Sun, 08 Dec 2019

KULOB, Tajikistan -- An expensive new park in southern Tajikistan -- known as French Street and replete with a faux Eiffel Tower -- has sparked mixed feelings in a country suffering from large-scale unemployment and dependent on remittances from relatives working in Russia.

Tajik officials will officially open the $4 million French theme park in the city of Kulob as part of events marking Independence Day next week.

"I am all for recreational projects in the town, but the money could have been spent to build a factory or some other project to create jobs," said local resident Khudoidod Islom.

French Street boasts a chintzy 30-meter replica of the Eiffel Tower and a miniature version of the glass-pyramid entrance to the famous Louvre Museum.

There are also several "French-style" buildings that are slated to be used as shops and restaurants.

Among the replicas of Parisian landmarks, the Kulob park also has an iconic British telephone booth, adding a splash of red color to French Street.

The theme park has sparked mixed feelings among local residents.

"Like most people in Kulob, I don't have the resources to travel, and I will probably never see Paris,' said Mijgona Rasulzoda, a young resident of Kulob, which has a population of some 100,000. 'I'm happy to have this park in my city."

"It is something new, something different. It's like a dream to me," she added.

French Street covers nearly one hectare -- or one-fifth -- of the city's central Culture and Recreational Park, which was created in 1936.

Independence Day Celebrations

The park was originally named after Lenin, a name that city authorities officially dropped in 2014.

Kulob's French Street will officially be unveiled on September 11 as part of events marking Tajikistan's Independence Day, which is two days earlier.

Tajik President Emomali Rahmon is expected to visit Kulob for the ribbon-cutting ceremony and other events.

For one Kulob resident, celebrating Independence Day with a French theme doesn't make much sense, especially for a 2,700-year-old city that has many historic sites in need of a face-lift.

As Tajikistan tries to promote tourism as a source of much-needed revenue for the destitute country, local journalist Ahmad Ibrohim is skeptical that French Street is the answer.

He's not too sure foreign tourists will come to Kulob to see a replica of the Eiffel Tower.

"Tajiks have their own rich history," Ibrohim said. "If authorities needed a model of an iconic place as a city attraction, they could have built a replica of our own historic sites, such as the ancient Oxus Temple or the Fortress of Hulbuk."

The construction of French Street began in May with investments by the state-owned Tajik Aluminum Company (TALCO), the country's largest industrial enterprise.

TALCO did not respond to requests from RFE/RL for comment on French Street.

Written by Farangis Najibullah and based on reporting by RFE/RL Tajik Service correspondent Mahmudjon Rahmatzoda

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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