THE CURRENT SOCIOPOLITICAL SITUATION IN TURKMENISTAN
Sergei Kamenev, Chief researcher, Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences, in 1999-2001, first secretary at the Russian Embassy in Turkmenistan
Among the republics of the former Soviet Union, Turkmenistan attracts particular attention from several different standpoints. For example, it has some of the largest gas supplies in the world, unusually high (according to official data) GDP growth rates, almost 21% in 2001, exceptional social benefits-free gas, water, and electricity, and very low housing and public transportation fees-and an unusually calm sociopolitical situation, which particularly stands out against the domestic political difficulties of other Central Asian republics, primarily Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. And finally, if it so desires, Turkmenistan can refrain (based on its neutral status) from resolving an entire slew of foreign political and foreign economic problems both at the regional level, and in the geopolitical respect. This gives rise to a very logical question: "How does the country's president, Saparmurad Niyazov, manage to ensure domestic political stability and economic growth, as well as protect himself from the appearance of an opposition with the obvious absence of democratic institutions in the country?"
The Conceptual Foundation of the State Power System
The sociopolitical and socioeconomic situation in the country, just like its foreign policy, is dependent on several factors characteristic of only a few states. The main one is the principle of authoritarianism in the state power system. As the head of executive power pursuant to the constitution, Turkmenistan President Saparmurad Niyazov tries to personally manage all spheres of social life, essentially excluding ministry and other state institution directors from participating in the political and economic problem-solving process even at the lowest level.
Political life in the country is based on the activity of only one party, the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan, headed by President Niyazov, which for all intents and purposes is nothing more than the former communist party of the union republic. It is clear that its current political role has been reduced to naught, it merely "prints" the decisions made by Turkmenbashi. Thus, in keeping with the President's statement that society is not ready to introduce a multiparty system, the authorities brusquely intercept any action conducive to the appearance of a party opposition. Of course, the leading role here is played by the power structures: the NSC (National Security Committee, former KGB), the Interior Ministry, and other similar organizations. President Niyazov keeps a watchful eye over their work.
In practice, the regime's authoritarianism is expressed in the conception of the main areas in Turkmenistan's sociopolitical development in the 21st century put forward by President Niyazov (April 2000). In his opinion, a national non-class society of an essentially new type is forming in the country, which does not have any analogies in historical retrospect or in the modern world. This, as Turkmenbashi stresses, is "a society created from a conscious striving for self-determination, in which all its citizens, regardless of age, social status, and confession, live with the same aspirations." And in the future, according to the author of the conception, this kind of social structure will be transformed into a "just, legal welfare society, in which everything will be subordinated to the well-being and prosperity of mankind." (How reminiscent this is of utopian ideas, particularly those of Tommaso Campanella, which he set forth at the beginning of the 17th century in his book "City of the Sun.") It is planned that the transition period, which consists of four stages (beginning in 1991) necessary for building this kind of society, will end around 2010.
The totalitarian nature of the regime in the country was graphically manifested in December 1999 at a joint meeting of the Khalk Maslakhaty (National Council), Council of Elders, and National Revival Movement Galkynysh. At this meeting, Saparmurad Niyazov was granted full powers for a lifetime presidency. In so doing, he made an extremely feeble, for the benefit of the outside world, attempt to refuse this proposal, and then "under the pressure of demands by the Turkmen people" quickly agreed to become head of state for life. According to the available information, Turkmenbashi was extremely displeased with Vladimir Putin's firm refusal to change the Russian constitution in order to extend the presidential term in Russia. We will mention in passing that whereas the United States only frowned when it found out about the lifetime presidency of Saparmurad Niyazov (since geopolitical interests held sway over democratic principles), this news was met with obvious displeasure in Western Europe, and to some extent hindered the development of foreign economic ties with Turkmenistan. It is also interesting to note that at the above-mentioned meeting (where as always domestic and foreign policy of the country's leadership was approved unanimously), the president became a hero of Turkmenistan for the fourth time. Thus, he is almost on a par with Leonid Brezhnev, who had five such awards, and there is every reason to believe that in the future Saparmurad Niyazov will reach the same level as the former Soviet leader, if not surpass him.
