Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Father of the Turkmen

There are several voices in the blogosphere who rave and rant, quite appropriately, at the centralisation and bureaucracy in Britain caused by Messrs Blair and Brown's infatuation with the nanny state. Spare a thought though, for the people of Turkmenistan, who have endured a far worse leader for the past 21 years (facts and quotes from here and here):

Saparmurat Niyazov, the hardline president of Turkmenistan, died from a heart attack early today, bringing the curtain down on one of the world's most eccentric personality cults.

Niyazov, 66, had turned his former Soviet central Asian desert state into an object of international ridicule through a series of bizarre decrees that left Turkmens living in an isolated world where fact and fantasy were blurred.

How so?
During a 21-year rule he turned his country into a hymn of praise to himself: kindergartens, towns, factories and a month of the year (January) were named Turkmenbashi.

He has also renamed April - and bread - after his late mother.

He erected a revolving gold statue of himself in the capital Ashgabat and giant billboards of the leader hung all over the country.

Interesting. "Chris, February, March, Mum, May, June..." Actually that's got a nice ring to it. But surely no ego could cope with this?

He often feigned embarrassment at the adulation. "I'm personally against seeing my pictures and statues in the streets - but it's what the people want," he once said.

But the pressure to worship the leader was relentless. Children in the gas-rich state were forced to learn his book of poetry, the Ruhnama, at school, and a copy of the book was sent into space for good measure.

The book is required reading in schools, where children must pledge allegiance to him every morning.

Pledge allegiance every morning? What kind of ridiculous brainwashing is that? No free country could tolerate such thing, surely. Oh, right.

Did he have any good ideas?

Niyazov outlawed ballet and opera and banned men from listening to car radios; he also banned the use of recorded music at weddings and other public events. When he gave up smoking after major heart surgery in 1997, all his ministers had to follow suit, and he banned smoking in public places.

I'd probably vote for all of those measures, but they're perhaps a bit draconian. Any chance of a cheap ideological comparison with Ross Perot?
Young men were banned from having beards or wearing long hair.

What about old men? Are they allowed beards? I guess we'll never know.

Anyway, it sounds like the world is better off again for the departure of another old despot. Let's hope the people of Turkmenistan can elect themselves a better leader very soon and enjoy a 2007 full of opera, car radios, beards, gold teeth and months with traditional names.

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