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Turkmenistan Date Marked With Rare Restraint

By News Briefing Central Asia
  • Celebrations in Ashgabat, 2011. (Photo: IWPR)
    Celebrations in Ashgabat, 2011. (Photo: IWPR)

The Central Asian state of Turkmenistan is constantly staging elaborate public celebrations complete with banners, parades and mass folk-dancing.

Residents of the country are well used to being corralled into such events, so they were expecting Neutrality Day on December 12 to be marked in the now-traditional grand style. Apparently not – preparations for the date have been decidedly muted, leaving many people relieved but wondering what is going on.

“Our lecturers haven’t once taken us out of lectures to send us to the stadium,” language student Mahri said, referring to the usual rehearsals for mass performances. Students are commonly press-ganged into taking part in such festivities. "Of course we’re pleased that we aren’t being subjected to it. It’s just a bit strange.”

Mahri said none of the state-run newspapers had carried the usual reports of concerts, conferences and exhibitions to commemorate Turkmenistan’s decision to declare itself a neutral state. Nor are people rehearsing for the usual performances involving a cast of thousands. (See One Long Holiday in Turkmenistan on the cult of state celebrations.)

This year’s events appear to consist of a reception and concert for foreign ambassadors.

Various reasons have been offered for the change.

A government insider, speaking on condition of anonymity, said President Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov had cancelled elaborate outside events due to cold weather.

An NGO activist believes the president may have grown sensitive to suggestions that he has to coerce his people into showing how happy they are. Another commentator said the government might not have the funds to pay for so many events.

Finally, a local journalist noted that Turkmenistan is due to host a meeting of former Soviet leaders at around the same time, and the government may want to avoid the embarrassment of outside scrutiny.

"Foreigners and journalists will be arriving in the capital, and they might observe how the Turkmen government mistreats its people, forcing them to take part in mass gatherings lasting many hours,” he said. “The government may have decided to avoid making a fool of itself, and simply dumped this celebration.”

This article was produced as part of News Briefing Central Asia output, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.

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