Development Yardsticks in Tajikistan

Following the last post, I can’t help but remark that everything the Soviets brought – while much more equitably distributed than in capitalist countries – was still based on an industrialization and consumption model of development. This development pushed monocropping of cotton in Central Asia that dried the Aral Sea and gave us other disasters in the region.

This runs into the problem I think I’ll run into over and over again – industrial plants (like TALCO pictured in another post), dams, etc represent pish-raftan (development) for Tajiks. How do you explain that all the shit we have in the U.S. isn’t as great as it’s cracked up to be? Or even if it is, it’s unlikely you can ever have it unless we all give up some due to environmental constraints?

Global industrial development is going to hit Tajikistan hard with climate change. It’s difficult to gauge exactly since it’s not in the news here, but the biggest impact will probably be the melting glaciers and declining runoff that literally runs Tajikistan’s hydropower economy.

Even without talking about the environment (it’s almost never mentioned), some Tajiks have a rather bleak view of the future. They see themselves sandwiched between Russia, the United States, and China. (Many would add Uzbekistan to the list.) Each is going to get its own profit and Tajikistan will stay relatively poor, save for a few minor advances.

The youth are infatuated with the U.S. Almost without fail, when they hear I’m from the U.S., they ask:

“Isn’t it wonderful there?” I say sure it’s very nice, but Dushanbe is also great.

“No way – not compared to New York!” they respond.

The infatuation with the U.S. is nothing new. Neither is the ignorance of the dark side of the glamour – inequality, poverty, homelessness, foreclosure, discrimination, deteriorating schools, expensive healthcare, etc.

I think the USSR has (unfortunately?) made Tajiks measure themselves by Western development standards. How many dams do we have? How big are our buildings?

How do we start using different measuring sticks to gauge development? How do we do it in solidarity with the global South – all without being hypocritical and condescending?

I’m sadly still stumped.

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