Turkmenistan: Berdymukhamedov Makes World's Top 10 Dictators List
President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, ruler of Turkmenistan, has been steadily building up his cult of personality with awards to himself; encouragement of a popular nickname for himself ("Protector"); 24/7 coverage of his activities by state TV; state publication of his books on myriad topics; and constant presiding over mass festivals and performances in his honor.
Finally, his efforts have paid off and he's now in Parade's list of the top 10 dictators of the world, at no. 6, following Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov at no. 3.
With the death of Libya's Muammar Gaddafi and now North Korea's Kim Jong-il, there is more room for Berdymukhamedov -- who wasn't making the cut in similar media lists in the past.
In the early years after he came to power in 2007 following the death of past dictator Saparmurat Niyazov (who was also on Parade's list), Berdymukhamedov made a few corrections of his predecessor's excesses -- like restoring years of education and health clinics. That was enough for the world to greet him as a reformer and kept him off the tyrants' lists with the likes of Uzbekistan's strongman for 22 years, President Islam Karimov.
Now the Turkmen reforms are seen as shallow and incomplete, and his increasing control over every aspect of life in Turkmenistan is starting to become visible.
Parade charts Berdymukhamedov's rise to power from his dental practice in Ashgabat by currying favor with Niyazov and explains how the portraits of himself everywhere, his manipulation of the constitution to get in office, and keeping more than half the population below the poverty line, despite Turkmenistan's hydrocarbons riches all helped earn Berdymukhamedov a spot on the dictators' list.
A recent out-take from Turkmen state television that made its way to Turkmen Dissident TV on Youtube, sponsored by Chronicle of Turkmenistan (chrono-tm.org), vividly illustrates Berdymukhamedov's despotic persona.
Even without understanding the Turkmen language, you can see the president shift from a smug and superior grin to a frown of disapproval as he strides down a hallway to review the ranks of frightened architects lined up like soldiers along a regal striped carpet.
Brandishing a pointer, the president imperiously peruses the designs for various buildings -- part of a phenomenal construction spree under way in Turkmenistan now -- and you can see aides scurrying fearfully in the background and nervous subordinates attempting to patiently answer his many picky questions.