Why should we Tajiks consider coronavirus seriously?

Muhiddin Kabiri

A few days ago, while having online conversation with people, I shared my opinion and suggestions on how to deal with the upcoming crisis. As we understood from the peoples’ responses and questions, not all of our fellow citizens considered this crisis seriously. They thought that recommendations and warnings of the experts were only exaggeration around the subject. The threat of the coronavirus alone is not bigger than threat of other viruses, such as «bird flu» and others. Perhaps number of deaths from other viruses is many times higher than from coronavirus. But more concerning is the speed and power of spread of this virus.

Only few viruses in recent years have spread the world at this speed and reached this geographical area in such a short time. More importantly, only few viruses could challenge the global economic system and was able destroy it. There is no doubt that humanity will soon be able to contain this virus. But what will be the consequences of the crisis caused by the virus? When and how we could contain it? These questions now occupied on the minds of worlds politicians, experts and specialists.

Seems that we Tajiks now think more about the virus itself and how to get rid of it, but not about what will happen after that. At least, this can be understood from the words and actions of government officials, media and local experts. Some may think that they avoid speaking about that, because they are afraid to be accused of exaggeration.

In 2008, at the height of the global financial crisis, in the Parliament I asked Minister of Finance Najmiddinov what they prepared to prevent this crisis. He replied that no special preparations were needed. He said that as our country was on the brink of global financial relations, we might not even feel that there was crisis in the world. The answer might seem to be naive and ridiculous for the minister, but it showed the reality and the minister said that sincerely.

Tajikistan was far from the world’s financial and economic centres and had less connection to global processes. This made us less vulnerable to undesirable global processes. The coronavirus crisis has shown that this hypothesis is correct. The fact that Tajikistan still does not have a registered case of coronavirus is not because of our advanced medical system or preventive measures, but because of the lack of communication between Tajikistan and other countries.

There may be no more than 30 flights a day at Dushanbe airports, while German airports may have more than 500 flights per hour. That is why coronavirus has more targeted developed countries, and weaker countries have better situation. According to BBC, the Syrian city Idlib has been declared the safest place in the world from coronavirus. The city has only a name of the city and looks like city of ashes.
Therefore, the current situation of the coronavirus should not lead us to ignorance or incorrect analysis and conclusions on how to deal with the consequences of this crisis.

If the virus has not entered our country so far, and I hope it hasn’t, then the people’s task is to follow the basic recommendations and requirements of the experts, and the government should use the world’s experience to manage the situation.
However, the debate over the “post-coronavirus” crisis is different from the virus itself. In this regard, our country is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world. That’s why we say, that Tajiks must consider this crisis seriously and be fully prepared for that.
Here are few facts:

1. On the contrary to the financial crisis of 2008, which “passed over our heads and we didn’t even feel it”, this crisis is more economic, rather than financial. In 2008, stock exchanges and stock markets suffered the most, but the wheel of the economy was moving, factories were producing and oil was being traded. Today the virus has stopped production, flights have been suspended, companies have gone bankrupt, oil prices have plummeted, and art and sport events have been cancelled. In other words, it made the world to stay at home. And no one knows how long this situation will continue. The most optimistic experts predict 3 months and some predict up to 6 months. In recent years, under the influence of globalization, Tajikistan has established more ties with the world, which at the same time will make us more dependent on the world economic system. We can no longer say that “this storm will pass us by”.

2. The developed world prepares itself to go through this period of stagnation and mobilizes its economic, financial and administrative resources. And most importantly, they involve citizens in this process, raise their awareness and the whole nations prepare themselves as a team for a difficult game. They largely rely on huge financial resources in stabilization funds, strong economic and social infrastructure, strong civil society and trust between governments and nations. Their condition is like the bear, which stores fat all year round and spends the cold winter at home sleeping until the spring. Although we do not have any of the above factors, we are spending the small amounts we had on dances, games and festivals. If we bring an example from the nature as for our own situation, we are like a bird that spends the summer happily and singing, but in the winter it takes refuge in the nests of other birds and lives at their expense. This tactic may be effective in a short-term crisis, but it is useless while facing long-term crisis.

