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Tajikistan's Capital Mayor Meets with Facebook Users

If Facebook users in Tajikistan needed proof that government officials take notice of discussions taking place on the social network, they have it now. In a rare display of political openness, Mahmadsaid Ubaidulloev, the mayor of the Tajik capital Dushanbe, met [tj] with some 400 Facebook users on August 23.

The five-hour meeting, which was broadcast live online, began with a presentation in which the politician talked about his accomplishments as the mayor, responding to major criticisms voiced by Tajikistani netizens online. Afterwards, Ubaidulloev answered questions from the audience.

[The full five-hour video of the meeting, in Tajik and Russian, can be accessed here.]

‘Without intermediaries’

The Mayor of Dushanbe Mahmadsaid Ubaidulloev, one of the few Tajikistani officials using Facebook. Photo from the mayor's Facebook page, used with permission.

The Mayor of Dushanbe Mahmadsaid Ubaidulloev, one of the few Tajikistani officials using Facebook. Photo from the mayor's Facebook page, used with permission.

The mayor announced the meeting on August 6 via his public page on Facebook, calling it an ‘open conversation without intermediaries'. The announcement read [ru]:

Отдавая должное Вашей высокой социальной активности и позитивной роли в созидательном процессе развития нашего города, конструктивной критике и интересным предложениям по улучшению работы городских структур, приглашаю Вас на открытую беседу «Без посредников»! Предлагаю организовать нашу встречу для обмена мнениями и рассмотреть вместе с Вами наиболее эффективные и перспективные преобразования дальнейшего развития города Душанбе и имеющиеся основные проблемы, а также ответить на вопросы, широко обсуждаемые общественностью столицы.

Recognizing your social activism and the positive role you [Facebook users] play in the process of the development of our city, as well as the constructive criticism and interesting suggestions that you offer, I would like to invite you to an open conversation ‘Without Intermediaries'. I propose that we meet to share opinions and jointly consider the most effective ways to transform and develop the city of Dushanbe, discuss the remaining problems, and address the concerns that are widely discussed by the residents of the capital.

The initiative surprised Tajikistani netizens and left them wondering whether the meeting would actually occur and if everyone would be allowed to participate. Many had doubts about it because most the country's officials choose to limit their engagement with media or public to mandatory quarterly press conferences.

That the meeting with the mayor did actually take place and that anyone could take part in it, including independent journalists and opposition activists, was even a bigger surprise. Many netizens were impressed by Ubaidulloev's openness and courage.

Jasur Ashurov tweeted, for example:

Ubaidulloev has earned my respect. I wish we had more politicians daring to come out and talk to people openly.

One of the country's most active Facebook users, Mavi Masabi, wrote [ru]:

Кстати, относительно мэра.. Очень много нападок на него. Он не безупречен конечно, но кто из нас не без греха. А теперь представьте себе, какой смелостью все же нужно обладать, чтобы пойти на первый контакт, в открытую, с людьми изначально настроенными отстаивать свою точку зрения. Активисты ФБ далеко не глупые люди и подкованы что надо. Сожрут и косточки выплюнут в ораторском искусстве. Одни акулы сидят тут))) И только уверенный в себе человек может пойти на прямой разговор. Если честно, я лично рада, что начались шевеления и чиновники пытаются, пусть и не со стопроцентным успехом, но найти компромисс и выйти на контакт с народом… Мой ему за это респект.

By the way, concerning the mayor… There are many people attacking him. He is not without faults, of course, but who is? Just imagine how much courage a person must have to hold the first open meeting with people who are determined to defend their views. Facebook activists are smart and skillfull people. They will eat you up if it comes to public speaking skills. We have sharks sitting here ))). Only a self-confident person can agree to an open conversation [with Facebook users]. To be honest, I am glad that there is [official response] and that officials are trying, albeit with some flaws, to seek compromise and connect with people… [Ubaidulloev] has my respect for this.
Each participant of the Dushanbe Mayor's meeting with Facebook users received a daily planner bearing the emblem of the capital and the Facebook sign. Image uploaded on Facebook by Gulnora Amirshoeva, used with permission.

Each participant of the Dushanbe Mayor's meeting with Facebook users received a daily planner bearing the emblem of the capital and the Facebook sign. Image uploaded on Facebook by Gulnora Amirshoeva, used with permission.

Another user, Zulfiya Golubeva, added [ru]:

Согласна с Вами, Мави. Встреча конечно же не прошла безупречно, но ведь это первый опыт…. Главное, то что власти города пошли на контакт с тем народом, которому они призваны служить.

I agree with you, Mavi. Of course, the meeting was not without faults, but this is just the first experience… The most important thing is that the municipal authorities have connected with the people which they are mandated to serve.

Underneath a report about the meeting on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Tajik service (ozodi.org) website, an anonymous user suggested [tj] that other officials should follow the Dushanbe Mayor's suit:

Канда занед рафик Убайдуллоев, мешудаст ку новобаста аз камбудихо вохурии дили мардуми окилу олима камтар гарм кард. Илтимос хамун раисои нохияхои Сугду Хатлону Бадахшона практика биёред наздатон.

Well done, Mr. Ubaidulloev! Despite all the problems, he has managed through this meeting to make people feel better, even a little bit. The governors of the provinces of Sughd, Khatlon, and Badakhshon, please use some of this experience.

Mahmadsaid Ubaidulloev, who also serves as the chairman of the upper chamber of Tajikistan's parliament, has been the mayor of Dushanbe since 1996. On Facebook since March 2012, he is one of the very few Tajikistani officials using social media. Most government officials in the country are wary of Facebook which has more than 37,000 users in Tajikistan.

In the past, the social network was blocked in the country temporarily after people used it to disseminate a leaked government document. In July 2012, the authorities announced that they were going to set up an organization to monitor websites and social media for content deemed insulting to the country's leadership, leading to speculation that Facebook would be the first target of the new body.

 

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