Can one measure civil society by how people drive? Over the last two months, journalists and human rights activists have called attention to the driving behavior of Tajikistan’s super-wealthy class. Their expressions of concern are an outgrowth of several high-profile incidents involving reckless driving, episodes that are the subject of widespread gossip in Dushanbe.
A general impression stoking bitterness and hostility among legions of impoverished Tajiks is that the country’s uppermost caste – including some officials – can act with impunity.
A significant source of discontent appears to be the immunity offered to people who can afford vanity license plates. Plates featuring numbers such as “7777” and “0101” are status symbols and appear to convey privileges. Though the numbers have for years been a marker of authority in Tajikistan, two years ago officials realized such plates, and other perks for drivers, could be a potential source of revenue for the state.
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Konstantin Parshin is a freelance journalist based in Tajikistan.