A Forum of Liberals of Tajikistan (FLT) was founded in Vienna on Feb 12. The founders are a group of Tajik public activists, whose goals are “to build democracy, to support secular rule, to ensure the rule of law and human freedoms, to root out corruption, nepotism and nationalism and to protect the rights of Tajiks worldwide.” Co-Chairman of the Forum Temur Varki has told EADaily about the forum and its plans.
The Fund is headquartered abroad while its goals concern the situation in Tajikistan. How are you going to fulfil them? What is this all about?
The idea to create a secular public organization for uniting professionals from all vital spheres of public and political life and for protecting democratic values has long been in the air in Tajikistan. What Tajik President Emomali Rahmon has been and is doing is abuse of democracy. His rule discredits the very concept of democracy. It violates the Constitution, undermines our statehood, its unity, its territorial integrity and is a threat to our independence and stability in the whole region. The regime he has built and is going to hand down to his son is despotic tyranny based on personality cult and anti-constitutional prerogative of lifelong rule, an absolute monarchy with a grotesque parliament, a Cabinet controlled by his own self, puppet parties, earth-bred mass media and weak business, a system aiming to serve only His Excellency. His full title consists of 12 words! The opposition has been neutralized: some oppositionists have been killed, some are serving life terms in prison, many have fled abroad. After the civil war of 1992-1997, Rahmon began eliminating his opposition rivals: the leader of the Democratic Party Mahmadruzi Iskandarov has been sentenced to life in jail, the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan has been neutralized, the leader of the New Tajikistan party Zayd Saidov has been sentenced to 29 years in jail. All this is being done under the cover of democracy and secular rule.
Does the clergy play any role in the country’s life?
The Ulema Council (the Council of Religious Scholars) was the first to condemn our decision to establish the Forum. We would like to thank them for their free PR. But we wonder who is subordinate to who in Tajikistan: the Ulema Council to the government or vice versa – for while the government is engaged in issuing degrees of openly religious nature, the council keeps interfering in political and social affairs. It will just suffice to mention the last report by the Hovar state news agency about the Immortal Regiment march (a march in memory of those killed in WWII) – the agency said that the march was cancelled because it did not comply with Islamic values. This comment runs contrary to our constitution.
Perhaps, this toughness is a way to protect the country from its dangerous neighbors?
Uzbekistan has the same dangerous neighbor and it also had a tough regime but now the Uzbek authorities are opening mosques and allow clergymen using loudspeakers for calling people to prayers and this is no longer considered a threat to national security. On the contract, this helps to reduce social tension. They are reconsidering the cases of people convicted under the previous regime and even amnestying them. Their intellectuals have asked their president to let their exiled leader Muhammad Salih come back home. There are experiencing an economic boom. Yes, they also have many people fighting in Syria and Afghanistan – almost as many as we do — but their population is four time as big as ours.
Do you know what moods are prevalent in Tajikistan?
Fake democracy is sowing discord and hatred among people and is making them skeptical about their future. Old Tajiks are nostalgic of the Stalin times, young ones are dreaming of an Islamic revolution. Instead of unity, we are witnessing discord and mutual hatred. People are fleeing the country. Those who are still there are losing patience.
And how can you improve the situation from abroad?
Our goal is to show our people that Rahmon’s tyranny has nothing to do with democratic values and constitutional secular statehood. Only democracy can protect their rights and freedoms and guarantee peaceful co-existence for people of different religions and traditions. We seek to prevent the worst. Our Forum advocates truly constitutional order, free and transparent elections and peaceful alternation of power. Usurpation of power and its hereditary transmission have nothing to do with democracy and law. Some Tajiks hope that the “heritor” will ensure liberal reforms and an economic breakthrough. I have no illusions here. There have been a few such precedents in history, but they were just happy exceptions. The worst thing about the “heritor” campaign is that its authors have no problem with its illegitimacy. It is not a gang or a feud, where one can hand his power down to his son, is it! They must respect their state and their people!
Your charter says that you are open to cooperation. Who are you going to cooperate with?
With all those who share our goals and tasks. We have no leaders but only seven co-chairs, including five co-founders. Among our co-chairs are politicians, public activists and journalists. We have already begun attracting economists, lawyers, teachers, scientists and artists. We have no plans to come into power in Tajikistan. We are an NGO, a forum for discussing ideas and setting directions. Our major task is to contact our society, to prevent them from becoming radical, to enlighten them, to offer them economic and legal reforms.
I don’t hope that our goals will be achieved in near future. Some of our government officials have been scared. Our Ulema Council has even condemned us. Some skeptics in social networks have said that our goals are unrealistic. But I live in France, where the same goals have long become reality. I am sure that the Tajiks deserve better life. Our country has experienced a serious setback as compared with the Soviet times. Only in Afghanistan people live worse. Our authorities are proud than we live better than the Afghans do but when you tell them that we can live much better, they begin to persecute you. They are already threatening us on Facebook. We perfectly know who those people are. But one cannot prevent spring from coming. They in Mexico have a good proverb, “They want to bury us, but they are unaware that we are seeds.”
EADaily’s Central Asian Bureau