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CNN Interview with Davlat Khudonazarov

Scholar, Woodrow Wilson Center

Washington DC



Many Central Asian analysts watching the Ukraine elex closely. Some find it similar to the Tajikistan failed democratic elex that took place 13 yrs ago. As a former presidential candidate, what do you think--are there similarities between these two elex and what are they?

With the two there are many similarities between what happened in Tajikistan 13 years ago and what is happening in the Ukraine now. There are similar moments of course but there is as well a big difference between what was happening in the spring of 1991 in Tajikistan …..they were still in the frame of the old Soviet Union. Now, the choices that are available in the Ukraine are their own (they are of the Ukraine... are truly Ukrainian).

But what is in common? The people’s attitude toward the elections. These are people who want freedom. They are people who want their opinions to count… people who want things to change in their country. They are people who want their lives to change for the better and they want to be a part of this change.

Well those are the similarities that connect the Ukrainian the Tajikistan elections. But the difference between the two is that in the Tajikistan elections, we were a republic with a population that was 95% Muslim. Our specialty is that we were building a model of new Islam with democratic foundations for creating a new Tajikistan.

Right now people talk about creating democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it’s wonderful. But we built this from the bottom with the support of our tradition and history. Unfortunately (with my regrets), our movement has been left behind and passed unnoticed. However, I can not deny that it did not get some attention, because in February of 1990 I was in Berlin attending a festival and watching what was happening in Tajikistan on CNN.

Practically speaking this is the main difference. In our elections no one was paying attention and no one was there to monitor what was happening. This allowed the government in Tajikistan to falsify the elections. And I can add that within a week after the elections, they were using falsified elections ballots to wrap fruits and vegetables in the farmers market.

So after the falsification of ballots, people’s problems were not resolved, relations did not improve, and this all ended in civil war. As a result of the civil was, a huge number of people were left unemployed and the economy declined. This became very important lesson for the future.

-Your prediction on Ukraine’s elex: will Yushchenko win and if he wins then what??

I hope that Yushchenko will win. It’s not just Yushchenko himself, but it is that he is the Ukrainian people’s choice. Through the Ukrainian election, we learn that people in the Soviet sphere are able to demonstrate their true voices. He is their hope for the future and it shows that and an example of a people’s president. People’s opinions and voices were heard in this election. His voice will be their voice, and it is great that people’s voices can be heard through their president. But there are other things that worry me. What worries me is how Yushchenko and administration are going to deliver all their promises to the people and keep the trust of the people at the same time. In my opinion, the best reward for an elected politician is to maintain the trust of the people. There is nothing higher than this. The highest reward for a politician is when people trust you with their lives, their children’s lives and their future. In my opinion, this is even higher that winning a Nobel prize.

Well, it is very important how you deliver your promises. Unfortunately, we had a bad lesson when the people chose Yeltsin, and how that turned out to be a failure. Yeltsin left people, economically, in a horrific state. It is important for Yushchenko to put aside the government self-interests and do everything to improve the lives of the people. Whatever reforms they make, it should be to improve people’s lives. Before he does any reforms he must make sure he defends the interests of the common people-the people who chose him, … that he remains true to his promises. Within the Soviet sphere it is very important that we find a hero. I hope that he (Yushchenko) will become a hero. We cannot talk about Jefferson, Adams, or Franklin (when it comes to the Soviet sphere) we need our own hero. When we talk about our hero, we can only talk about Andrei Sakharov. And when we compare and talk about heroes in other countries, we say he is like their Sakharov. We need a hero. I hope that life will continue, that life will remain normal, and that the people will rule the country in the end.

-What do you find to be other Central Asian oppositions? Kazakhstan…..

2. Did Tajikistan’s democratic elex get enough support and attention from World Community, as Ukraine does today?

One more difference between Tajikistan and Ukraine is while I had enthusiasm in Tajikistan, Yushchenko and his team have money. In Tajikistan we had enthusiasm and a sense of romanticism. In the sense that the Ukraine and Kazakhstan have media and money behind them, these two elections are very similar. Kazakhstan had the best economic reforms out of all the republics, even more so than Russia, especially with the help of ex-government officials. This was the best way to democracy because it made people happy and people wanted more things to change. To change and improve things economically is the best way to democracy. We saw the best exampled of this is South Korea when the middle class rose up. It was not enough for them what they had on the table day in and day out. They wanted freedom and this began the process of democracy and the pushing out of dictators.

