The term “NGOs - non-governmental organizations” has always sounded like sedition in Turkmenistan. “Non-Governmental” means “anti-government”. And this already smacks of “anti-state” and, according to this, all officials have always tried to avoid it, replacing it with “Public associations”, which looks quite loyal ...
Nowadays, the space in which NGOs are usually found is completely cleaned in Turkmenistan. But this was not always the case, although it was always difficult for amateur and independent (as far as it was possible in Turkmenistan) groups and organizations to balance on the verge of loyalty to the state and attempts to go about their business. And it was always difficult for them to survive and work alongside such monsters as “Union of veterans named after hero of Turkmenistan Atamurat Niyazov” (father of President Niyazov), Union of Women of Turkmenistan named after hero of Turkmenistan Gurbansoltan-edzhe ”(mother of President Niyazov),“ Union of Youth named after Makhtumkuli ( people's poet of Turkmenistan) and so on. The whole point is that in order to get through the registration procedure (until 2004) and occupy your niche, it was necessary to prove to the authorities that the directions of your activity are in some way different from the activities of organizations named after these heroes of Turkmenistan and others like them, who have state support (even if by virtue of the glorious names in their names).
And until 2004, small but active, not always reaching the finish line of official registration (grant terms just ended often), groups and clubs bred. Either educational, then environmental, sports, handicraft and folk crafts, to study foreign languages and even women journalists.
Compared to other countries of Central Asia, all their successes looked rather modest, but most of them deserve great respect (even if they were sometimes created to “eat away” grants), because they worked under conditions of the most severe paternalism. And all this despite the fact that in Turkmenistan there have never been any serious funds and programs to support NGOs, and, more generally, civil society. The exception was the long-running environmental programs and the activities of the American organization Counterpart Consortium, which never dealt with and did not finance the “wrong” from the point of view of the authorities of the organization and group.
But then came 2004, when in Georgia and Ukraine, where NGOs declared themselves as a serious force in society, Turkmenistan passed a new law regulating the activities of “public associations”. A distinctive feature of this law was not even the norm, which states that permission to register, besides the adolat ministry itself (justice - the former ministry of justice), must be given by another “specialized” ministry, which oversees a particular industry. But the reference to the criminal code of Turkmenistan, which immediately introduced an article on criminal punishment for "illegal engagement in public activities." Even before the law came into force, by decrees of the Minister of Justice, almost all NGOs were closed (not to be confused with organizations named after mom and dad of the president) with registration. And then, at night, Ministry of Justice employees bypassed members of NGOs and activists and demanded their signatures that they were aware of the criminal responsibility for their “illegal activities”.
A little later, the re-registration of all “public associations” was announced. As you can guess, this re-registration was easily accomplished by organizing the name of the heroes of Turkmenistan from the Niyazov family, the name of the national poet and several others who also stand on state feeding. As well as numerous regional branches of these organizations, which constitute the beauty and pride of the Turkmen authorities. Still - there are about 180 of them all over the country! And most of them are branches of three to five national organizations. And it never occurred to the authorities that in a less populated Kyrgyzstan, NGOs are two orders of magnitude (!).
Of the members of closed NGOs, few wanted to receive up to 3 years of Turkmen zindan for “illegal public activity”. Someone just went to a distant and near abroad, someone changed the principles and went to the civil service, someone moonlights as an expert or adviser in business, someone generally dropped out of the social circle of former social activists. But at this stage of development of one of the segments of civil society in Turkmenistan, you can put an end. And, given that there are no independent trade unions in this brave country (there is not even a law on trade unions, the authorities remember the lessons of the class struggle), all the media are established and belong personally to the president of Turkmenistan, and all NGOs are named after his parents or epic heroes can be put on the development of civil society in general.
A year has passed. And in 2005, the authorities silently repealed criminal penalties for “illegal social activities”. And it caused delight among diplomats of foreign embassies and the OSCE. But these tears were crocodile. For from the NGOs over the past year, they themselves turned away. The activists stopped calling for meetings, all grant programs were suspended, they were deprived of moral support, they were simply ignored and ignored. And the abolition of criminal punishment for social activities a year after the adoption of the law itself showed how few people want to play these games with the authorities and with diplomats.
That is what is going to happen. The authorities are breeding branches of “public associations” named after the heroes of Turkmenistan and national heroes, and the embassies and other donors pretend to be satisfied with such a breed and ... began to sponsor them! Both the OSCE office in Ashgabat and the embassies of Western countries and the Counterpart Consortium are persistently worthy of better use to finance the ideological services of the Turkmen regime and the personality cult of President Niyazov, because their recipients do not want anything else and cannot.
But a holy place is never empty. Already here protest leaflets of religious content appear in Turkmenistan. There is a new force, maybe a few forces. And these forces will not be such spineless opponents as intelligent members of NGOs. But that's another story.