Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Turkmenbashi Bashed

The last ruler of Turkmenistan was a Grade A, primo nutcase. Not content with simply stealing all the money and building statues of himself everywhere, he banned Turkmen women from marrying abroad, renamed one of the months of the year after his mother, generally drove the place even further into oppression and poverty (and after the Soviet rule, that was tough) and in what was perhaps the least objectionable of his rulings, banned the circus and the opera.

Turkmenistan will end its seven-year ban on opera and the circus introduced by the Caspian nation's former eccentric leader, state media reported.

Saparmurat Niyazov, who cultivated an elaborate personality cult during his 21-year rule, died in late 2006 of a heart attack. He banned opera, ballet and the circus, saying they are "alien" to Turkmen culture.

The new leader, Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, has sought to promote a softer image for the gas-rich nation bordering Iran -- and reversed some of Niyazov's most eccentric policies.

Late Sunday, state television announced his plans to reopen an opera house, resume circus shows and build a cinema in the capital Ashgabat.

OK, wonderful, he's dead and they're changing policies. Unfortunately, the poverty remains but they will now be allowed to see fat birds warbling and clowns. An advance, if not all that much of one.

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