Turkmenistan’s Record-Setting Repression
Reason‘s December special issue marks the 30th anniversary of the collapse of the Soviet Union. This story is part of our exploration of the global legacy of that evil empire, and our effort to be certain that the dire consequences of communism are not forgotten.
Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov is many things: equestrian, pop star, collector of Guinness World Records, marksman, lifter, poet, race car driver, and brutal authoritarian.
The last role is the most important. But it is also the one about which there is arguably the least information, as Berdimuhamedov’s Turkmenistan is one of the most secretive and repressive dictatorships on the planet.
Berdimuhamedov isn’t so shy himself. The Turkmen president balances out his harsh governance with flamboyant public displays. In one popular video clip, he “plays” a white guitar clad in a pastel green sweater—though the fog creeping up from below, obscuring his hands, casts doubt on his musical chops. The crowd doesn’t seem to mind. In a different video, Berdimuhamedov shoots at targets while his ministers look on with adoration. In another, he triumphantly lifts a thin golden rod above his
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