In Kazakhstan now there is a situation where through democratic elections, happiness and proper political power can be established. But with that I want people not to forget that President Nazarbaev was (is) man who believes in those reforms and who does not want Kazakhstan to adopt unconstitutional reforms. He wants Kazakhstan to have democratic reforms, and he hopes that if the elections go the other way that they uphold all the reforms that Nazarbaev has worked for and has brought to Kazakhstan so that they have been able to create a country that has been for the better.

-We hear a lot about Central Asian illegal immigrants in Russia. What can you tell us about that?

If we look back at the most important issues that have affected Tajikistan (their history) in the past 5 or 6 years it has been the issue of immigration. After the civil war in Tajikistan, people thought that they would enter a new world; world that would be simple, normal, quiet a pre-perestroika world if I can put it this way. But instead, a life came where nothing changed and still there were no jobs. And so 10,000 people from Tajikistan went to Russia where they could work and send their loved ones money.

And the money they were sending from Russia to Tajikistan (to their loved ones) contributed to Tajikistan’s budget and without the work and the money they made in Russia, Tajikistan would not have survived. But I have to say that the work that they did in Russia was of the hardest labor and often they lacked many rights. They did the hardest work and lived in the poorest and hardest conditions with 20 people to a room sleeping side by side. It was very hard for them to even go outside and take a walk because they would be stopped by police men who would take all the money that they had made. This was a very hard situation.

But without that work that they did in Russia, Tajikistan would have been in a worse off situation. So we hope that their work that effort is praised. But nevertheless, it is very important that in Tajikistan that they begin to work on their economy and make it work because without this economic improvement (creation of jobs), the country cannot survive.

 -  Is Gorbachev to be blamed or to be praised for USSR collapse. Did you know him personally?

You can not just talk about Gorbachev in simple words. If you look back at Russia in the 20th century, you see that Gorbachev is a memorable figure. He is a man who stands to be a historically praised figure who changed the face of Europe. In the old Soviet Union and in his Russia despite all he has done, he is looked at poorly. He did the maximum he could do but you have look at him in the context of where he came from. He was at the top of the government and then he started reforms from the top. He started to fight communism from the top and for that reason he deserves his Nobel Prize. He gave freedom, and even now people in Russia don’t have the same kind of freedoms that people had during perestroika. He raised people’s enthusiasm. The other issue is that the strategy of perestroika was not fully thought out-it was unpredictable. You cannot discuss what he did in black or white. When you also talk about Gorbachev, you must also look at Lenin in the 20th century who started this revolution and started Soviet power, and it is Gorbachev who took it apart. These are the two greatest figures that represent Russian history in the 20th century.

- Yeltsin? 

Concerning Yelstin, he was a figure but he was also man who put his personal ambitions above national issues, and he did not have the same enthusiasm later for those people who voted for him—he did not fulfil the people’s dreams. I knew him personally and invited him to Tajikistan in 1989. Then he was also a kind of important figure. Yet, also his decisions led to tremendous mistakes which led to a disastrous economy leaving millions of people and the country in an impoverished state. I knew Gorbachev personally too and in February of 1990 I asked him for a special parliamentary commission investigating certain events of 1990 that he granted. But then he sent someone to tell me that he changed his mind and this was very disappointing. For me, when you a leader and you make promises you must stick them out and be true to them-this was a disappointing side of his character. If there is one person I respect, this is Andrei Sakharov. Sakharov is the person who represents the Russian soul. He was the top Russian scientist who became a dissident because he put public interests before personal interests. This is why I admire him. If we can compare him to an American historical figure it would be Martin Luther King.

- Let's talk about Afghanistan Taliban and Massoud. Did you know him well?

I knew Massoud very well. He was a supporter of mine. He was a very down to earth person, and he would see every soldier and every person who came to him with a small problem or questions. He would listen to everyone and be very attentive to their needs. In my opinion, he represents what a leader should be. He was a man who related to all people as if they were his equal. It is too bad he is not alive because what is happening now was his dream; too bad he cannot see this.

I hope every country in the world now especially the US will take interest in what is happening there now. It is very different now there compared to when I visited in 1965. It was very quiet there then when I visited but it had a unique culture. And now Kabul is all in ruins, and I want them to take these ruins and build their own democratic nation starting with their special traditions and they have very specific traditions. They should maintain their ethnic traditions just like in America where many groups try to maintain their ethnicity/ethnic traditions.

 - Unfortunately we are out of time and thank you again for joining us.

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