In many of his public statements, Turkmenbashi has stressed more than once that throughout the entire transition period of development (and possibly further), strict state regulation of the socioeconomic sphere must be retained in the country. In his opinion, rapid socioeconomic reforms (in particular those concerning the market) and democratic transformation will inevitably lead to absolute impoverishment of the population, and to chaos in essentially every sphere of social life. He stressed in particular that "no one is allowed to play at democracy. First, laws must be drawn up, and democracy will follow of its own accord. Any attempts to push Turkmenistan toward untimely radical socioeconomic measures will run counter to the country's national interests, which has chosen its own path of development."
To be fair we should note that on the whole President Niyazov does not deny the possibility of creating a multiparty system in the distant future. But he stipulates that the new parties' platforms should be aimed exclusively at supporting the existing regime, and not at confrontation with it. Only then will they be registered as political organizations.
Practical Implementation of Saparmurad Niyazov's Conceptual Ideas
The current regime's authoritarianism is expressed in raising Turkmen nationalism and unconcealed propaganda of President Niyazov's personality cult. All the achievements of the country's socioeconomic development are associated (at least technically) with Turkmenbashi, as is the stability of the state's domestic and foreign policy. It has reached the point where every issue of the local newspapers, as well as statements by political and public figures, inevitably contain greetings in honor of the president. In particular, with respect to celebration of the country's 10th anniversary of independence, the newspaper Neitralniy Turkmenistan wrote (30 October 2001): "In one accord and with great fervor, the Turkmen people have been preparing for their sacred celebration, one they have been dreaming of for eight long centuries. Thanks to the titanic efforts of our wise Serdar (Leader), the Great Saparmurad Turkmenbashi, the Turkmen people have found their happiness, freedom, and great independence. For that, they are eternally grateful to their Great Serdar. For Saparmurad Turkmenbashi has given the Turkmen people back their language, religion, culture, customs, traditions, literature, and art."
And this is how the "supreme mentality" of Saparmurad Niyazov was defined in the same newspaper on 28 February, 2001: "We are well familiar with the precision, philosophical wisdom, and extraordinary imagery of speech of highly honored President Saparmurad Turkmenbashi. And at times, the thoughts he expresses during a specific business conversation are astounding in their profundity, which seemingly goes far beyond the framework of the topic being discussed… Why 'seemingly?' Because the President sees any topic in all its most intricate interrelations, raising them to generalizations which truly make the blind see. This was the impression created by the remark uttered by our Serdar at a recent meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers. 'It is not the source that runs dry, it is the soul that becomes desiccated,' said the President."
It is a pity that Saparmurad Niyazov allows (and essentially supports) such idolatry and does not pull it out by the roots. The abundance of gigantic portraits of the president on the city and village streets, whereby they are usually out of place there, creates genuine misunderstanding in most foreigners who come to Turkmenistan. The presence of streets (boulevards) named in honor of Turkmenbashi in almost every city, beginning with the smallest, also arouses the same reaction.
This is no simple show of honor. This eulogizing is naturally not the reason for, but the consequence of the policy of intrigue and constant staff shuffling conducted by Saparmurad Niyazov. The front pages of the newspapers, and the main announcements made on television and the radio regularly report new appointments and replacements-from the lowest ranks to the highest state posts. Decrees on appointments signed by the head of state are formulated very originally: "I appoint so-and-so to such-and-such a post for a trial period of six months, and in the event of unsatisfactory performance of his official duties, he shall be dismissed from the occupied post without another job." In so doing, there is constant shuffling of personnel who frequently do not last the six months granted them. This applies to vice premiers, ministers, their deputies, department heads, khiakims (provincial, regional, and city heads), etc.
The first impression is that Turkmenbashi is incapable of conducting a consistent personnel policy and ensuring a stable administration in the country. But this is not the case. For such an experienced politician (Saparmurad Niyazov has ruled Turkmenistan since 1985, when he was appointed first secretary of the republic's Communist Party Central Committee), the constant replacement of personnel is explained by his striving to prevent subordinates from gaining too much influence. But this practice is causing him to lose confidence in his close entourage, draw Akhal (those belonging to President Niyazov's clan of "Turkmen-Akhalteke") supporters as close to him as possible, and put an end once and for all to the Moscow and St. Petersburg opposition. Incidentally, the Turkmen leadership made no attempt to conceal this fact when it introduced a visa regime with Russia (June 1999).
