Years ago I worked for a UN agency in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. My boss at the organization often said that her main task was to “put Tajikistan on map”. She complained that people and organizations in the West willing to fund charity projects were reluctant to give their money to Tajikistan, mainly because most of them could not even tell whether the country was real.
Very little has changed since then.
Therefore, I understand why Tajikistan is sending a handful of athletes to the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Although these athletes don’t have a slightest chance of winning medals, they are sent to Sochi precisely to “put Tajikistan on a map” (as well as to justify the Tajik president’s trip there). Millions of people around the world watch opening ceremonies for the Olympics. The ceremonies, featuring the various countries’ national teams walking behind their national flags, offer the little-known nations like Tajikistan an opportunity to tell the rest of the world that they exist.
The opening ceremony for this year’s Winter Olympics gave me an opportunity to monitor people’s online reactions to watching team Tajikistan enter the Sochi stadium. Below are just some of the most typical reactions, in English and some other languages (in cases when I could understand the meaning). These tweets show that Tajikistan is still an obscure “one-of-those-stans” or “it-is-Russia-right?” countries for most people in western countries.