One delusional leader to another....
Saparmurat Niyazov, authoritarian head of Turkmenistan from 1985-2006 (history and timeline from 6th century) , has been officially succeeded by Gurbanguly Mälikgulyýewiç Berdimuhammedow and how do the so-called people's representatives, the "Parliament" welcome the new leader?
With a 1 kg gold-and-diamond award! Having all that oil (and natural gas) money must be good!
Maybe 1 kg of gold and diamond is not a big deal according to some but I am ticked because of Turkmenistan's history of abuse of power. Here is a quick recent-history lesson of this less known country...
Berdymukhamedov's predecessor Niyazov, who was appointed by Gorbachev in 1985 after a cotton-scandal replaced the then regional leader, Muhammad Gapusov after 14 years of rule, was one of the most delusional, autocratic, and repressive rulers in the world. He took the title of Turkmenbashi (Head of the Turkmen) the Great and had thousands of portraits and statues of him set up throughout the country. They include a statue in gold leaf that rotates to face the sun in the capital named the month of January after himself and April after his mother! He. He banned ballet, gold teeth and recorded music; he ordered the construction of a lake in the midst of the desert and a ski resort on the snowless foothills of the Iranian border. Cities, airports and even a meteorite were named after him. He introduced increasingly personal laws, and a book he wrote to be a "spiritual guide" for the nation was made required reading. There are very few textbooks in Turkmenistan's schools apart from works by Mr Niyazov such as his Ruhnama - a mix of history and spiritual guidance. Known as the Book of the Soul, the Ruhnama was required reading and was treated with the reverence normally reserved for religious works. Isolated from the rest of the world under Nyazov and criticised in the West for human rights violations, has sought to reverse its isolationist policies and pursue more contacts with its neighbours. Berdymukhamedov has also pledged to improve education, healthcare and pension provision -- cut back under Niyazov -- prompting some to hope for a wider liberalisation in the tightly controlled society.- via 1, 2, 3 and the link to the portraits & statues above.
Lets hope all that gold and diamond doesn't go to his head. (Naah..its not a hope.... there is not much hope. We all know power corrupts but absolute power like this corrupts absolutely. The personality cult authoritarian rule of Niyazov, where he essentially enriched himself by keeping his countrymen poor, uneducated, and without the basic needs of life and looted the country's vast natural resources for personal profit* is not much different than the North Korean Papa and Lil Kim Jung cults. Big difference though - Turkmenistan has the oil and hence the US and European countries have friendly ties (also see update (2) below) with them (and even gave them ~8 million $s in 2006 for various programs - all of which likely ended up in the individual leaders pockets!), whereas the much reviled North Koreans have the freaking nukes! (or at least they want some!). Even countries like India and China are friendly towards this country due to their energy needs. The currently stalled Trans-Afghanistan pipeline project (being installed by Unocal, now a part of Chevron-Texaco) is a proposed natural gas pipeline that will transport Caspian sea natural gas from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan into Pakistan and then India. There is news that work on this is being accelerated again but the project remains at risk since it passes through some Taliban-controlled areas on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and not to forget the blowing-hot-and-cold nature of India-Pakistan relationships.
* Global Witness, a London-based human rights organization, reported that money under Niyazov's control and held overseas may be in excess of US$3 billion, of which $2 billion is supposedly situated in the Foreign Exchange Reserve Fund at Deutsche Bank in Germany. Income from natural gas deals rarely finds its way into state coffers, most of his five million citizens live in poverty and life expectancy is on a par with some of the poorest parts of Africa. The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said the country was on the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe in a report it published on Turkmenistan's healthcare, which it described as poor even by the "grossly inadequate" standards of post-Soviet countries. It said the culture of secrecy under Niyazov's dictatorship extended to banning the reporting of infectious diseases such as anthrax, HIV/Aids and the bubonic plague. - via wiki & this article
Update (1): I just realized that I had provided a link some months back about a crack in the isolation of Turkmenistan..
A new world in Turkmenistan: The first two internet cafes have opened in reclusive Turkmenistan, as Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov, the new President, declares that all schools will soon have Internet access - once they learn to spell his name. (Just kidding.)Aah...maybe there is hope? (Naah... they'll learn from the Chinese to "cleanse" the internet of things that are critical of their government!)
Update (2): via Metafilter
"Even the best-endowed regimes need help navigating the shoals of Washington, and it is their great fortune that, for the right price, countless lobbyists are willing to steer even the foulest of ships." Journalist Ken Silverstein poses as a representative of the government of Turkmenistan to see if Washington lobbying firms will take on the job of making a country with a considerably less-than-stellar human rights record more palatable. The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials calls Silverstein's work disingenuous; others disagree.