Monday, January 26, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Tajik Embassy Failing to Protect Guest Workers in Russia, Activists Say

Paul Goble

Vienna, January 26 – Dushanbe’s diplomats are pursuing their own commercial interests rather than protecting Tajik migrant workers in the Russian Federation, a failure that has infuriated many in that community given the murder of several ethnic Tajiks there and one that has prompted some Tajik workers to form an alternative organization to defend their rights.
Whether this new group will be able to achieve its immediate goals is far from clear, but the formation of such a group represents an important step forward for a hitherto unorganized group and could thus pose a serious challenge political as well as economic to the government in Tajikistan if its members are forced to return there because of the current economic crisis.
Tajiks working in the Russian Federation and the Tajik government have been horrified by a rising tide of xenophobic violence directed against their co-ethnics, a tide that has now led to several deaths in the last few weeks alone. And President Emomali Rakhmon has directed the Tajik embassy in Moscow to protest them.
The embassy has in fact lodged several protests with the Russian government, and it has organized a Union of Tajiks (“Tadzhikistantsy”—the non-ethnic term for residents of that republic) supposedly to speak on behalf of this nearly one million-strong group of people. But many Tajiks do not believe that either their government or its diplomats have done enough (
Indeed, there have been suggestions over the last few months that both Tajik diplomats and the leaders of the Union of Tajiks are more interested in maintaining relations with Russian business than they are in protecting Tajik lives and property, relations that at least some believe are fundamentally corrupt.
Tensions between the embassy and Union of Tajiks, on the one hand, and the Tajik guest worker community, on the other, came to a head over the course of the last month. First, the embassy and its Union tried to block the official registration with Russian officials of a new Tajik Labor Migrant Movement.
Then diplomats and Union leaders attempted without success to impose their own candidate in a regional election. And finally, there have been suggestions, so far unconfirmed, that at least some of the responsibility for the deaths of some Tajiks in Russia lies with personnel at the Tajik embassy in Moscow and in the Union.
Tajik President Rakhmon ten days implicitly confirmed the suspicions of many Tajiks about the embassy and the Union when he officially directed his foreign minister to ensure that Tajik diplomats in Russia work to defend the rights and freedoms of Tajiks there and “not use their position for their own business purposes.”
Such a stance could win him support among Tajiks both in the Russian Federation and in Tajikistan himself, if he ensures that his order is carried out. But if he does not take definite steps – such as removing those many Tajiks feel are guilty of corruption – his promise could backfire, especially if more guest workers return to Dushanbe.
The Tajik Labor Movement is currently organizing branches throughout the country, and it has issued statements on behalf of Tajiks who are suffering from discrimination. But it is very much a work in progress, and relatively little is known about it beyond its own declarations and the intriguing biography of its leader (
He is Karomat Sharipov, 45, who graduated from the Simferopol Higher Military Political Academy and served in East Germany, before graduating from the higher party school of the CPSU Central Committee. More recently, he worked in the Moscow Military District before getting involved in the affairs of Tajik guest workers.
In 2001, Sharipov assumed the leadership for the Tojik-Diaspora Foundation, which unites more than 87,000 Tajik guest workers. In that capacity, he edited the newspaper “Ovozi Tochikionikho” (“The Voice of Tajikistan’), the first newspaper in Russia directed to that community.
To attract attention to the plight of the Tajik guest workers, he organized a film about their lives, and because of his activities, he was in November 2007 unanimously elected president of the All-Russian Social Organization Tajik Labor Migrants, as the movement is formally known.
Because of his background – in the CPSU, the Soviet group of forces in the DDR, and the Moscow Military District – it is likely that some Tajiks both in Russia and in their homeland may view him as a tool of the Russian authorities against Tajik diplomats and the Tajik government more generally.
But given the behavior of the Tajik diplomats, at least as described by the movement and decried by Rakhmon, it seems more likely that he will be seen by most Tajik workers as genuinely on their side, whatever action he and those around him may take in the future in Tajikistan.

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