The other side of this personnel policy is the uncertainty of most leaders in the future. Realizing that they could be dismissed from their posts at any moment, they do not so much perform their direct duties, as use their official position for personal gain, trying to ensure relatives good posts and get as rich as possible. But if an official is devoted to the president, the latter may close his eyes to much of what his lackey does, although he has some incriminating information on essentially every government official at the upper and even middle levels.
But the most serious consequence of the current personnel policy is that people are appointed to leading posts (and dismissed from them) in no way according to their professionalism. A graphic example is the activity of B. Shikhmuradov, the former vice premier, former foreign minister, and former Turkmenistan ambassador to China. He occupied leading posts for almost ten years and was finally dismissed after being accused of crimes under three articles, primarily embezzling and smuggling (in 1994) arms and military hardware. Without going into the nature of the interrelationship between the president and his foreign minister, which the world community ultimately found out about, we will ask a logical question: "Is it realistic for the president, who essentially knows everything about all his officials, not to have known anything about what went on in 1994?" (But we are unlikely to find out the truth, since the level of intrigue in the Turkmen echelons of power is on a par with that of the French royal court.) For when B. Shikhmuradov was needed, Saparmurad closed his eyes to most of what went on, and when he was no longer needed, his illegal activity came to light.
Another serious problem, which is closely tied to the personnel situation, is that since 1 January, 2000, office work in the country has been transferred exclusively to the Turkmen language, which increases discrimination against people of non-Turkmen nationalities. This is a component of President Niyazov's personnel conception aimed essentially at ousting them from the state administration system and other spheres of public life. This practice will inevitably have serious negative consequences-there is already a personnel shortage in the country, it is not professionals who are usually appointed to executive posts, but people loyal to the president. The main thing here, according to Turkmenbashi, is "a pure pedigree for three generations." This essentially means that a candidate to a post (and even his relatives) should be natives of the titular nation. During such a staff "purge," President Niyazov ordered 10,000 school and university teachers to be dismissed in 2000, as well as 11,000 medical employees, although the education and health care spheres are extremely underdeveloped. As far as it can be judged, most of the president's current entourage consists of people who are lobbying, whereby frequently very selfishly, the interests of Turkey and the U.S.
The creation of principally new conceptual approaches to studying the development of the Turkmen state and its place in the world historical process means putting into practice the ideology of "Turkmenbashism." The directors of the History Institute under the Cabinet of Ministers have prepared a series of articles which are directly aimed at revising the country's history and significantly raising its role (over the span of many centuries) not only in the region, but also in the world. The conclusion is being drawn that "Turkmen ancestors conquered a vast area of Asia, as well as part of Europe," and then they "spread their influence to the vast territory of the Near and Middle East, Asia Minor, Europe, and Indochina," and played an "outstanding role in the history of the nations of Asia, Eastern, Central and Western Europe, and even Northern Africa."
According to the authors of the articles, there are more than 60 states in history which were either created by the Turkmen, or headed by Turkmen dynasties. Based on these and several other premises, a far-reaching conclusion can be drawn that "the history of Turkmen statehood is an unprecedented phenomenon in the world historical process." It is interesting to note that even the Ottoman Empire received a new name from Turkmen historians-the Turkmen state of Ottomans, and the Ottomans themselves became Turkmen-Ottomans.
As one of the leading specialists on Turkmenistan, President Niyazov's aide Academician V. Masson, believes, such an openly nationalistic interpretation of the historical process could arouse a very negative reaction not only in Russian, but also in European and even Asian historians, since it clearly ignores the achievements of world historical science and elevates the role of Turkmen in history. In so doing, according to several employees of the Turkmen State University, such an approach to history is detrimental primarily to the country's leadership and its image in the world community.
Nevertheless, it would be incorrect not to see the positive aspects in the domestic policy conducted by Saparmurad Niyazov, which are aimed at retaining stability in society. The increased activity of Islamic extremists in the region could not help but have an effect on the actions of the pro-Islamic forces in Turkmenistan itself. And although, despite the fact the country is Muslim, Islam does not occupy as strong a position there as might be expected, and radicals have aroused serious concern in President Niyazov. He undertook several measures in this respect aimed against such groups penetrating the country from without.
