Things don't seem to change in Turkmenistan, and if they do, it's never for the better.
Throughout its entire post-Soviet history, the country has been ruled by eccentric dictators. It has long been at the bottom of international rankings on press freedom and civil liberties. Most of the population scrapes by, even though the state is rich in gas and oil. Corruption is rife. And the government controls most aspects of life.
The new president -- Serdar Berdymukhammedov -- took over in March from his father, Gurbanguly, who had ruled for over 15 years. And he seems determined to continue his father's repressive course.
For ordinary citizens, life has become even harder since the start of the coronovirus pandemic despite the fact the Turkmen authorities declared the country COVID-free.
In a live discussion on June 2, hosted by RFE/RL, Bermet Talant spoke with Gozel Khudayberdieva, a reporter with RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, and Ruslan Myatiev, an editor with Turkmen.news, about subsidized food rations, border closures, new restrictions on women, and more.
Some key takeaways:
"There are no official bans or regulations on paper. But if you show up, you are told that you need some kind of permission, and they will not explain to you why or where it's written. And you can do nothing with it. Even if you want to buy bread, you'll be given only two or three loaves on that day, and you can't buy more and nobody can explain why," said Gozel Khudayberdieva.
"In total dictatorships, things can be unpredictable. On the surface, it seems to be a stably run state. Inside, it is far from that. So the boiling point can be anything," said Ruslan Myatiev, answering the question of how much more Turkmen citizens could put up with.
"Nobody expected that, in the summer of 2020, dozens of Turkmen citizens abroad would march on the streets and scream anti-government, anti-president things. The past two years have shown that there are activists who can't cope with these things. Some of them have become already so prominent. If they continue this way, their number of supporters in Turkmenistan could grow. We also see movements inside Turkmenistan. There have been anti-government leaflets after a devastating hurricane hit two regions in April 2020," he said.
Listen to the full conversation here:
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Read more from RFE/RL on this subject:
Beauty Ban: Turkmenistan Puts Severe Restrictions On Women's Appearance, Ability To Travel
Turkmen Consumers Face Jail Time If Caught Buying Too Much Bread
Subsidized Food Rations Cut In Turkmen Capital Amid Shortages, Price Hikes
Think Turkmenistan Is Funny? Think Again
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Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Washington DC 20036