SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
Need to create a login? Want to change your email address or password? Forgot your password?
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
Turkmenistan, a nation the size of California, and home to 5.5 million people who live atop some of the world’s largest natural gas reserves, recently held presidential elections. The outcome was never in doubt: President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov was reelected with over 97 percent of the vote. A licensed dentist, Berdymukhamedov came to power suddenly in December 2006, through a series of extra-constitutional maneuvers after the death of former president Saparmurat Niyazov. Western diplomats in Ashgabat report that he is widely rumored to be Niyazov’s illegitimate son.
No meaningful political opposition exists in Turkmenistan—attitudes other than sycophancy toward the nation’s leader are unwelcome, and critics are quickly silenced. The country’s higher-education system has been carefully dismantled, and students who travel abroad to seek a college degree quickly find themselves labeled enemies of the state and placed on secret lists for apprehension at border posts. (The tactics make sense on one level: anyone who had a college education or had experienced a whiff of life outside Turkmenistan probably would be inspired to seek change.) Médecins sans Frontières withdrew from the country in 2009, after finding that doctors were not permitted to diagnose and treat tuberculosis or HIV, both of which are widespread, because Ashgabat could not accept the idea that such diseases existed in Berdymukhamedov’s dream kingdom.
The election has set the stage for the further development of the personality cult around Berdymukhamedov. The nation’s Council of Elders recently bestowed upon him the title of Arkadag (“the Protector”), and his visage now smiles down from posters throughout the country. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports this momentous news:
State-run media in Turkmenistan have declared that the Central Asian country has entered a new “era of supreme happiness of the stable state” in the wake of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov’s landslide reelection victory. RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service reports that the theme of “supreme happiness” over the president’s second term in office was suggested during an official meeting in Ashgabat on February 25.
It’s wonderful knowing that while threats of war hover over Iran, the E.U. despairs over the fate of the Euro, and America copes with rising internal demand for theocracy, Turkmenistan has found a solution to all temporal problems.
In fact, Turkmenistan provides the world with a useful example. It reminds us what a state with totalitarian aspirations accomplishes for its people: poverty, ignorance, and the collapse of public wealth, all wrapped in a pervasive culture of fear. Foreign observers may well watch and have a hearty laugh at Turkmenistan’s expense, but for the Turkmen people, a nightmare is unfolding.
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
On a Friday evening in January, a thousand people at the annual California Native Plant Society conference in San Jose settled down to a banquet and a keynote speech delivered by an environmental historian named Jared Farmer. His chosen topic was the eucalyptus tree and its role in California’s ecology and history. The address did not go well. Eucalyptus is not a native plant but a Victorian import from Australia. In the eyes of those gathered at the San Jose DoubleTree, it qualified as “invasive,” “exotic,” “alien” — all dirty words to this crowd, who were therefore convinced that the tree was dangerously combustible, unfriendly to birds, and excessively greedy in competing for water with honest native species.
In his speech, Farmer dutifully highlighted these ugly attributes, but also quoted a few more positive remarks made by others over the years. This was a reckless move. A reference to the tree as “indigenously Californian” elicited an abusive roar, as did an observation that without the aromatic import, the state would be like a “home without its mother.” Thereafter, the mild-mannered speaker was continually interrupted by boos, groans, and exasperated gasps. Only when he mentioned the longhorn beetle, a species imported (illegally) from Australia during the 1990s with the specific aim of killing the eucalyptus, did he earn a resounding cheer.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A tourism company in Australia announced a service that will allow users to take the “world’s biggest selfies,” and a Texas man accidentally killed himself while trying to pose for a selfie with a handgun.
Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!
“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”