end of the age of 'The Great Dictators'?
who has been unfortunate enough to encounter a gang of roving
Fascists wandering down their local high street in the past
few months can not have failed to notice the glum look upon
their scowling faces. The recent fall of Saddam Hussein and
the death of Idi Amin combined with the ominous signs for Kim
Jong-Il have left totalitarians worldwide in a grim mood, or
more grim than usual anyway.
If only they knew that their fears over the end of the age of
'The Great Dictators' were completely unfounded because a new
champion of autocracy has already arisen in the East. He has
christened himself Turkmenbashi the Great, meaning 'Father of
all the Turkmen', and has appointed himself leader for life
of Turkmenistan, a former Soviet republic in Central Asia.
Saparmurat Niyazov, his real name, has arrived at a difficult
time for despots due to legal and ethical restraints placed
on tyrants everywhere by intrusive international laws and busy-body
NGOs. He has obviously realised early on that he will be hard
pressed to live up to such 'legends' of the past as Pol Pot,
Stalin and Hitler, so he has deliberately employed excessive
imagination in devising his eccentric deeds and arriving at
his ludicrous decrees.
His first masterstroke was not to limit himself to mere politics,
but to expand into the spiritual realm by anointing himself
as a prophet and drafting a philosophical code, called the Ruhnama,
and then making it mandatory reading for all citizens. He also
employed his creative flair when he assembled a plot to fake
his own assassination last year and then used it as an excuse
to crack down on all opposition to his absolute power.
In another effort to satisfy his gargantuan ego, he renamed
all the months of the year - January after himself and April
after his mother - and the days of the week. He has also renamed
all the streets of the capital, Ashgabat, with numbers, except
those bearing his name or that of his relatives. Of course,
he has also installed the obligatory authoritarian portraits
in a variety of poses in a range of different outfits on every
street corner of the entire country.
His most recent stunt involved robbing the Philippines of a
world record for building the largest shoe by assembling a 6.2m
version using the hides of 30 cows in order to demonstrate the
'great strides' that Turkmenistan has made under his guidance.
Of course, he had the advantage of modern technology that was
unavailable to the previous 'Great Dictators' but, once again,
he must be given credit for his innovative use of the means
His use of technology is best demonstrated by the giant golden
statue of himself that he erected in the centre of the Ashgabat.
Unlike earlier idols built by lesser despots, Turmenbashi the
Great's statue is programmed to revolve in line with the Sun
to force onlookers to divert their gaze in awe. One has to admire
the genius of a man who erects a statue that cannot be seen.
every opportunity, Mr Niyazov has used his ingenuity to overcome
the objections of a modern world to ancient Fascist practices
and shown that there is still room in this world for tyrants
with a certain panache. Fans of autocrats everywhere and the
unfortunate citizens of Turkmenistan await with baited breath
for Turkmenbashi the Great to reveal his next trick. There is
no indication yet as to what exactly he is planning to do, but
it is guaranteed to be bizarre and over-the-top.
to totalitarians everywhere, there is no need to despair, simply
look to the east for inspiration. Maybe even consider going
to Turkmenistan and staying for the rest of your life because
there is obviously little need for you around here anymore.