By Murad Aitakov
Last weekend, the residents of Turkmenistan were able to watch a wondrous scene on TV: sitting on an Akhal-Tekes horse, President Berdymukhamedov cruising the foothills of the Kopetdag. And he was not just cruising but inspecting the forest plantation status of the so-called «green belt» around the capital.
Officials from different ministries waited for him during the breaks ready to listen to the President’s opinion regarding the status of the trees plantation areas entrusted to them. The opinion of the President was negative. The power structures officials were most heavily criticized as their catchment areas were marked by the worst status of plantations. «You should do better in planting and weeding», said the President to the representatives of the Ministry of National Security and Interior Ministry, who are involved in «planting» and «weeding» out of people of quite a different sort.
And now let`s just imagine, for instance, President Obama, driving a red-hot mustang in the outskirts of Washington, DC. On his way, he is met by Pentagon, FBI and CIA officials. «Planting is bad; watering even worse», says Obama to them. Or, just imagine President Medvedev travelling around the Rubliovka area on an Orlovky Trotter and reprimanding them for the poor state of the fir trees along the Rubliovskoe chaussee. Isn`t this absurd? Undoubtedly. However, absurdity is now returning to Turkmenistan after the death of Turkmenbashi, who used to interfere in everything, even in the most trivial concerns of the state, and notably assigning ministries and departments tasks, which had nothing to do with them.
The Turkmen «thaw» has come to an end not having ever started; even though all observers were getting the impression that the new President would be able to carry the country out of the abyss of absurdity and obscurantism, which Niyazov had driven it into. However, the observers wanted to believe in this more than Berdymukhamedov himself could imagine. As far as he was concerned, he was far from even thinking about a «thaw». All changes were only meant to alter the decorative nature of the state while the essence of the regime remained unaltered. The entire work on re-facing the state façade, which has been underway in Turkmenistan over the past two years of Berdymukhamedov`s presidency, is a mere attempt to distance himself from the follies of Niyazov, but to a greater degree – to conduct low-key funerals of Niyazov`s cult in order to replace it with the cult of his own personality.
This would not be such a big deal if all the methods of the old regime did not stay in the inventory of the new government: voluntarism and paternalism in all spheres, unwillingness and incapability to develop a sustainable economy, an absence of intelligible internal and external politics and its substitution with propaganda and ideology respectively.
The personality cult in Turkmenistan is not a merely ideological phenomenon. This is what the whole structure of power and decision-making rests on. By delegating all responsibilities for decision-making to higher authorities, administrators are deprived of the opportunity to display initiative. This suits the supreme authorities but paralyzes the economy, and not only the economy.
Recently, the President reprimanded in one go several officials from the culture and mass media sector on different grounds, primarily for the lack of a «creative approach». However, what creative approach can be implemented if all culture and all mass media outlets are not simply usurped by the state but are «manually» controlled by it, not to mention the economy. However, this was repeatedly discussed in many reports both with respect to Niyazov`s times and the era of the current governor; so it should be only repeated that this has all resumed its natural course.
On the eve of the recently announced contest «Best Turkmen Cook», artists are vigorously working on sketches of guess who? right – the President! And the sculptors have already prepared several variants of the President’s bust. So changes will follow… but with the face of a new idol only.