World Bank and Dictators

By Paul


Ex-World Banker Dennis de Tray offers some advice for EU in its dealings with Turkmanistan’s dictator;

“I was until recently World Bank director for the five Central Asia “stans” (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan). The World Bank had no program in Turkmenistan because we could find no way to do anything remotely positive for its people. Natural gas is important to Europe. But it is the money Mr. Niyazov receives from natural gas sales that keeps him in power. While I am a strong advocate of engagement, in this case the European Parliament should reject Turkmenistan’s “most favored nation” status. If it does not, the EU must accept responsibility for supporting the ongoing destruction of a country and a people.

Turkmenistan, a country of 5m people in Central Asia, …

“used to be a Soviet vassal state, ruled by a Moscow stooge called Saparmurat Niyazov. When the Soviet Union collapsed, Mr Niyazov deftly reinvented himself as a Turkmen patriot, the “Turkmenbashi” or father of all Turkmen. He banned all opposition, declared himself president-for-life and erected golden statues of himself everywhere, including one in Ashgabat, the capital, which revolves with the sun.

A collection of his thoughts on philosophy, ethics and Turkmen culture, the “Rukhnama” (“Book of the Soul”), forms the basis of the school curriculum. Even to pass a driving test, his subjects must show their knowledge of this “sacred” text. The children who have passed through the country's schools most recently are now nearly as brainwashed as North Koreans.”

On the state of education in the country;

“Basic education has been reduced to nine years, and university from four years to two. From September to November, students are usually sent to cotton fields for the harvest. The number of students in higher education has dropped from 40,000 at independence to 7,000 or so today. Those who can afford it go to study in Moscow or other former communist capitals, perpetuating a tradition from Soviet times. Over 12,000 teachers were fired a few years ago, and those who have kept their jobs are paid badly, if at all. Classes are overcrowded, and grades as well as admission are often for sale.

The curriculum has been increasingly geared towards vocational skills—subjects deemed useless such as physical education and arts were eliminated—and political indoctrination. A substantial part of school time is now dedicated to learning passages from the “Rukhnama” (Book of the Soul), in which President Saparmurat Niyazov rambles on about practically everything, from proper social behaviour and morals to the motherland and its glorious leader. The book and its author have acquired quasi-religious status….As a result, the education level has collapsed. With over 45% of the population under 19 years old, general knowledge and critical thinking—let alone vaguely accurate views of the outside world—are vanishing rapidly.”

The situation appears to be grim in the country, as one human rights campaigner from the country comments;

“It's the law of the land in Turkmenistan that attempting to "sow doubt about the foreign and domestic policies of the one and eternal President of Turkmenistan, the Great Saparmurat Niazov, Father of the Turkmen People," is treason, and is punishable by up to life imprisonment.

I was in prison with people doing time for this "crime." ….

There's a joke that there are three types of people in my country - those who were in prison, those now in prison, and those about to get thrown into prison.

For people in Turkmenistan the only hope is in international organizations such as the United Nations, the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. They believe that international pressure on the Turkmen dictatorship will somehow lighten their burden.

I owe my freedom to the international community. I urge the EU to be consistent in standing up for human rights, to demand real reform of the Niazov regime before it gives his government a trade agreement. Please don't rob people in Turkmenistan of their hope for real change.”

For Comment: Is disengagement the best way to deal with wealthy despots and dictators?

Related Links:

- The most recent economic reports from the World Bank and IMF on Turkmanistan.

- Relations with Iran and China and other current news from Turkmanistan Project of Open Society Institute

- A Survey of the Economic Relations Between Iran and the Republic of Turkmenistan

- Background Brief on the country from Institute for War & Peace Reporting.

- ICT at a Glance –Turkmanistan

- Blogs covering Turkmanistan issues; Registan, Neweurasia, Global Voices Online, Publus Pundit, and Brian’s Study Breaks.


Per Kurowski wrote:

For a start it is not and cannot ever be the role of World Bank to take upon its shoulder the responsibility for fighting dictatorships, whenever and wherever they are. That responsibility has to be shared by many more, preferably all. There are thousands of way you can get rid of a dictator, including extravagant one as offering 5 million visas to all people in Turkmenistan so that they are all able to go and live elsewhere and the dictator dies of loneliness but, to serve a useful purpose, they should all first be able to answer the question of what to do after the dictator is gone? Build a nation? Outsource the government? Send them all to universities, so that they can be taxi drivers in New York?
It is a very delicate matter to get involved in trying to change other peoples or other countries life, and pure good intentions are not enough.
That said and reading the description of the Father of the Turkmen People he sounds like a very insecure person with a tremendous inferiority complex and in need of asserting his importance anyway, anywhere, anytime, something that is frequently quite useful for profiling dictators in general. If this is right, one way to do it, a peaceful alternative, would be to rob from him all his mantles of respectability, laughing and scorning him out of power. Careful though, don’t confuse the target, you do not want to scorn the belief and the blind faith in their leader that many locals might already have developed. If this is the chosen strategy, it would then be clearly contra productive to have a technician from the World Bank go and have a serious talk with him…among technicians. By the way since so many governments keep themselves elevated only by means of the lot of hot air they inflate themselves with, we should not underestimate the risk of a catastrophic domino effect.
But, do not think for a moment that my comments are in jest. No, it is way too important for the world to find a mechanism to get rid of the rogues, in the name of that overriding sovereign right we have as citizens of a very small and interrelated planet. We cannot and should not allow for too many too infectious diseases to poison our planets future.

-- May 19, 2006 7:32 AM

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