The Tajik people are of ancient Iranian origins and now live in Central Asia along valleys between the Pamir and Alay mountains. Tajikistan’s economy was devastated by the end of Soviet Control and early attempts to establish a market economy. In 1990 there were about five million people in Tajikistan a small percent of whom were Russians who lived there to run the province. As the Soviet Union collapsed these Russians attempted to grab the new country’s industrial resources. There was strong opposition, which devolved into a civil war.
A Failed Transition
The transition from a centrally controlled Soviet government to a market economy has been difficult almost everywhere that communism failed; in Tajikistan it has been disastrous. Upon breaking away from the dissolving Soviet structure the economy had already experienced several years of decline. Tajikistan was an agricultural province in the Soviet system that grew food and cotton. Tajikistan also had gold mining, aluminum mining and processing, hydroelectricity generation and some fossil fuels. All of these assets were centrally controlled in the western part of the country which made it easy for the Russians to grab them as the country first became independent.
As Tajikistan fought a five year civil war the country’s economy slipped into disarray. By 1997, when the war concluded, there were about 100 thousand dead and the economy was producing less than half what it had prior to Soviet withdrawal in 1991. The Russian nationals who had lived in Tajikistan were also immigrating back to Russia, which meant Tajikistan’s educational institutions and teaching of Russian language lapsed into decline.
An industrial cycle is based on expanding industry that allows people to leave the farm and move to cities where they get factory work. Along with factory jobs they also hope to find pensions, vacation programs, education, savings plans and medical coverage. While this may not have been well developed during the Soviet decades, all these industrial features were scarce after 1997. Because Tajikistan was an agricultural region in the Soviet system, about half of the work force were involved with farming. The land redistribution programs also failed, which left the new country at the mercy of international donations just to feed itself.
Go To Russia
One of the few viable alternatives open to Tajik workers was to immigrate to other countries seeking work. Over ninty percent of those who leave Tajikistan searching for work go to Russia. The other ten percent go to other newly established countries in Central Asia. Russia estimates there are over a million Tajik people working in Russia, most of them young men. Unfortunately most of these immigrants are not skilled laborers so they don’t command a premium in the Russian labor market. In fact only a third of those men from Tajikistan who migrate to Russia officially find work. The other two thirds work illegally, which lays them open to abuse.
It’s now over twenty years after the Soviet Union collapsed and Tajikistan has a growing population of over eight million people many of whom are supported by remittances from relatives living in Russia. The Tajik population is young. The median age is twenty three years old. That means many of the young men that go off to Russia seeking jobs have no experience of Russian governance and don’t speak any Russian language. Along with few or no working skills, many of these immigrants are of little value for anything but physical labor. A lot of them find work in construction in Russia.
In Tajikistan the cost of buying oil to run electricity generation plants is too expensive and results in too little electricity production to successfully support industry. There is a plan to build a new hydro electric damn in order to meet needed kilowatt hours for industry, but the program is not yet underway. Also many of the farmers who stayed on the land are no longer planting cotton, which also cuts into economic growth.
Another money making endeavor has become transporting opium from Afghanistan to Russia. Tajikistan has become a substantial supplier of the Russian black market with heroine and opium. While this can be a path to quick money, it also opens up many dangerous outcomes. Young men go missing and are never heard from again.
In the Tajikistan industrial cycle, there are few bright spots. The government is not capable of fostering industrial growth, the Tajik people lived as a satellite region in the Soviet system and were primarily used to produce raw materials and food, so there isn’t an entrepreneurial sector of the population and there is corruption. All these forces leave Tajikistan’s future substantially in the hands of international agencies and non-government organizations.
The final feature of the labor situation is that of the thousands of young men who leave Tajikistan looking for work, many of them marry before they leave. Then, after working in Russia for a few years and remitting money back home, there is a strong temptation to abandon their Tajik marriage and take up with a Russian woman. Most of the time when this happens the remittances stop. In Tajikistan there are now many women with children and no means of support. One of the ways this is being managed is by polygamy, even though it is illegal in Tajikistan.
In late October, 2013 the Russian Federation and Tajikistan ratified a Military Cooperation Treaty part of which is designed to create more favorable conditions for Tajik nationals living and working in Russia. There are attempts to improve Tajikistan’s industrial growth. Tajikistan is the poorest of the former Soviet districts in Central Asia and until corruption and electricity generation are improved it will not escape from its current desperate circumstances.