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February 23, 2005
Eurocorps Transform Into Vanity Publishers For Dictator

European corporations seeking to do business in Turkmenistan, run for decades by the iron fist of Saparmurad Niyazov, have now taken to vanity publishing to nuzzle up to the man who calls himself Turkmenbashi the Great. Several companies that sell products to the tightly-controlled tyranny have translated Niyazov's "Book of Spirit", the Bible of Niyazov's regime and the book that has replaced almost all others in this Central Asian cult of personality:

The various releases this month of the two-volume "Book of Spirit" -- "Ruhnama" in Turkmen -- are part of an international drive to boost the book's circulation as well as what the government-controlled Turkmen media call a "victorious march around the world" by the author-president, 65, also known in his country as Turkmenbashi the Great.

The book contains Niyazov's moral code as well as his philosophical and historical musings. Its translation into 30 languages and publication outside Turkmenistan have been underwritten by international firms doing business in the natural gas-rich Central Asian republic, according to Turkmen media reports, exiled opposition groups and a number of the companies involved that were contacted by The Washington Post.

Human rights groups say the book is at the center of Niyazov's cult of personality and is ravaging educational and cultural life in his country. Almost everyone in Turkmenistan is compelled to study the book and pass exams about it, and the country's libraries have largely been emptied to leave little but the Ruhnama and Niyazov's collections of poetry. This month, Niyazov ordered most libraries in Turkmenistan closed, according to Russian news reports.

"If the Ruhnama were a benign text, like the memoirs of a U.S. president, this would be harmless, but the Ruhnama is the principal instrument for indoctrination and brainwashing in Turkmenistan," said Erika Dailey, a specialist on the country at the Open Society Institute in Budapest. "Companies cannot ignore that and they have to be called to account."

Think of it as "Mein Kampf" without the genocidal implications, another dictator's tome forced on its subjects, and you get some idea of the oppression this "Book of Spirit" represents. As twisted and bizarre as Niyazov's regime has become, the only excuse for publishing anything by Turkmenbashi would be to expose him for the intellectual fraud that he is. However, that obviously is not the point of the various corporations, as the Washington Post reports:

"We sponsored it for inter-cultural understanding," said Arantxa Doerrie, a spokeswoman for Zeppelin Baumaschinen, a German machinery company that translated the second volume of the book and presented it to Niyazov this month. The company plans to distribute the book in Germany, she said.

"In principle, yes, it is a dictatorship," Doerrie said, "but simultaneously we see that very much is being done to help the people there -- for the infrastructure with the building of streets, for example. That is what we understand. We sell building equipment, so yes, there is a market for us there, but we see our contribution as a way to help the people there."

It sounds as though we're hearing echoes of seventy years ago. Yes, [dictator] certainly has his problems. But the trains run on time and the people don't starve, and besides, he allows businesses to operate freely. Too bad the Germans can't learn from their own history, and apparently neither can the Finnish, the Italians, the Irish, and corporations from a number of other companies that seem content to pursue this rather unsubtle form of brown-nosing.

They're not just shrugging at fascism, which one could argue that a policy of engagement could correct; they're feeding into the personality cult that keeps Niyazov's fascism alive. These corporations have become active enablers of the oppression of the Turkmen people, a sorry state of affairs of which most Europeans probably remain unaware. Unfortunately, the Turkmen people hear about every book launch in great detail, thanks to the Turkmenbashi-controlled media, which plays it up for all it's worth. Niyazov wants every Turkmen to know just how powerful and highly regarded Turkembashi has become, and despair at his inevitability.


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Posted by Ed Morrissey at February 23, 2005 5:37 AM

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