November 9, 2016

Tajikistan has a fragile economy, a high poverty rate, corrupt government institutions, and a long history of communist control as part of the Soviet Union until 1991. Its population skews young, with more than 70 percent of the population under 30 years old — and this new generation is embracing new ideas. The Tajikistan Free Market Centre (TFMC), an Atlas Network partner based in Dushanbe, recently held a summer camp and debate tournament titled “Ideas for a Free Society” for youth representing various regions of the country.

“The purpose of the meeting was to raise awareness and youth involvement in public debate on the theme of a free society and the role of the individual and the state in political, social and economic activities,” TFMC said in a statement about the event (all quotes translated from Russian). “In just four days, participants received a comprehensive knowledge on such difficult topics as: the concept of a free society, the role of culture in economic development, freedom and law, identity, state, and the market, and civil society. The other key element was ‘Debate League,’ during which each team must debate all other participating teams of the league, thus revealing literally the ‘best of the best.’”

The summer camp functioned with lectures and seminars earlier in the day and debates on the topics presented in the evening, with each team having to argue for the side of the state at least once. The debate tournament was taken very seriously by the youth who participated, and there was a high degree of competition in each of the four days.

“It is very difficult to get the attention of young people, and even harder to keep it. You can hold one seminar for a couple of hours, but four days of seminars alone on philosophical subjects simply ‘kill’ all the participants,” said Aziz Timuroff, TFMC executive director. “Having them take part in the debate makes them listen attentively, to conceptualize ideas, to form their own point of view, and to develop arguments to defend them.”

Each team of debaters attended every lecture and participated in seven rounds of debate, covering all aspects of the curriculum presented in the “Ideas for a Free Society” program. Debate topics included pluralism and tolerance, the morality of the state, the role the state should play in the economy, and more.

Abdulkaysi Saiddzhabbora, one of the judges for the debate league, was very impressed with how much both those who had never debated before and the more experienced debaters had improved.

“The participants had never debated on such difficult yet interesting topics,” Saiddzhabbora said. “For example, most of the participants from Kulyab were economists. They participated in the debate on economic issues, but also were offered a great challenge and an opportunity to learn a lot. After the camp, the boys appeared enthusiastic to host another debate tournament.”