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Tajikistan, a former Soviet republic, is one of the poorest countries in Central Asia. On Norouz, the first day of the Persian New Year, Emomali Rahmon the President of Tajikistan spoke to euronews on the situation in the country 20 years after independence, relations with Russia and Iran and democratisation in the country.

euronews:
Your Excellency Emomali Rahmon President of Tajikistan, happy new year. Do you see the Norouz as an occasion to celebrate the national identity of the Tajikistan? Are the Norouz ceremonies these days the beginning of the restoration of Tajik identity which was so damaged by the former Soviet Union?

President Emomali Rahmon:

During the Soviet era, there were huge restrictions on performing traditions and national customs. These celebrations were banned and those who practised them were persecuted. But this celebration is in the heart of our people. Even during more than 70 years of domination, the soviet regime could not abolish this tradition.

The same thing had happened even before the USSR, as it was thought to be against Islam, but finally it was accepted. Norouz is the celebration of the victory of virtue over the vice. It encourages good deeds. It is about forgiveness. Such a celebration is one of the rarest in the world.

euronews:

Iran has been under increasing international sanctions. Have they had an impact on relations between Tajikistan and Iran?

President Emomali Rahmon:

As far as we know, the Islamic Republic of Iran does not intend to buy or make nuclear weapons. Iran has progressed, the country has developed. All the problems regarding the nuclear issue must be solved solely through dialogue and diplomatic means.

These sanctions have, of course, had an effect on us. I think not only Tajikistan, but many of developed countries such as European countries and Japan have been affected as well. The price of oil and gas have increased. This benefits the oil-producing countries and not those consuming oil. Many of the developed countries which used to buy Iran’s oil have been affected by these sanctions, negatively. The increase in world oil and gas prices has, of course, damaged our economy.

euronews:

Roughly one million Tajik migrants work in Russia. Has this caused problems for Tajik society and has it possibly helped Russia to continue its influence in Tajikistan?

President Emomali Rahmon:

About a million Tajik labourers and workers live and work in Russia. Well, that is true, but where else can they go in the region? Through their work, they help their families and also help the economy of their country.
The Government of Tajikistan has very good arrangements with the Russian authorities to support the rights and interests of the Tajik migrant workers in the Russian Federation.

I don’t believe that our relations and our strategic cooperation with Russia have restricted Tajikistan, that is not the case. We have a foreign policy of open doors.

euronews:

Recently, Russia held presidential elections. As the President of Tajikistan do you believe that simply holding elections in a country means there is democracy?

A government that has had the same policy and the same ideology for 70-80 years, cannot change in just 10-20 years into the model of a democratic and civilised society. It takes time to change the mentality of people.

This process has started in Russia and other former Soviet republics. During the Russian elections – in which political groups could freely express their opinions – did that not show some progress, moving towards democracy? But you know that mistakes and errors are inevitable in the beginning. An American or European style democracy in Russia or other former soviet republics in just a year or so, is impossible, it is just a dream.

euronews:

What is your opinion of human rights during these 20 years since Tajik independence. Do you think the situation is satisfactory now?

President Emomali Rahmon:

I remember in 1990-91, in the first year of independence, there were only 4 private newspapers, we had just one TV station, and there was just one state-owned news agency. But now there are more than 3000 active organisations, political parties, and NGOs.

Around 500 newspapers and magazines are published, 60% of which are privately-owned. There are 44 television stations, just 4 of which belong to the government.
Little by little, we have done a lot of work to protect human rights in Tajikistan. As you know we have many problems and this process regarding growth and development of our society will find its way, step by step.

euronews:

Tell me about security on the border between Tajakistan and Afghanistan? How is this security provided? and what of drug smuggling across the border?

President Emomali Rahmon:

If you compare today’s situation with ten or eleven years ago, there is a huge difference. I must say that the security situation is much better now.

The big problem is drug smuggling. The authorities in charge both in the Republic of Tajikistan and in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan are cooperating to fight this both at the borders and inside Afghanistan, but we need help from the international community.

Like problems of international terrorism and extremism, drug smuggling is a global problem. It is not limited to Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Central Asia. Why should we talk about this?

There are chemicals sent to Afghanistan to help production of chemical drugs. There are no such factories manufacturing these chemicals in Tajikistan, or Afghanistan so where do they come from? Through which countries are huge volumes of these materials smuggled? In the future, this is where efforts must be targeted.

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