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Classical Music Training Slashed

Although a decision to cut the number of musical schools and academies in Turkmenistan by more than half has been justified by talk of a funding shortfall, the move is being seen as part of an official policy of eradicating the Soviet past, in which young
An employee of the education ministry said on condition of anonymity that the aim of getting children interested in music and art was to raise civilised, thinking people. Music lessons provided intellectual stimulation, but now children will be left with nothing to do, he said, and there is a danger they will do their learning on the streets, where they are prey to drug addicts and thieves.

Musical schools and academies have joined the list of cultural activities that have been effectively banned in Turkmenistan. In 2001, President Saparmurat Niazov decreed that opera and ballet houses should close. In one speech, he said that any art form not of indigenous Turkmen origin was alien and corrupting.

An award-winning artist from Soviet times who now lives as a pensioner in Ashgabat said that in rural areas, music schools were often the only cultural institutions available, and once their number is cut, children from remote areas will have virtually no chance of pursuing a career in music.

The reduction was triggered by a speech President Niazov made at a recent government meeting, where he complained of unchecked spending by the culture ministry. He said the ministry signs deals with provincial government and theatres and then spends as much as it wants.

He ordered the national security ministry to keep track of the culture ministry’s activities and control its spending.

Employees in the sector agree there is corruption and misuse of funds, but they blame culture ministry bureaucrats. A teacher at a music school in Mary said that while officials get rich, it is ordinary teachers and other staff who will lose out. Over 1,000 music teachers may lose their jobs, not to mention the loss of access to education suffered by school-age children and students.

The only forms of art encouraged by the president are traditional Turkmen music and contemporary songs in Turkmen. There are large numbers of singers in this style churning out songs praising the president, which although unsophisticated can net them prizes of 10,000 or 15,000 US dollars.

Performances by national folksong and dance troupes and solo singers are the staple diet of state-run television, punctuated only by news bulletins. No official ceremony is complete without a pop concert, from the opening of a new shopping centre to the unveiling of a new statue of the Turkmen leader.

According to one civic activist, young people’s interest in the arts is restricted to gatherings where they listen to untalented pop stars accompanied by monotonous synthesisers.

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