The Welcome Death of Turkmenbashi

As I read about the death of Saparmurat Niyazov, president of Turkmenistan, I was reminded of this article in The Economist, written back in May, which warned of the danger of Niyazov’s sudden death:

There is, though, much speculation about the 66-year-old Turkmenbashi’s health. He has had heart surgery, and has a team of eight top-notch German doctors constantly on call. This raises other problems, most obviously the lack of a mechanism for an orderly transfer of power, coupled with the lack of any democratic tradition in a conservative, tribal society. Pessimistic Turkmen fear that a lost generation, uneducated beyond the Ruhnama, may fall prey to Islamic radicalism—and create a nasty failed state that could destabilise an already volatile region.

Fortunately, I think his death may have come too early for Islamic radicals to move in.  Had Niyazov been around for another decade, education in the country would have been almost eliminated in all meaningful sense.  As the same Economist article describes:

Every Monday at 8am, Turkmenistan’s schoolchildren line up to recite the oath of allegiance to the president, part of a youth-indoctrination programme that is progressively replacing the conventional curriculum. Its core is the two-volume Ruhnama, “The Book of the Spirit”, a homespun collection of thoughts on Turkmen history and culture that pupils are required to spend hours studying. Visits to bookstores reveal shelves lined with nothing but the president’s works. Meanwhile, mandatory education has been reduced from ten years to nine and most rural kindergartens have closed, as have all libraries outside the capital. Russian-language teaching has been largely phased out, music and ballet schools closed and almost all teachers of ethnic-minority origins sacked under rigorously enforced “Turkmenisation” policies that demand racial purity, traceable back three generations, for all workers in state institutions, including hospitals.

Higher education is severely run down. The annual intake is now under 3,000, a tenth of the pre-independence figure, courses have been cut to two years and standards are so poor they are unacceptable abroad. Worse, the president has ordered that no foreign degrees will henceforth be recognised. Anyone with a qualification gained abroad is either being sacked or refused a job. One economist says that all but two of her high-school class of 30 have emigrated because they see no future at home. “You have students returning with degrees from the world’s best universities—MBAs from Stanford, for instance—who can’t get jobs,” she says. “We are the last educated generation,” sighs another professor.

Had this been allowed to continue, or indeed if it does continue, then the country will likely join the likes of Somalia and Afghanistan as fertile grounds in which to establish Islamic fundamentalism.  But with a lot of luck, and in the hope that Russia and the US can cooperate to help get Turkmenistan back on its feet without squabbling to the point where things are left to get worse, the situation should improve.  In this respect, and indeed in any other, Niyazov’s death is welcome and could not have come too soon. 

Following on from this, in the coverage of his death I am unimpressed with the last line of this BBC article:

If Turkmenbashi’s death unleashes instability, the rest of the region, and indeed the world, may miss him too.

I hear this kind of nonsense a lot in the left leaning media, most recently in the form of “removing Saddam has destabilised the region”, but also “Russians were better off under the Soviet Union”.  What is so ignorant about statements of this kind is the failure to understand the inevitability of a painful recovery once a totalitarian system has been put in place.  I liken the situation to somebody suffering from heroin addiction, in that there is no easy method of weaning them off the stuff which will not make them for a period suffer a whole lot more than when they were using.  Yet unless action is taken, the end result is death and an almighty mess all round.

Nobody in their right mind other than those directly affected should mourn the passing of Niyazov or any other dictator.  Any “stability” they may have brought was always at the expense of others, and will always result in a period of uncertainty and instability afterwards, and that time will at some point inevitably come to pass.  Thinking that the best interests of the region, or indeed the world, are served by Niyazov continuing to run a totalitarian state in which political dissent was forbidden and proper education all but erased is akin to thinking a heroin addict’s best interests are served by sparing him the pains of withdrawal. 


5 thoughts on “The Welcome Death of Turkmenbashi

  1. Well put, but I’d like to add that we’re not going to get a shining model of democracy in an instant either, and that the US govt needs to reign the crusade and sloganism in a bit here.

    Niyazov managed to take out most other potential leaders too, so its going to be tough going for a while as you say.

  2. SD,

    As with all dictators, it’s hard to tell. The extent to which the cult of the personality is nurtured and imbedded into every aspect of life renders it difficult to tell whether the apparent popularity of Turkmenbashi was real, pretend, a product of brainwashing, or a combination of all three. There islittle doubt that Kim Jong Il of North Korea ispopular amongst much of the population that he hasn’t starved, tortured, or killed. But whether popularity under these conditions can be put used in defence of a dictator is another matter. Personally I don’t think it can, as the popularity is manufactured to the extent that it is enforced.

  3. Pingback: White Sun of the Desert » Fighting in Turkmenistan

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