In particular, the power structures' top priority tasks have been altered slightly. Special attention is now given to control over the situation from the standpoint of potential demonstrations of protest by pro-Islamic elements. All the law enforcement structures and border troops are periodically put on high alert, and additional restrictions are introduced on movement around the country (admittedly, mainly for foreigners). In addition, entry visas are no longer issued at border checkpoints and in the velaiat (regional) centers-these powers are concentrated in the central apparatus of the Interior Ministry; and control over contacts between local citizens and foreigners has been toughened up. Finally, structural changes in the National Security Committee have been completed. These and other measures have given Turkmenistan the opportunity (right up until the present) to oppose the onslaught of pan-Islamism.
One of Saparmurad Niyazov's significant achievements is improving the crime situation. Even if the data on law violations committed have been embellished, this information is still impressive. More than 5 million people live in the country, and in 2000, for example, a total of 10,885 crimes were registered. Of them, 267 were murders, 159 cases of grave bodily harm, 61 rapes, 3,234 thefts, and 326 robberies. In so doing, their degree of exposure, according to official data, reaches 95%. Most countries in the world fall far short of such results.
Amnesties, which are granted almost every year, are aggravating the crime situation, but officials emphasize that their effect is negligible. In 2000, 12,000 prisoners were pardoned (not only residents of Turkmenistan, but also foreigners); and in 2001, this number constituted 9,000. All of them, according to the official structures, returned to normal life. As Saparmurad Niyazov stressed in his speech (October 2001) at the National Council meeting, "we have made certain that only 3-5% of those released returned to prison, the rest have mended their ways, are living and working honestly, and atoning for their guilt." In so doing, it is noted that "there is no political persecution in the country, and no political prisoners. As of today, our prisons are essentially empty." But oppositionist emigrants, of whom there is quite a large number primarily in Moscow and St. Petersburg, maintain they have information about political prisoners kept in Turkmen prisons.
In many of their statements, Saparmurad Niyazov and other leaders place priority attention on social reforms, which primarily apply to raising the salaries of employees in the budget sphere, and increasing pensions and stipends. In addition, as we noted above, the fees for municipal services are very low in the country, gas and water are free, electricity is essentially free (insignificant fees are levied only for exceeding a certain consumption level), significant benefits are granted for the purchase of salt and flour, and public transportation is also very cheap-two cents for riding on the bus or trolley bus, and two dollars for a plane ticket between Ashghabad and Turkmenbashi. A liter of AI-95 gasoline costs about two cents, and basic foodstuffs are also very cheap: bread, milk, curds, and many fruits and vegetables.
The Turkmen leadership stresses that in order to ensure agricultural production growth and the country's food independence, by 2000, 395,800 lessees and private owners were granted gratuitous use of 1.46 million hectares of irrigated land (80% of its total amount), credits were issued, and a fifty-percent discount on seeds, machinery, fertilizers, and agricultural engineering services was provided. Farmers and rental associations are exempt from profit and value added tax. In addition, benefits have been introduced for agricultural producers who supply the state with grain and cotton.
Another important achievement is also stressed-raising the average life expectancy of the Turkmen people during President Niyazov's rule. The official statistics present the following data: whereas in 1995, life expectancy was 61 years, by 2000 it had reached 64.5 years. Admittedly, it is not quite clear on what basis demographic specialists drew this conclusion, which is quite a fantastic increase, since no population censuses were conducted after 1995. According to international experts, life expectancy during the 1990s did not exceed 52 years.
Far-reaching social development plans have been set forth in the epochal program adopted in 1999 entitled Strategy of Socioeconomic Transformations in Turkmenistan until 2010. The goal of Saparmurad Niyazov's social policy is to ensure raising the population's standard of living to that of an economically developed country (!). It is planned that at the first stage (until 2005), medical and pension insurance for accumulating personal savings will acquire particular importance. By developing nongovernmental institutions of public health, education, housing and municipal services, it is hoped to increase the number of paid services, which will ensure additional financing of these spheres and make it possible to bring the percentage of such services in total GDP spending to the level of developed countries by 2010: in education to 10% and in public health to 7%.
In addition, during the period under review, there are plans to create conditions for a major reorientation in the economy toward new standards of living, on which high growth rates of personal income will be based. It is expected that the final consumption of households in the total GDP will constitute approximately 57% by 2010 with a simultaneous change in the consumption structure. The increase in spending on goods and services will reach 73% by 2010, whereas in 2000, 35% of income was spent on these purposes.
