But Atadzhan Nepesov, an analyst for the Fergana News Agency, says that while there are serious problems with the supply of food in that Central Asian country, they may not be as dire as some are reporting and that in any case, they are unlikely on their own to trigger any revolt or revolution ( ).
In Turkmenistan, harvests begin on dates set by the president rather than by the weather or the ripeness of the crops; and they are invariably accompanied by upbeat stories about how wonderful the harvest is and how there is a super-abundance of food for the population, Nepesov says.
At the same time, he continues, foreign and thus independent news services have been reporting food shortages, long lines, and growing popular anger not only in the regions but in the capital that some have seen as the basis for a rebellion (Cf. windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2018/03/hunger-spreads-in-turkmenistan.html and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2018/03/food-riots-in-turkmenistan-have-now.html).
The truth, Nepesov continues, is somewhere in between. Because foreign news sites are blocked in Turkmenistan and because the local population doesn’t trust the government’s reports, rumors start and spread, with events often magnified or distorted in the process, leading to false conclusions.
It is absolutely true that people have been standing in line to buy food but less because of shortages than because of fears of a general rise in prices. Better to buy now than to wait and have to pay more in the future. That has led to shortages, but they are driven primarily by actions of this kind rather than a general shortfall in the delivery of basic foodstuffs.
And even when government stores run short, there are still the bazaars where for somewhat higher prices, food is available. If that were to change, then the situation could easily get out of hand. Nepesov doesn’t say; but from his words it appears that the bazaars in Turkmenistan are today playing the role that private plots did in the USSR a generation ago.
A major reason that Turkmens believe the rumors that there will be price rises is that Ashgabat, to please the president and boost his international image, has been celebrating the country’s role as a food exporter, even though they know that last year the harvest was almost a third less than normal. That is a real source of anger.
But Nepesov says that the situation is nowhere near where it was in the 1990s. Then there were real food shortages, rationing was introduced, the population protested by blocking roads, and officials fled from some villages and towns in fear for their lives. Turkmens remember this – and so too does the government.
“Today’s ‘bread crisis’ in terms of its potential to spark protests is incomparably smaller than was the situation that exited 20 to 25 years ago,” Nepesov says. “However, the situation all the same remains a matter of concern” and has been made worse by the government’s own propagandistic actions.
According to a retired official of the Turkmenistan state statistical agency who was a military buddy of Nepesov’s and who spoke on condition of anonymity, official figures on foodstuffs and exports are simply made up. “It is completely possible,” he says, that in running after the image of ‘a world exporter of grain,’ our president has allowed more grain to be sold on the foreign market than the real situation in the country allows.”
“And today we are reaping the fruits of this race after cheap populism,” he continues, suggesting that the real threat to the Turkmenistan leader and his regime is not that there isn’t enough food but that Ashgabat’s lies about the situation are sapping what’s left of popular tolerance for it.
Consequently, there may not be a food rebellion in Turkmenistan in the next months; but there is no reason for the government there to think that the situation is such that it will remain forever stable.