,” Azamat says. He lifts a sweatshirt from a chair and shows me how the boy’s body fell.

After the pogrom, Pyotr Krasnov, a lawyer at the Memorial Anti-Discrimination Center, tried to help the victims.

“We filled out seven police complaint statements at the scene and left around sixty complaint forms in the resettled building in the hope that residents would submit them to the police precinct themselves. In the end, three of the seven people who filled out complaints came to the precinct with us, which I think is a huge success in itself,” says Krasnov.

Ghalib, the man who was beaten, took his complaint to the police. The first thing he was asked was, “Why do you live there?” He then sought medical attention. When the doctors found out it was the riot police who had beaten him, they refused to issue him any documents detailing his injuries.

DSC05084

“Illegals”: How Is That?

After conversing with the tenants of the abandoned building on Obvodny Canal, I got the impression they do not realize they inhabit the premises illegally, and that the “proprietor” to whom they pay rent has no real claim on this “residential space.” “My papers are in order” is the main code in a migrant’s life, and the residents of the building on the Obvodny repeat it like a mantra. Their lives are lived outside the law, and even outside any notion that somewhere it exists and functions. The migrants, especially the young people, believe that buying the necessary documents (it doesn’t matter where) is in fact the correct, legal way of doing things. Many are surprised to learn that a “work permit” that has to be purchased is a fake.

Pyotr Prinyov, from the trade union Novoprof, opens a newspaper and reads a want ad aloud.

“Look here. ‘Wanted: Uzbek nationals with work permits . . .’ But it is the employer who is required to obtain a work permit. That is, it is issued with the employer’s involvement. But if someone shows up with a readymade work permit, then it is 99% certain it has been purchased. There are tons of want ads like this. It is clear that employers are at fault, and that migrant workers are forced to play by these rules.”

But people in the house on the Obvodny do not understand this. It was only the robbery that angered the residents. Document checks and arrests are routine. Regular extortions by police on the streets, and getting ripped off at hard jobs with long hours are things to be endured for the sake of families. But where is the reward now?

We talk with another woman, whose husband is being deported. With tears in her eyes, she speaks about three children in Uzbekistan, how they will have to go back, and that her husband will be unable to re-enter the Russian Federation for five years. At one point, she says something that applies not only to herself.

“Tell the Russians we are honest workers. Tell them we aren’t criminals. My boss at the kitchen [where she works], a Russian woman, almost started crying with me when she found out I was leaving: ‘Where will I find someone like you?’ She’s satisfied with me! Why do you say on television that an Uzbek killed someone? We’re not all like that. Tell them that Uzbeks are honest workers. We’ll leave, but will a Russian woman go clean the streets and stairwells like we do?”

Contrary to the popular myth of the total criminality of migrants, according to official statistics from the Prosecutor General’s Office (a body that checks the police and thus has no interest in fudging the numbers), the majority of crimes are committed not by migrants and guest workers, but by Russian citizens (22.57% versus 77.43%). And Moscow’s judicial department informs us that, in 2012, immigrants from the Commonwealth of Independent States (i.e., the former Soviet republics) had 17% of the crimes committed in the city on their conscience, but a quarter of these involved faked migration papers and work permits.

DSC05087

Andrei Yakimov debunks another myth.

“In fact, most of the migrants in Russia would like to forget they are migrants. They would adapt quite quickly were they allowed to. The older generation remembers the Soviet Union as a golden age, when they had it all. The younger generation of immigrants believes that dissolving into Russian society is better than going home. And that fabled Islamic solidarity is actually a fiction. Look at the mood in Tatarstan: Tatars experience the same xenophobia towards immigrants as Russians do.”

For now, though, everything goes on as before and will continue to go on this way. According to Memorial’s calculations, a so-called native Petersburg is twenty-six times less likely to fall victim to police violence than a person of “non-Slavic” appearance.

As you leave these robbed and humiliated people in their ruined shelter, you inadvertently catch myself thinking about what Alexander Herzen once said about the pacification of Poland: “I am ashamed to be Russian.”

Photos © Memorial Anti-Discrimination Center