If you thought the burgeoning cult of personality surrounding Tajikistan President Emomali Rahmon had reached its ceiling, think again. While he’s not yet reached the levels seen surrounding the presidency in, say, Turkmenistan, Rahmon — already named the “Leader of the Nation” and “Founder of Peace and Accord” — is now extending opportunities to the country’s schoolchildren to extoll the president’s virtues.
As reported in Daily Sabah, Tajikistan’s “youth affairs committee” has opened a competition for Tajikistan’s youth to pen essays on the “heroic life and deeds of the Leader of the Nation.” The competition among the “Followers of the Leader of the Nation” is also extended to university students and academics, who will receive prizes for the “best article on the Leader of the Nation.”
The announcement is the latest confirmation of Dushanbe’s slide into autocracy and Rahmon’s conviction that his leadership requires a cult of personality more familiar to those in Tashkent or Astana. As Daily Sabah continued, “More than 30 poets recently published an anthology of verses dedicated to his reign and an MP last year compared him to ‘the sun’ and a ‘star of happiness’ in a pro-government newspaper.”
Of course, Rahmon’s sprint toward cementing his position as national strongman hasn’t been relegated solely to school essays and volumes of poetry. Not only has his government continued “arresting, imprisoning, and torturing members of the country’s peaceful political opposition,” as a pair of human rights organizations noted this week, but the government recently announced it would attempt to remove term limits nominally restraining Rahmon from power in perpetuity. Likewise, the government has announced plans to lower the minimum age for presidential candidacy from 35 to 30, making it that much easier for Rahmon’s son, Rustam, to enter the race in 2020, when he will be 33. All the while, the government shows no signs of slowing its prosecution of the country’s moderate Islamic political opposition.
If the expansion of Rahmon’s cult of personality seems relatively rapid, it may have something to do with counteracting the country’s faltering economics. On the backs of decimated remittances, the IMF recently revealed that the Tajikistan was “entering a downturn.” Suddenly, a recession in Tajikistan doesn’t seem out of the question.
But Rahmon’s government has shown little incentive to counteract the country’s stunted macroeconomics, opting instead to devote its efforts to, say, renaming towns. And now, the country’s students have a chance to add their voices to those fluffing Rahmon’s reputation — regardless of the fact that their economic futures seem to be declining at the same rate that the president’s cult of personality seems to be expanding.