Coming off the heels of a very busy past 10 days and now on the verge of a 3-4 hour conference call this afternoon on the state of the business in Turkmenistan, this is going to be a relatively poor showing for my weekly theme post. This was actually going to be my topic last week, but the President visited town yesterday and I wanted to see if anything from that visit would provide fodder for more material. However, nothing much occurred other than a half day of work lost for local staff since roads were closed in the morning.
The previous President of Turkmenistan Saparmurat Niyazov led the country prior to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, through independence and up until 2007 when he passed away. He erected things like the Neutraility Arch which was topped with a rotating gold-plated statue of himself. That should provide some indication on where he may have been on the humility scale. Hint: think Kim Jong-Il more than Mr. Rogers. He also authored a book called "Ruhnama" (Book of the Soul) which has been a staple of Turkmen schooling for the last 10 years. One expat colleague said he found an English version on an offshore rig and tried to read it, but called it "unreadable". This year, the current president, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow removed the Ruhnama from mandatory school coursework. Admittedly, this new gap in the curriculum was quickly filled by some of the current president's writings instead. He is also working on a tome of his own which will soon be released. While no title is announced, evidently the leading contenders are "Turkmennama" (Book for Turkmen) and "Adamnama" (Book for Humanity).
What Niyazov clearly engaged in was the development of a "cult of personality" around his leadership, position, and tight exertion of control of what people could access. Will Berdimuhamedow do the same thing? It's less clear, but the way in which the next election is conducted should be very revealing. His presidency started with some reforms, but progress may have stalled and the feeling on the ground is less optimistic. Various deleterious rule changes that impact work are being seen, diplomatic relations are less than stellar, and his replacement of Niyazov's Ruhnama with his own works is, well, it's pretty clear what that portends.