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Outtakes From A Turkmen Tongue-Lashing

Video Captures Turkmen President Bullying Officials
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When Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov took over as Turkmenistan's leader in late 2006, he seemed timid and uneasy with his new role. But a recent video obtained by RFE/RL's Turkmen Service shows a confident Berdymukhammedov barking orders at officials and deri

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

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