Home » Photoblog, Politics and Society, Turkmenistan

The Arkadag is EVERYWHERE

Written by on Monday, 19 November 2012
Photoblog, Politics and Society, Turkmenistan

Editor’s Note: NewEurasia’s Annasoltan has come into the possession of screen captures of Turkmenistani state media that reveal the omnipresence of President Berdimuhammedov’s visage, from auditoriums to kindergartens.

Imagine if every poster on the wall, every advertisement on the side of a bus, hanging in the center of every wall in an office, and even overlooking little children playing in kindergarten, was the face of one man. An intrepid citizen-journalist in Turkmenistan has sent me really disturbing screen captures of state television that demonstrate just how pervasive the cult of personality surrounding our president, Berdimuhammedov, a.k.a., “Arkadag” (the protector/guide), has become. Even foreign companies from Russia and Kazakhstan feel obliged to hang portraits of the president in their kiosks during a recent international trade fair.

The irony is that, When Berdimuhammedov ascended to the throne after the death of Niyazov in December 2006, the latter’s ubiqutious presence was erased, including his notorious Arch of Neutrality. As far back as 2008, when Berdimuhammedov announced the construction of the Constitution Monument (a barrel of laughs, that one), NewEurasia’s Maciula was predicting how, in reality, he would really just scrap the old cult with his own:

I am also wondering if there is a need for one more monument of this kind to be built Ashgabat while there already is an almost identical one. It is the so-called Neutrality Arc – a monumental tower with a viewing terrace topped with a golden statue of Niyazov. There seems to be just one answer to this. Berdymukhammedov, who feels increasingly strong at the post of president, does not want to be worse than his predecessor. In order to get out of his shadow, he has to replace the cult of Niyazov with one of his own (which he successfully does) and enter the history with some kind of original ideas, monumental building, etc. This is probably the main reason for the planned construction of the Constitution Monument.

NewEurasia’s Schwartz recently turned me onto the political philosopher Claude Lefort, who once remarked about the difference between democracy and totalitarianism:

La démocratie se révèle ainsi la société historique par excellence, société qui dans sa forme, accueille et préserve l’indétermination, en contraste remarquable avec le totalitarisme, qui s’édifiant sous le signe de la création de l’homme nouveau, s’agence en réalité contre cette indétermination, prétend détenir la loi de son organisation et de son développement, et se dessine secrètement dans le monde moderne comme société sans histoire.

Democracy thus reveals the historical society par excellence, in its company, [and provides a home that] maintains the uncertainty in remarkable contrast with totalitarianism, which seeks to inspire [literally: under the sign/spell of inspiring] the creation of the New Man, which actually works against this indeterminacy [i.e., the anxiety/uncertainty at the core of being], [by] claiming to possess the law of [the New Man's] organization and development, and in the modern world secretly designs a society without history.

What he means here is that a democracy remembers, whereas totalitarianism forgets — if you will, the state of memory versus the state of amnesia. The totalitarian government wipes out all recollection of what came before, because it cannot tolerate that credit might be given to another (even an older version of itself!) The amnesia is really the authorities filling up the space that exists inside every human being, the hole where we put meaning — God, Nation, our loved ones, money, whatever — with ideology; in particular, ideology of the новый человек, which was previously embodied by Turkmenbashi, and now Arkadag. And boy oh boy, the новый человек is suffocating us with his presence.

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