Andrew Osborn

 

 

Chief Russia Correspondent

 

Deputy Bureau Chief Russia/CIS

 

Reuters

 

 

Tajik President bans gold teeth and more

21st April 2007 16:53

by Andrew Osborn in Moscow

In a part of the world painfully inured to

self-regarding eccentric leaders the President of

Tajikistan appears to be setting new standards in

autocrat oddity. 

In a series of decrees that seem designed to turn the

clock back and shake off Russian influence, President

Emomali Rakhmonov has banned lavish celebrations,

outlawed gold teeth, and ordered people to change

their surnames.

Pupils have been told they can’t travel to school in

private cars, that they can’t carry mobile phones, and

that they can’t hold end-of-school parties to mark the

completion of their secondary education. 

Mr Rakhmonov called the latter “pompous and

excessive.”

Lavish weddings have also been criticised and though

he hasn’t formally banned them Mr Rakhmonov has

expressed his displeasure at showy birthday parties.

Instead the immaculately coiffured 54 year-old

President is urging his citizens to read his own book,

a hefty piece of work about Tajikistan and his own

life entitled “The Tajiks in the Mirror of History.”

The former boss of a Soviet collective farm who has

ruled his impoverished Central Asian nation

continuously since 1992, Mr Rakhmonov does at least

lead by example.

He has therefore announced that from now on he wants

to be known simply as ‘Rakhmon’ dropping the –ov from

his surname, an unusual step for a serving head of

state to take. 

He expects everyone else to follow suit; all newborn

children should have surnames that do not end in the

Russian-sounding –ov or –ev, he has decreed, and adult

Tajiks should seriously consider shortening their

surnames too. 

Mr Rakhmonov argues that the changes will reinforce

traditional Tajik identity.

“It's about the spelling of names and surnames of

children according to the historic traditions of Tajik

culture, and as a comeback to national roots,” he

said.

Part of first the Russian Empire and then the Soviet

Empire, Mr Rakhmonov is keen to buttress his largely

Muslim country’s independence and sense of identity.

The country of almost 7.5 million people, nearly half

of whom are under the age of 14, speaks a language

that is very close to Persian, spoken in Iran, and to

Dari, spoken in Afghanistan.

Mr Rakhmonov has been praised for providing both

stability and predictability.

However his micro management of people’s everyday

lives and his own self-promotion have raised eyebrows

and drawn parallels with one of ?entral Asia’s oddest

and most disturbing leaders – the late Sapurmat

Niyazov known as ‘The Great Turkmenbashi’ in

Turkmenistan who died of a heart attack last December.

Both the late autocrat and Mr Rakhmonov have a

peculiar aversion to gold teeth, a popular hangover

from the Soviet era when it was prestigious to have

gold or silver fillings which were seen as status

symbols.

Mr Rakhmonov banned the wearing of such fillings

towards the end of last year after meeting a female

schoolteacher sporting a gold filling.

“School teachers are complaining about low salaries

but their teeth are gold,” he said.

“How can representatives from international

organisations believe that we are poor when our

teachers’ mouths are full of gold? It’s not out

culture and it’s not our tradition.”

The President said he wanted anyone wanting for the

state to remove any gold fillings, an edict that posed

a problem since an estimated half of the country’s

workforce is estimated to sport at least one gold

tooth.

Many of his decrees appear motivated by his desire to

realign his country more closely with Iran and move

away from Moscow’s influence.

That influence is considerable; each year it is

estimated that migrant Tajik workers in Russia send

$1bn back home, more than double Tajikistan’s annual

state budget. 

Bereft of significant reserves of oil and gas, some

sixty percent of Tajikistan’s population lives beneath

the poverty line.

Independent from the Soviet Union since 1991, the

country was riven by a bitter civil war between its

Moscow-backed government and Islamist fundamentalists

that lasted on and off until 1997. 

Mr Rakhmonov’s position as father of the Tajiks looks

assured for years to come.

Last November he won 79.3 percent of the vote in a

ballot that allows him to govern for another

seven-tear term.

The President shrugged off suggestions that the vote

may not have been free or fair.

“Tajikistan is a country where more than 99 percent of

the population is Muslim. We have a different culture,

and this has to be taken account of,” he said.