03/20/2023, 09.38
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President Rakhmon uses gifts for his 'humanitarian absolutism'

by Vladimir Rozanskij

The 'president's gift' is part of presidential propaganda. The latest initiative that reintroduces it is the granting of 30 new buses to some cities. There is no control over the destination of these funds. In 2023 they will reach the sum of EUR 43 million.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - The "president's gift" is an expression that has long since entered the customary lexicon of presidential propaganda in Tajikistan. The latest initiative that brings it up again these days is the granting of 30 new buses to the city of Kulyab and the surrounding area, for the implementation of the "State Programme for the targeted development of transport in the territory of the Republic until 2025".

Critics of the regime call these actions 'pijar' (publicity) of President Emomali Rakhmon at the expense of savers, while the leader's circle of loyalists sees them as a good solution to all problems.

Even the buses are delivered 'by direct order of the president'. Six to the city of Kulyab, five to the neighbouring city of Khoruǧ and the others to the restless province of Gorno-Badakšan: a 'carrot' after so many beatings following last summer's riots.

The local authorities expressed their gratitude for this 'act of presidential charity', as they called it, by organising a festive ceremony to welcome the buses with singing, dancing and official speeches, to express the population's gratitude to the country's leadership.

The solemn declarations link the gift to the international holiday of 'Nowruz', the Persian New Year, which coincides with the spring equinox on 20 March. Photographs and videos on the official websites of the benefiting cities highlight images of Rakhmon, which decorate bus windows and walls. When asked about the funding that made the donation possible, no administration deigned to answer.

After all, on the presidential website itself, one only has to type in the Tajik term 'tuhfa' (gift), to admire the dozens and hundreds of communications on the magnanimity of the Persian satrap of Dušanbe. On display are houses for employees of the Tajik Law Enforcement and Special Services, buildings constructed for various public bodies, gifts for orphans and students in hostels in various parts of the country, and many copies of a classic book entitled 'Točikon' (Tajik).

Academician Bobočon Gafurov wrote the book in 1972, in Soviet times, to extol 'the union of the Persian people of Central Asia'. Rakhmon had it reprinted in 2019, arranging for it to be distributed free of charge to every household. 1.6 million copies were printed, amounting to 136 million somon (around EUR 11.7 million) from the state budget. Našryoti Muosir won the competition for the reprint, as Radio Ozodi revealed.  The publishing house was linked to the Faroz company of Rakhmon's son-in-law, Šamsullo Sokhibov, which earned more than EUR 10 million.

One of the timid voices of the opposition, lawyer and Social Democratic Party activist Farkhod Khudoyorov, describes these initiatives as attempts by the president to increase support for him: 'The head of state is still elected by the people and financed by the state budget, which is formed through tax collection... this kind of propaganda is unacceptable, and even criminal from a legal point of view'. In his opinion, if even the masses allow themselves to be beguiled by propaganda, everyone understands well that 'the political atmosphere in the country does not allow one to speak openly about this issue.

Any criticism of the president or senior officials can have unpredictable consequences, says Khudoyorov, as evidenced by the fact that 'dozens of journalists and hundreds of dissidents and critics of the regime are behind bars'.

The president's gifts are officially attributed to his 'reserve fund', which is provided for in Tajikistan's financial laws to cope with emergencies, with 2% of the tax levy being allocated to it.

In fact, there is no control over the destination of these funds, which are totally at the president's disposal for 'social projects and cultural initiatives' without passing through parliament, and which will reach the sum of almost 500 million somon (EUR 43 million) in 2023, 57 more than the previous year.

The few critical voices define these conditions as the features of the so-called 'humanitarian absolutism', the reign of Emomali Rakhmon.

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