But all these data cannot be taken on faith. The problem is that Turkmenistan is the only country which does not submit any statistical information to the corresponding structures not only of the CIS, but also the U.N., as well as other international organizations. It is not clear where Turkmen statisticians get their information on final consumption and its structure, not to mention how they extrapolate these data. This cannot be done without selective surveys of family budgets, even if they are not full-fledged, which even underdeveloped countries conduct and widely publish in the open press.
Social and essentially all economic statistics are strictly classified. It is enough to present the following fact. Sotsialno-ekonomicheskoe polozhenie Turkmenistana, a report on the socioeconomic situation in Turkmenistan which is drawn up monthly (at the end of the year under review) by the National Institute of State Statistics and Information, is available only to those on a special list approved by the country's vice premier (or with his special written permission). This brochure consisting of 70-100 pages, which contains supposedly "secret information," can be bought for five dollars, with special permission of course.
Unfortunately, the Turkmenistan leadership does not understand that by doing this it is primarily harming itself and the country as a whole, and in no way the world community. For when there is no information, serious doubts inevitably arise about the authenticity of glowing reports on the constant improvement of the country's socioeconomic situation as a whole and its population in particular. Several of Saparmurad Niyazov's statements note that the annual income of one person at the turn of the 21st century amounted to $2,500-2,800, and by 2010 would reach $12,000-13,000. Moreover, at a meeting of the National Council (19 October, 2001), the President noted that "in 2001, in Turkmenistan, per capita production amounted to $4,085, and in 1991 to $1,260."
An elementary arithmetical calculation of such macroeconomic parameters published by the official statistics demonstrates the inaccuracy of these claims. The data of the National Institute of State Statistics and Information show that the GDP in 2001 amounted to 31 trillion manats (the country's currency unit). Thus, with a population of 5.56 million, per capita income constitutes 5.58 million manats. Even at the official exchange rate set several years ago by the Central Bank (5,200 manats to one dollar), this income does not exceed $1,003. But if we take the market exchange rate of 22,500 manats to one dollar as the basis for the calculation (and this approach, based on a real evaluation of the state of the Turkmenistan economy, is the most justified), per capita income does not even reach $250.
An extremely serious social (and economic) issue is the demographic problem, which the country's leading circles are very negligent about resolving. According to official sources, the average annual increase in the size of the population in recent years amounts to almost 4% (!), and as of 1 January, 2002, as noted above, it reached 5.56 million people, which is considered a great achievement. According to President Niyazov, it will prospectively allow the desert regions of the country to be settled. But nowhere is it even mentioned that a rapid increase in the number of residents without their necessary social support will lead not only to relative, but also so absolute impoverishment of a significant portion of the population, particularly in the rural areas (54% of the country's citizens), and to an increase in unemployment. At present, the economically active population constitutes approximately half of the country's residents, and unemployment, according to official data, is 10% (according to our estimates, it exceeds 25%, in rural areas it reaches 50% and is clearly on the rise, particularly in light of President Niyazov's policy to restrict job opportunities for the non-Turkmen population).
Much is being said about the regular increase in salaries for budget sphere employees, pensions, and stipends. During recent years, there were two such increases: at the end of 1999 (according to official data, the average salary rose to 600,000 manats a month, that is approximately $30 according to the market rate) and from 1 March, 2001 to 950,000 manats, or a little more than $40 at the same rate. Incidentally, an increase from 600,000 to 950,000 manats in no way means a two-fold increase. Either the leadership does not know its arithmetic, or the average salary after 1999 was not 600,000 (as was set forth in the report by the National Institute of State Statistics and Information of Turkmenistan on the "Socioeconomic Situation in Turkmenistan for 2000"), but only 475,000 manats, which is closer to reality.
But few people beyond Turkmenistan know that when specific employees receive a pay raise, coefficients are applied which level out this raise (length of service at one enterprise should be no less than 10 years, the presence or absence of dependents, qualification level, and so on, not to mention unpublicized political factors-belonging to the titular nation, to a particular clan, etc.).
