Where's Your Revolving Statue Now, Saparmurat?


"The Father of Turkmenistan," Saparmurat Niyazov, is dead, and the Economist has the most pithy take on his sadly-not-unique style of plutocracy.

Mr Niyazov styled himself the Turkmenbashi, or "father of Turkmen", and wasted resources building up a bizarre personality cult. Ashgabat, the capital, is a surreal showpiece of grandiose, neo-Stalinist buildings of gleaming white marble, with giant portraits and gold statues of the Turkmenbashi everywhere—including one, arms aloft, that constantly revolves through 360 degrees, so that it always faces the sun. Behind the glitz lies a grim reality; rutted tracks leading from four-lane highways to windowless, one-room homes, including converted railway containers, surrounded by debris and animals.

Niyazov's death has been played for laughs, but replace the goofy passages with grim ones—trade "gold statues" for "mandatory party membership cards for people claiming food aid"—and you've got yourself Zimbabwe. That's the magazine's take, too, as dictators spent 2006 getting sicker and sicker. Pinochet—dead. Castro—getting there. Mugabe—he's got a retirement date, at least. That's very nice. But it raises the question of what the hell is going to happen to the worse-off countries if the leaders kick it. If you're a Taliban tired of getting boiled to death in Uzbekistan and chased around Pakistan, Turkmenistan surely looks pretty good right now.