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Outtakes From A Turkmen Tongue-Lashing


Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, who once made a living as a dentist, gave outward signs of being distinctly uncomfortable in the megalomaniac's mantle after he took over for the late Saparmurat Niyazov.

Berdymukhammedov expended considerable effort to shed -- in the margins, at least, and within the limits of a decades-old system constructed to foster his predecessor's cult of personality -- his public image as successor to a man whose exuberant decrees permeated every fiber of a secluded society. He also removed some of the ubiquitous (and gold-plated) reminders of Niyazov's reign, including from much of the country's banknotes and coins, and lifted the obligation on every Turkmenistan citizen of fluency in the spiritual guidebook penned by Niyazov, "Ruhnama."

Critics would note that reforms have been modest beyond opening a few cinemas and rejuvenating the same health-care system that, as health minister under Niyazov, he'd been a party to gutting. Pledges of broad access to the Internet, improved transportation and communications networks, and, most importantly, participatory politics have gone unmet.

Meanwhile, signs of a new cult of personality have arisen that go beyond mounting titles, cloying imagery, and proliferating presidential palaces. They include (but are not limited to) the quiet adoption of new honorifics ("Arkadag," or protector), statues of and schools named after Berdymukhammedov's grandfather, and a pop-music performance that would have made Walter Mitty proud.

So a peek into eccentric imperiousness might not surprise the detractors. But these scenes of Berdymukhammedov -- scepter in hand -- berating officials like schoolchildren and bad-mouthing Turks in a manner that evokes memories of his notoriously capricious predecessor won't make his spinmasters' jobs any easier.

It's unclear precisely when this video was shot, but it appears to have been by an official chronicler. It was obtained by RFE/RL's Turkmen Service from the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights in Vienna.

-- Andy Heil

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at transmission+rferl.org

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