Turkmenistan is a country mostly covered by deserts, which naturally are known for their mirages.
From a distance, people see things in the desert that are not actually there — often water or even an oasis.
Such mirages of reality are what the Turkmen government wants people outside Turkmenistan to see.
Starting with President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, officials say Turkmenistan is a fantastic place that lacks nothing. The buildings are white and shiny, the country’s 6 million people are happy, and the future is bright and full of promise.
But the people who live there are far too aware of a completely different reality.
Many of them line up outside stores and banks in the early morning, many hours before they open, hoping that by doing so they might be fortunate enough to get flour, sugar, or money before it runs out again as it has so many times before in the past four years.
Lately, many people have even been reduced to rummaging through garbage to find pieces of stale bread and other scraps.
Most people outside Turkmenistan actually know what is happening inside the country and give little credence to any of the Turkmen government’s stories of great achievements.
But someone just recently did believe one of the Turkmen authorities’ claims and it cost the country badly needed outside help.
The pro-Turkmen government website Orient.tm reported on April 15 that the European Union was preparing a plan, Team Europe, to provide some 20 billion euros (about $22 billion) to help vulnerable countries cope with the effects of the coronavirus, both the health and economic issues.
That includes help for Central Asian countries, but only Kyrgyzstan (36 million euros/$39.1 million), Tajikistan (48 million euros/$52.2 million), and Uzbekistan (36 million euros/$39.1 million) will receive that EU aid.
Why not Turkmenistan or Kazakhstan?
Because according to the economic figures the governments of those two countries provided, they do not qualify under EU criteria.
The EU actually uses guidelines provided by the World Bank.
According to World Bank rankings, “based on estimates of gross national income (GNI) per capita,” Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan are in the category of upper middle-income countries, countries where the average yearly wage is between $4,086 and $12,615.
An April 16 report from the Hornika Turkmenistana website, which is run from Europe by Turkmen activists who fled Turkmenistan, noted that the Turkmen government has released the average yearly wage figure in Turkmenistan as $7,065.
But the report also notes that this figure is based on the official exchange rate inside Turkmenistan, which is 3.5 manats to one dollar. At the black-market rate, which is closer to the real value of the manat, the average yearly wage is about $1,200.
For the record, that would put Turkmenistan at the lower end of the lower middle-income countries and qualify the country for the EU aid. The kind of financial support that cash-starved Turkmenistan could really use as it battles a years-long economic crisis.
Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.