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Volume:1 Issue: 10 August 2003

The end of the age of 'The Great Dictators'?

Anyone 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 at hand.

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.

At 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.

So 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.


By Max Ooberman

Turkmenbashi , Turkmenistan, Saparmurat Niyazov


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