In the final analysis, the average salary of most of the population amounts to $20-30. Moreover, every raise is "gobbled up" by the constantly increasing prices on many foodstuffs (not to mention industrial consumer goods), which to an overwhelming degree not only the urban, but also the rural population of the country are forced to purchase on the markets. Finally, the macroeconomic calculation in no way accounts for inflation. According to official statistics alone, during the first ten months of 2001, its growth rates amounted to 6%. The leadership of the Ministry of Economics and Finances evaluates the relatively low increase in prices as the government's great achievement within the framework of President Niyazov's market reforms. But the data presented by Turkmen economists are not true. According to our estimates and the evaluations of experts from the representative offices of the World Bank and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the inflation growth rate for January-October 2001 exceeded 20%.
The Consequences of Turkmenization of Society
The striving to oust the non-Turkmen population from most spheres of industrial and public life is having a negative effect not only on the economy, but also on the social climate in the country, particularly taking into account that although Turkmen constitute the majority of the population (80%), a fifth, and this quite a large amount, is made up of national minorities. According to a population census conducted in 1995 (an attempt was made to classify the true information as much as possible, and in 1998, its results became completely closed to the public), Turkmen constituted 81% of the country's residents, Uzbeks-9%, Russians-3.5%, and further in descending order-Kazakhs, Azeris, Tatars, Baluchi, Armenians, and Ukrainians. Without going into the status of the entire non-Turkmen population (this is the topic of a separate study), we will look at the situation of ethnic Russians.
Unfortunately, a trend is clearly seen toward their displacement from essentially every sphere of the country's life. And attempts to present domestic policy as internationalist, aimed at a respectful attitude toward all nationalities, and toward their equality in all social spheres and before the law do not hold water. This is primarily confirmed by a corresponding special-purpose information policy, the essence of which is replacing the spiritual values developed during the long years of joint cultural development with Russia with the new ideological precepts of "Turkmenbashism." In practical terms, current information policy is called upon to assist in forming a new historical community-the Turkmen nation (isn't this reminiscent of the extinct community-the Soviet nation?), and this a priori excludes the existence of national-cultural autonomies or any national communes, since they could create a real threat to the very concept of "Turkmenbashism."
These ideas are particularly expressed in the purposeful reduction of the Russian-language information space. As early as 1997, the Russian editorial boards of local newspapers were eliminated in the provinces. Almost all Russian radio programs are no longer on the air (only the Mayak radio station continues to broadcast, but there are constant rumors that even it will be closed down). National television (where there are only two channels) still airs a daily evening 10-minute Russian news program about the country, as well as "well censored" and drastically abridged information of a Public Russian Television (ORT) broadcast from Moscow. One newspaper comes out in Russian (six times a week), Neitralniy Turkmenistan, which moreover only praises Turkmenbashi and is excruciatingly reminiscent of the Pravda of Soviet times. There are no Russian periodicals on sale, and the import of printed matter from Russia, even academic literature, into the country requires permission from the government (!). At times, things become downright ridiculous: in February 2001, Saparmurad Niyazov demanded all Cyrillic script to be removed from the computers of state institutions.
But at the same time, no one and nothing prevents the flow of information from other states, primarily from Turkey. The Central Asian Bureau of Turkey's State Television and Radio Service has been functioning for several years already, as well as the Turkish television channel Eurasia." The Turkmen editorial board of the Turkish newspaper Zaman is operating successfully, which comes out in the local and Turkish languages. Of course, the development of Turkmen-Turkish cooperation in the information sphere can only be welcomed, but it would be expedient to create similar conditions for the Russian mass media, particularly taking into account the ever-growing information dearth of the Russian-speaking population (and this not only applies to ethnic Russians, but also to the representatives of other nationalities, including Turkmen). The problem is that there is no legislation in Turkmenistan regulating the legal norms of foreign television broadcasting. As in many other spheres, decisions in this field are made directly by President Niyazov. So far he has given his personal consent only to the activity of the representative office of the Turkish state television and radio company.
It is natural that the residents of Turkmenistan, not wishing to settle only for national television programs (the artistic level of which also leaves much to be desired), also watch programs received by satellite, primarily Russian television programs. And this is not only in Ashghabad or in the provincial centers (where satellite antennas are installed on essentially every building), but also in rural areas. The problem is that it is a very expensive luxury, and not everyone can afford it. In Ashghabad, the population of which has reached 700,000 people, this applies to approximately half of the capital's residents, in the provinces, to almost 30%, and in rural areas, to approximately 10%.
