In the world and mindset of a confirmed, unabashed dictator normal rules have long since gone out of the window, assuming of course that they ever applied in the first place. Only in a country whose throat is being kept under the boot of its protector, and predestined guide, can food shortages directly contributing to the death of an elderly man occur at the same time as the building from scratch of a wholly pointless city – seemingly raising two fingers at the nation’s oppressed and impoverished. No further introductions are needed to Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedow’s Turkmenistan.

The purpose of the as yet unnamed new city has not been disclosed, although its place among the pantheon of nonsensical edifices and white elephant pet projects of the president will highly likely fall into the ‘because we can’ category, in some way magnifying Turkmenistan’s(and the president’s) imaginary might and status within the region – or merely within the mind of the man himself. Self-deification has a habit of never being sated and fails to elicit unalloyed approval from a population too scared to speak up against the Berdymukhamedow regime’s many abuses. Revisionist sentiment usually reserved for a time after the passing of a head of state can reflect any authentic fondness from the electorate, but how often instead is that relief of the ending of an era? It is surely only ‘after the party is over’ can a nation’s emotional barometer be measured, and when/if the statues and commemorative buildings start to spring up. Similarly to North Korea’s Mount Paektu bloodline Berdymukhamedow does not though see patience as a virtue and would rather glorify himself in real-time than risk his self-proclaimed legacy not being adequately remembered, and honoured.

Never one to miss a photo opportunity Berdymukhamedow proclaimed at his latest groundbreaking ceremony that resources would never be spared for the welfare of the nation’s people. With irony-phasers set to ten, it is unclear if the president and his entourage managed to keep a straight-face when reiterating a ‘people first’ policy that has so far included forced labour in Turkmenistan’s cotton fields, the building of a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course for the use of roaming white pachyderms, and the construction of a falcon-shaped airport terminal from where the country’s citizens can check out any time they like, but can rarely, if ever, leave. These are not projects to enrich the life of the country’s heavily surveilled population, but Potemkin-esque facades designed to convince a wider world that it too, little known Turkmenistan, can and indeed does have the advantages and infrastructure taken for granted by more industrialized nations. Whilst few falls for this cringeworthy shtick the venal and malleable few continue to overlook what is a North Korea-lite situation, instead seduced and blinkered by the country’s hydrocarbon riches.

Queues for basic foodstuffs throughout the country is by now old news, although the reported death of an elderly man waiting for bread highlights an increased desperation amongst many citizens away from the nation’s capital, Ashgabat. Even those with a perfunctory, passing interest in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia will though ask the most obvious question of how tens of billions of dollars earned through gas exploration and sales can be frittered away, with few, if any, tangible benefits filtering through to all levels of Turkmen society? The answer is as blatant as it is simple. Berdymukhamedow can do as he sees fit with the nation’s finances, even when he spends it as if sourced from his very own cash machine, if he keeps a very small but potent coterie of cronies onside, thereby humouring his bizarre, megalomaniac tendencies assuming their snouts also have ample access to the trough. A continuation of the theme enables kickbacks and the securing of tenders for projects of national significance, if in reality these serve little purpose other than to pander to narcissistic tendencies. In such a system of government “the people” are not Joe Public but the favoured few who pull the strings to aggrandize President Berdymukhamedow, whilst having their own backs satisfactorily scratched.  General elections held during each presidency are little more than show trials, where opposition and democratic principles are not invited. It is hard to imagine a president getting a 97% approval rating – the other 3% were presumably in the bathroom – when all around money is being blown whilst the country cannot, or will not, produce enough bread to feed its people. When though more votes are counted than actually cast…

We have already established that normal rules don’t apply in Turkmenistan, nor will an edition of “How to Successfully Run a Country for All” be penned with it in mind any time soon. It is though indicative of the utter sham behind the two-dimensional glitz and gaudiness that the country will not buy, for example, bread or its component parts from neighbouring nations for fear of exposing the lie on which the current regime hides behind. It is far easier, or less painful, for such a hubristic, image-obsessed presidency to propound economic strength through capital projects than to admit the money has gone – to an extent where feeding his people is by no means guaranteed. If projected yields from for example the wheat harvest are far below expectation the obvious solution would be to expeditiously source alternatives in the region, but instead fudged figures are announced whilst regional officials are summarily punished for reasons often out of their control, such as inclement growing conditions or a lack of fertilizer and an insufficient Shanghaied workforce. There is never any fault on the part of the Berdymukhamedow regime, only blame to be attached to those completely at the mercy of the president’s unpredictable orders and whims.

No nation wants to admit that it requires outside help to feed its people, but from country’s without Turkmenistan’s natural resources this is sadly still commonplace. As President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedow bravely continues his plotted course to global recognition it is therefore comforting that he is refusing to allow mere trivialities of state to derail a new city that might just be named after this humble, unassuming guardian of the Turkmen people, who themselves are being left under no illusion that history can wait, for greatness is amongst them in the here and now. The quandary of choosing between bread or statuary is one that no premier wishes to make, but without question Berdymukhamedow is the ideal man for these difficult decisions.

Source material and further information:

AKI Press: https://akipress.com/news:617873

Business Standard: http://www.business-standard.com/article/pti-stories/turkmenistan-starts-work-on-nameless-new-city-119041001085_1.html

Fashion United: https://fashionunited.uk/news/fashion/how-cotton-picked-with-forced-labor-in-turkmenistan-finds-its-way-to-the-high-street/2019040842594

Eurasianet: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-third-time-lucky