Public tensions heat up in Turkmenistan

State enterprises and institutions in some Turkmen provinces have failed to pay September wages, according to several reports. The categories of those who are waiting for their salary includes teachers. It is yet unclear when the administrations will pay out and this is causing tension among the population. Some employees have accrued debt. The concurrent transition away from state-subsidized utilities, as well as the news of the price increase for kindergartens and the possible imposition of a fee for secondary schools, contributed to stir up the tension.

Rising prices for kindergartens

After a meeting of the Council of Elders, the authorities decreed a tenfold increase of the price for kindergartens. The monthly fee for one child rose from 8 manats (just over one U.S. dollar) to 80 manats, which is $11 at the market rate, or nearly $23 officially.

Several families with small children were caught by surprise. The Turkmen service of Radio Liberty reported in detail the “women’s protest” in Dashoguz and spontaneous demonstrations that followed also in the city of Boldumsaz, in Dashoguz region.

A group of mothers whose children attend kindergarten had initially asked to meet an official at the regional Department of Education. An official (whose name was not published) met with the mothers, but advised to try at the city hall, because these issues were decided there. However, the demonstrators were stopped on their way to the administrative building by police in riot gear. The deputy governor of the city and the deputy governor of the province went down to meet the women, but, according to «Azatlyk», they failed to respond to the demands and asked the demonstrators to disperse.

Notably, that same night, at 2 a.m., authorities in civilian clothes went to the house of the anonymous officer of the education department, who had sent the women to the local administration, and detained him, saying he had incited people against the government. The fate of the official is still unknown.

In Boldumsaz, the women went straight to the mayor’s office. They were met by representatives of the administration, who tried to explain the reason for the increase of kindergarten fees with the price increase for utility bills. The authorities also announced the decision to temporarily close some of the kindergartens (there is a total of 8 in the area). “Those who are able to pay the new rates will be included in a list. After that, we will only keep open as many kindergartens as needed to host the children of paying families,” the official said.

This official statement caused a storm of indignation from the women, who burst out and triggered a brawl. The women shouted that the Turkmen state is obliged by law to provide their children with free education.

According to ATN sources, similar rallies were held in other regions of the country, such as the Sakar District of the Lebap province. There, women set up pickets outside the mayor’s office against the price increase. The source could not confirm the total number of women who took part in the demonstration and its consequences. At first, the administration demanded that families paid for the kindergarten upfront at once, but, after negotiations, a compromise was reached allowing parents to complete the payment by October 15th. Apparently, that will also be the date for the payment of back wages.

Reports also document that many parents in Balkanabat wrote statements to withdraw their children from kindergartens. ATN also received a similar report from the Lebap province. The photo above shows the negotiation process between parents and authorities in one of the kindergartens of the province.

While the arrival of the fall pushes the temperature down, tensions among the population, on the contrary, heat up. ATN will continue to monitor the situation in the country.