But say what you will about Central Asia's hermit republic, Turkmenistan does have the circus.
Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov paid what was billed as an unannounced visit to the State Circus on Saturday, in the company of what state media said was his grandson. (Little is known about Berdymukhammedov's private life and family.)
Video broadcast on state television shows the 55-year-old Turkmen leader -- known in-country as "Arkadag" or "Protector" -- arriving in faded jeans and a casual weekend shirt at the funky Soviet-era Ashgabat State Circus building to the rapturous welcome of hundreds of young people, many resplendent in traditional Turkmen dress and singing patriotic songs.
(Despite his visit ostensibly being unannounced, a teacher in a local school in Ashgabat told RFE/RL's Turkmen Service that the children in attendance were selected several days ahead of time and had been rehearsing for days before Berdymukhammedov's arrival.)
In the video, the children can all be heard chanting "Glory to the Protector" as Berdymukhammedov arrives. But Berdymukhammedov, in a clever twist on his self-declared Era of Supreme Happiness in Turkmenistan following his reelection (with 97 percent of the vote) in February, says, "Glory to the kids, who live in an era of supreme happiness." To which they all repeat: "Glory! Glory! Glory!"
It's all a bit North Korea-ish.
Berdymukhammedov performs a few awkward dance moves before presenting the director of the circus with a small wooden box that we're told contained a check for the equivalent of $50,000, aimed at supporting the further development of the circus in Turkmenistan.
According to the official website of the Turkmen government:
Time was, the circus didn't exist in Turkmenistan. It was banned in 2001 under Berdymukhammedov's predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov, as being representative of an "alien" culture and "contrary to the Turkmen mentality."
Niyazov died in 2006. It didn't take long for Berdymukhammedov, walking a nationalistic tightrope, to bring back the Big Top, even if its traditions were not strictly Turkmen.
(Berdymukhammedov has slowly dismantled Niyazov's personality cult and odd social policies, reinstating the circus, 3-D cinemas, opera, lip-synching and even gold teeth.)
In 2010, the funky, saucer-shaped State Circus building, which had fallen into disrepair, was given a marble and granite facelift at a cost of $18 million.
Clowns, jugglers, fire-eaters, lion tamers, and trapeze artists were persona non grata no more.
-- Grant Podelco & RFE/RL's Turkmen Service