3. The weakest link in Tajikistan’s economic system is our financial dependence on remittances of labour migrants. The government of Tajikistan has never acknowledged this factor, and at the same time, has no program to accept those migrants at home. For both economic and political reasons, for the past 20 years the government has been trying to keep the country’s young generation away from home. They send money and create less headache for the authorities. This policy like a boomerang can also turn from the opportunity to the threat in the case of long-term crisis, and we are already seeing first signs of that. Thousands of young migrants are unable to travel for work, and thousands more will lose their jobs abroad. According to statistics, about 200 thousand new labours enter the labour market annually. Over the past decade the government has reported more than 1.7 million new jobs in the country. If half of that was true, all of the citizens should be able to find work within the country. However, most probably these figures are not real. Therefore, long-term crisis will increase the pressure on the local labour market.

4. Supposedly, if the roads are opened soon and the migrants are able to return to Russia and Kazakhstan, would this change our economic situation in the medium-term period? The return of migrants to their jobs may relieve political and social pressure, as the young and protesting forces will go out of the country again. But it is unlikely to have a rapid impact on improving the economic situation. At least one work season is needed to start the inflow of funds at the previous level. This is only in case of the fact that the economies of migrants receiving countries already emerged from the crisis. Plummeting of oil prices will have a negative impact on the economies of Russia and Kazakhstan for the next several years. Most of our migrants go to work to these two countries. In this case, Tajikistan will be partially deprived of a source of inflows into the economy and budget for the next few years.
The budget, which is under severe pressure of the government, will be even more pressured. The government will be forced to cover up this shortage from other sources, such as foreign debts or increasing tax payments. Both cases have a lot of risk. The first will bring the state to default and the second will raise more protests.

5. All of this is true, if the virus does not enter Tajikistan and people’s lives remains as it is today. However, if God forbid, the situation changes and we will be forced to restrict traffic, close companies and markets, the impact of the above-mentioned problems will increase drastically.

We could continue the list of negative factors, but these are enough to seriously consider “post-coronavirus” phase. The world has considered this matter seriously and everyone is talking about the fact that this crisis will turn the world into a post-coronavirus world. The world will no longer be that pre-coronavirus world. There will be changes in global economy, politics and changes in people, companies and countries relationships. Experts say we should not panic, but prepare ourselves for another life.

But the question is who should consider this matter seriously first, the government or the people? In Tajikistan, where everything is in the hands of the Government and even one person, that person should have a greater sense of responsibility to the people. Now it is time for the head of the country to act as a president during the crisis, not as «leader of nation». In such cases, the society needs a manager who anticipates risks, challenges and opportunities and prepares himself and the society. The country does not need “leader of nation», who waits for his followers to beg him for an airplane or better quarantine conditions, and later he solves the problems of those in need in the role of a “caring and patriotic leader”.

Naturally, other groups, including the opposition, also have responsibilities. One constant criticism directed to the opposition is that they always criticize the government without suggesting specific proposals. Of course, the duty of the opposition everywhere in the world is first to have a critical view of government policies, and only then suggest proposals. However, this criticism is real to some extent, as honestly, our criticism of the government is much more than our proposals and it is for reasons. But to what extent the government pays attention to our proposals and criticisms of the opposition and civil society is another question. So the opposition has made its proposals now, and this is probably the only thing that an opposition group can do from distance.

However, the people themselves can play an important role here. In fact, in my opinion, our attitude to this process shows the level of how we Tajiks are developing as a nation. Will we act as a nation or as a crowd, who needs a leader or a director?

At present, our behaviour, with few exceptions, remains the behaviour of a crowd rather than a nation. While the world, whether infected or not, cancelled all public events and thinks about peoples’ health, we gather to watch dance and play parties of the «leader of nation». This is an important indicator and shows that, unfortunately, the process of creating a crowd continues.

However, even in such circumstances, we see that some voices are being raised, and these voices influence the behaviour of the government.
Improving quarantine conditions, sending airplanes for stranded passengers and other activities following complaints from the public confirm this. This confirms that the people must also be aware of their responsibilities and be more active in demanding greater accountability of the authorities and their rights. All aware citizens demand from their governments these kinds of activities.

In conclusion, the new crisis situation requires that all of us must be ready for changes in our behaviour, speech and situation in the society. Only in this case of preparedness we can reduce its negative impact on the state and the nation.


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