Saparmurat Niyazov has facinated me the past couple of years. How do leaders of countries get to be so crazy? Why do the people they rule put up with them. I really, really don't get it.
Anyway, he died on 12/21/06. I've been reading a lot of news articles & opinon pieces about him ever since. I don't know what's going to happen in Turkmenistan now, but I hope who ever ends up in charge reinstates health care, hospitals and education.
Here is an article I found today, that illustrates how crazy he was.
Eccentric Turkmenistan president best choice for newsmaker of 2006
Jack Knox, Victoria Times Colonist
Published: Tuesday, January 02, 2007
Forget George Bush. Forget Steve Nash. Forget the guys from YouTube. Forget Paris. Here is the real 2006 Newsmaker Of The Year: Saparmurat Niyazov.
Chances are you never heard of Niyazov. Don't feel bad. Neither has anyone else, at least not outside of Turkmenistan, where the ironfisted despot ruled under the title President For Life prior to that life coming to an abrupt halt just before Christmas.
This is how Niyazov, who also liked to be called "Turkmenbashi the Great, Father of all Turkmen," was eulogized in England's Daily Telegraph: "He renamed a town, a meteor and the month of January after himself, and April (and bread) after his mother. In the rebuilt centre of the country's capital, Ashgabat, he ordered the erection of a huge gilded statue of the 'One and Eternal' leader which rotates to face the sun. . . . He declared a national holiday in honour of melons and another in honour of the horse. He banned gold teeth after watching a student with metal fillings giving an address in his honour, saying it made the country look "backward," and exhorted his fellow countrymen to care for their teeth by gnawing bones instead.
"He banned livestock from the country's capital so as not to overpower the smell of dahlias named after him and slapped prohibitions on (among other things) circuses, ballet, opera, video games, listening to car radios, lip-synching to songs, smoking, newscasters wearing make-up, and beards or long hair on young men."
This, dear reader, is how a true authoritarian is supposed to act -- with authority. None of this benevolent ruler nonsense. None of this father-of-the-people piffle. Niyazov knew how to put the dick in dictator. He has now passed Belarus' Alexander Lukashenko on my Top 10 Tyrants list.
It's more likely you have heard of Lukashenko, often called the last of Europe's Stalinist strongmen. He is seen as a lucky fellow, since his opponents have the odd habit of occasionally disappearing, but is best known in this part of the world as a hockey nut who likes to train with the national team. "You're not allowed to check him," NHL defenceman Ruslan Salei noted a few years ago. "There are guards standing there with guns."
Lukashenko's son, Victor, was similarly passionate about the game, so much so that he reportedly shot Belarus' coach in 1998. "They had an argument about who was going to be named to the national team, and Victor just popped him, right there under the dancing lights of the Max Show discotheque in Minsk," wrote Dave Bidini in CBC Sports Online. The coach lived, but came down with a sudden case of amnesia and was unable to name his assailant.
But I digress. The point is that there's no point to being a despot unless you act with wild unpredictability. Libya's Moammar Ghaddafi surrounded himself with a babacious bodyguard of 40 beautiful women trained in martial arts. Uganda's Idi Amin offered to become king of Scotland. Saddam Hussein liked to fish with hand grenades. Kim Jong Il collected 20,000 videos and once had a South Korean movie star and her director husband kidnapped. But nobody beat Nizayov, whose book of spiritual thoughts -- the Rukhnama -- was required reading in Turkmenistan and even part of its driver's exam.
If I were dictator, the wackiness would rage from Jackuary to Knoxember.
Drive on the left, I would say, and you would -- but only on Tuesdays. There would be a hit-to-pass rule on the Pat Bay Highway, just like at the stock car track. Celine Dion would be banned. Baldness would be mandatory. I would lead the NHL in scoring. Or else.
Crazy? No. Dictators are only crazy in poor countries. In nations with oil and gas, as is the case with Turkmenistan, they are merely deemed eccentric.
Knox is a columnist with the Victoria Times Colonist.
© The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2007
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