Monday, July 09, 2007

Berdimuhammedov goes for the bling-bling

Turkmenistan's president Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedov continued dismantling the personality cult of the late Saparmurat "Turkmenbashi" Niazov by mandating the removal of the overlay of Niazov's profile (seen in the upper right hand corner of the photo) from television programs in Turkmenistan. What's more, statues of the late "Father of all Turkmen" have been quietly disappearing, while villages named after Niazov have been quietly re-named.

The quiet demise of what was one of the world's most powerful dictator personality cults is perhaps one more indication that Berdimuhammedov is serious about dragging Turkmenistan out of the political dark ages. It's also a sign that he's coming out on top of a recent power struggle with the remnants of his predecessor's former lackeys and apparatchiks. Berdimuhammedov was apparently expected to be a puppet controller by Niazov's former director of state security, Akmurad Rejepov. However, in a move reminiscent of Nikita Khrushchev's triumph over Lavrenti Beria, Berdimuhammedov unexpectedly had Rejepov sacked and arrested for "crimes against the state", thus eliminating his single greatest political obstacle.

It's still too soon to say whether Berdimuhammedov is a genuine reformer or not, but there appears to be no doubt that he's firmly in the driver's seat. So, will Berdimuhammedov be a dictator or not? Despite the nascent political reforms and dismantling of the Niazov personality cult, some signs remain that old habits die hard in Turkmenistan. Despite an official pronouncement that he would not welcome an official celebration of his fiftieth birthday, Berdimuhammedov apparently changed his mind at the last moment.

After only six months in office, Berdimuhammedov presented himself with the medal of the "Order of the Motherland", an award created by Turkmenbashi himself to honor, well, Turkmenbashi himself. The medal itself is said to weigh just over a kilogram of solid gold and is adorned with diamonds. It's also worth noting that the Order of the Motherland prize comes with a $20,000 cash bonus and a 30% increase in salary and pension benefits. Not bad for a former dentist, eh? What's more, despite his previous refusal to create a personality cult, Berdimuhammedov has decided to splurge a bit and release a commemorative gold coin with his portrait as a part of his birthday celebration. No word yet on whether or not he'll be going for gold statues, as Niazov did, but Berdimuhammedov's abrupt volte face in favor of Niazov style self-aggrandizement shows that he's still relevant fodder for discussion on Dictators of the World. Thank heavens!

UPDATE: Does anyone know what's going on with the status of the Ruhnama in Turkmenistan under Berdimuhammedov? It's hard to imagine that Berdimuhammedov would dismantle Niazov's personality cult while leaving the Ruhnama's intact.