Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Gurbanguly gone wild!

One of the occupational hazards encountered while blogging about dictators is that some of these guys refuse to stick to the script. And do you want to know who really knows how to rain on my parade lately? Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedov.

Turkmenistan was, perhaps, one of the world's most notorious dictatorships under the infamous Saparmurat "Turkmenbashi" Niazov, and why not? It had all the ingredients - a post-Soviet political pedigree and an isolated (some would say exotic) Central Asian locale added an irresistible setting for the world's most notorious political personality cult. So when the lunatic despot kicked the bucket back in December of 2006, everyone sat on the edge of their seats: would the dictatorship crumble, or would some party hack close to Niazov simply pick up where the late dictator left off?

Things seemed promising for Dictators of the World when Niazov's successor, Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedov, replaced Niazov after a nakedly fraudulent election. I guessed that I would simply be able to pick up where I'd left off with Niazov, and write all of these juicy exotic stories about bizarre edicts, gold statues and secret policemen terrifying the populace. But that would just be too easy, wouldn't it? Instead, Berdimuhammedov appears to be doing the nastiest thing a man can do to a dictator blog, namely, instituting genuine political reforms and dismantling his predecessor's authoritarian state. What a dick!

Sure, he started off slowly, but he's gaining steam with every passing month. And now? Now I'm reading this article in Kommersant which talks about Berdimuhammedov instituting a political thawing out in Turkmenistan. First he decided to dispense with Niazov's all pervasive personality cult, declining all offers to build a new one of his own. Now, he's even declined to stage national celebrations in honor of his own birthday. Veteran dictator watchers know that serious dictators always live large on their birthdays. But would Berdimuhammedov stop there? Apparently not. He's also decided to disburse Niazov's secret oil and gas contract kickback slush fund. Now, granted, there are a number of criteria that make a dictator a dictator, but you show me a leader who declines a ready made personality cult and a multi-billion dollar slush fund, and I'll show you someone who's itching to make meaningful political reforms.

That's good for Turkmenistan, of course, but it's obviously bad for Dictators of the World. Will Gurbanguly go whole hog with this reform business, or will he pull back? I'd like to think he's going for something akin to Nursultan Nazarbayev's style in Kazakhstan. You know the type of regime I'm talking about - autocratic enough to get what he wants politically at home, without being brutal or dismal enough to make Turkmenistan an international laughing stock and pariah again. Obviously, we don't know which way he's going to turn ... yet. I'm still starting to worry that I'm not going to have anything to blog about from Turkmenistan in the near future.

Tomorrow: Dictators of the World celebrates its 200th post.


Joshua Foust said...

That's too bad. Nathan at Registan.net called Uncle Berdi "Stomatologbashi," in honor of his status as the world's most powerful dentist. If he becomes a run of the mill dictator my life -- seemingly attached as it is to the misfortunes of the FSU -- will become a bit more boring.

Thank God.

Michael said...

If nothing else, he still looks like the old Turkmenbashi that we came to know and love so dearly. We can take comfort in that. How I miss my morning coffee over stories of mandatory hair cuts for foreigners, banning gold teeth, etc.

After reading your article about Berdimuhammedov's reforms, I want to be happy for Turkmen everywhere. Why is it that I feel like I've been cheated? This is truly a sad day for Dictators of the World.