Turkmenistan: Natalia Shabunz

I believe in the values of democratic change and human rights.

— Natalia Shabunz

Natalia Shabunz lives and works under Turkmenistan’s authoritarian regime as a well-known educator, writer, and public and human rights activist. She started her work in Turkmenistan when civil society activism first began to take shape in the nation, but maintains that even today the democratic culture of the Turkmen population needs to be strengthened even more. Fighting some very difficult conditions, Natalia has often been persecuted by local authorities for her work in education and public activity.

Natalia Shabunz has been active in the public sector and the civil movement in Turkmenistan since 1993 – in schools, youth centers, and NGOs. Since 1999, she has been a trainer for the organization Counterpart Consortium, and is also a leader of the youth-centered NGO Civil Dignity. Natalia’s books on civil society, democracy, and human rights are well-known throughout the Central Asian countries and the Confederation of Independent States (CIS). Her writing has helped challenge and alter national and international understanding of the political and human rights situation in Turkmenistan, and the general world outlook for people living under authoritarian regimes. Natalia has held hundreds of training programs and seminars for thousands of participants – NGO leaders, journalists, and women across the country and abroad. She has also participated in both regional and international conferences on education, rights, and NGO development, reporting and sharing her experiences with colleagues all over the world. During the years NGOs were suppressed by authorities, Natalia has been active in the struggle to support many NGOs in Turkmenistan and has helped their leaders do their jobs in these difficult political situations. Natalia has often been persecuted by local authorities herself, and she explains how she was “always under the watchful eye of Turkmen security services.” She has been arrested several times, and is often “advised” to stop activities by the authorities. But even in these difficult conditions Natalia continues to do her job and unconditionally believes in the values of democratic change and human rights. Apart from supporting teachers and NGO leaders, her main focus is on youth and women, through whom she has had undeniable influence on Turkmenistan’s civil society initiatives, and the people’s struggle for rights.

Civil Dignity Counterpart Consortium