Turkmenistan is the gift that keeps on giving, especially if you're writing a blog that specializes in the odd silly dictator story.
Known as one of the most isolated countries on the planet, Turkmenistan is also famous -- at least around these parts -- as being a font of wacky news, rivaled on the world stage only by North Korea, perhaps.
Just recently, we've run stories about the first statue
dedicated to President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov -- a white equestrian statue no less; about Berdymukhammedov's talents as a singer, songwriter, and musician
; about his penchant for all things white
; and about his various efforts to establish his own cult of personality
And now we have the news that Turkmenistan -- one of the world's worst abusers of human rights -- has, starting from April 2, launched an official Week of Health and Happiness. Events include the staging of theater productions titled "The Inspirational Era of Happiness" and "The Era of Power Illuminated by Happiness."
Berdymukhammedov has also ordered state employees to engage in more physical exercise. The week will culminate with the Walk of Health, when hundreds of people are expected to march up an eight-kilometer concrete staircase built into hills outside the capital, Ashgabat.
As Alexander Vershinin of The AP notes:
Turkmenistan's authoritarian president is calling it a week of celebrations, but for some it might seem more like basic training…
Even the custodians of citizens' health -- doctors -- are being ordered away from their duties to work out, according to RFE/RL's Turkmen Service.
"We were told that during the week we have to walk and take part in sports activities between the hours of 11 and 12," said one doctor at an Ashgabat hospital, who declined to provide his name. "Everyone is expected to participate, including surgeons."
Those who want to celebrate in a more unhealthy fashion will be disappointed. This is because alcohol sales appear to have been banned until the end of Health and Happiness, according to Ahsirkuly Bayriev, an Ashgabat-based independent journalist.
"I've just been to the Arzu grocery store next door to my home. Vodka, wine, cognac, and all other alcoholic drinks have been taken off the shelves," Bayriev says. "Even before I asked a question, the shopkeeper said, 'We are not allowed to sell alcohol until April 9.'"
The week is part of the broader state-decreed Era of Supreme Happiness of the Stable State, announced in February
shortly after Berdymukhammedov was reelected -- with some 97 percent
of the vote.
Be happy. That's an order.
-- Grant Podelco & Farangis Najibullah