This documentary made for the BBC explores how Tajikistan has fared after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was initially one of the poorer republics that made up the Soviet Union and whilst still deeply troubled with problems such as widespread unemployment and soaring living costs, the programme takes an overall hopeful stance on the country’s future. Reporter Khayrulla Fayz returns to his home village of Isfisor, one of the largest villages in the north of Tajikistan, and takes a look at the challenges facing young Tajiks today, and how they have changed from what they were over 20 years ago.
Refreshingly, the historical information is handled in a way that is not overly complicated and it does not feel as though there is too much crammed into too short a time. Instead, for a viewer who knows next to nothing about Tajikistan, it isn’t difficult to follow and, whilst it only scratches the surface, it is presented in an interesting enough way to stimulate further interest in the country. Moreover, the historical information is shot through with the personal stories not only of Fayz and his friends and family, but also people from all over the country.
The overall impression is that Tajikistan is a place of enormous diversity, with many ethnic groups. For instance, when talking about the carpet manufacturing trade, Fayz uses the example of a specific factory, contrasting how it used to be, employing 7,000 workers in its Soviet heyday, and how it is now, with a workforce of just 400. Nevertheless, the owner of the factory displays great optimism: business may be poor now, but rebuilding in a new capitalist market takes time and effort and many of the people whom Fayz interviews seem optimistic that if they work hard enough things are bound to pick up eventually.
Regardless of your political views it is hard not to admire their optimism and work ethic. It would impossible for a documentary concerning itself with how a country has fared in the transition from the Soviet system to a capitalist system to remain apolitical, however, despite Fayz’s drive to uncover whether the youth of Tajikistan today still remember Lenin for example, it manages to give fairly even coverage of the benefits and disadvantages of leaving the USSR. On the one hand, the people have better access to schooling, pupils are encouraged to think independently, and they are taught in Tajik, rather than Russian. Living conditions are on the whole better. On the other hand, now that Tajikistan has left the Soviet economic infrastructure, unemployment and living costs have risen.
Because of these soaring living costs, many Tajiks feel that their only option is to leave home and become economic migrants. They work in Russia and send money home; as one worker puts it: “Thank God for Russia.” The personal stories of the workers are handled sensitively. They are not demonised; instead, they are shown for what they are – hardworking people who sacrifice living with their family in order to provide for them. It is hard not to feel admiration or compassion for them.
Ultimately, this programme provides an interesting glimpse of a lesser known part of the world.