In the humanitarian sphere, the idea of the exclusivity of the Turkmen nation and of its vast contribution to the development of world culture is cultivated. Works by Turkmen writers, poets, artists, and composers, as well as theatrical performances and movies are dedicated to this topic. At the same time, censorship is on the rise, called upon, if not to intercept, at least to minimize access to works which do not meet the official prerequisites, and encouraging albeit unprofessional creative works which extol the era of Turkmenbashi.
In the new education model, a clear departure is observed not only from Russian, but also from world standards. A transfer to 9-year secondary and 4-year higher education is underway at an accelerated pace. But this does not allow, first, the training of qualified specialists and, second, closes the way to Russian higher education institutions for Turkmen schoolchildren. In the final analysis, Turkmenbashi's orientation toward "young people should only love their homeland and know their national language" is leading to a significant lowering in the quality of the learning process. Most graduates not only of schools, but also of higher education institutions, have a very vague idea even of the basic disciplines (not to mention the special), which of course is having a direct effect on the professionalism of manufacturers and employees of state institutions. On the other hand, the ideology of "Turmenbashism" is being actively introduced. For example, since February 2001, a new subject has been introduced into the curriculum of the country's universities-"Saparmurad Turkmenbashi's Teachings on Society."
Similar processes are also occurring in the scientific field, where the principle of "departure from post-socialist science and its transformation into the science of the Turkmenbashi era" is being promoted. This principle is already being introduced into practice: scientists who obtained a higher education or spent a long time doing field work primarily in Russian universities, academic, and other scientific centers are being fired; and an official announcement has been made on the non-recognition of candidate's and doctor's degrees received outside Turkmenistan. Since the country's scientific institutions are subordinate to corresponding state institutions (ministries, departments, etc.), the same demands are made of them as of state apparatus employees, that is, primarily full support of the policy and teaching of Turkmenbashi, and their systematic implementation in practice.
Attempts are also being made to "Turkmenize" health care, even medical employees are being fired. For example, in 2001, 11,000 nurses and physicians were to be fired (whereby in a country that is in dire need of medical personnel), and instructions were given to translate all available medical literature into the Turkmen language. There is no doubt that these instructions cannot be carried out even if only because most special medical terms do not exist in the Turkmen language, and a return to Russian medical terminology is inevitable whether the government likes it or not.
On the whole, it is worth making special mention of the attitude toward the Russian language. Active reform of the linguistic sphere began after the above-mentioned translation of office work (since 1 January, 2000) into the Turkmen language, when Saparmurad Niyazov decreed that "the national revival of Turkmen is impossible without revival of the Turkmen language." Technically, as the president stressed, all residents of Turkmenistan who do not know the Turkmen language were given the opportunity to learn it. But in practice, this turned out to be a campaign conducted according to the principle "the rescue of a drowning man is the drowning man's own job." Moreover, nationalistic leaders from President Niyazov's entourage used the factor of not knowing the Turkmen language (or poor knowledge of it) as a means for putting pressure on unbefitting officials (which are usually Russian-speaking citizens of Turkmenistan and ethnic Russians). It went as far as President Niyazov abruptly interrupting leaders of any rank speaking in Russian at a Cabinet of Ministers meeting and demanding that they present their reports in the Turkmen language.
Turkmenbashi's linguistic policy is having the most negative effect on secondary schools and universities. Russian language faculties are closing at higher education institutions; of almost 2,000 secondary schools, there are only 70 left which provide full teaching in Russian (and the trend toward their reduction continues). In other schools, the Russian language is taught as a foreign language, with fewer hours of study, which also applies to the study of Russian literature. Russian history and geography have been excluded from the curriculum. This is all ultimately leading to a reduction in Russian-speaking teachers in the education system, particularly of those raised in the traditions and teaching methods of the Russian language in particular. This inevitably means that in twenty years or so the Russian language will essentially become obsolete not only in professional life, but to some extent even at the everyday level. This is in full keeping with Saparmurad Niyazov's order that "in independent Turkmenistan, the people should speak in their native language."
Admittedly, during the Turkmenistan president's visit to Russia (21 January, 2002), some positive changes in this process were designated. As Saparmurad Niyazov assured Vladimir Putin, "Turkmenistan actively supports the development of Russian schools, in so doing paying great attention to the question of language" and stressed that "Russia should also support the development of the Russian language in Turkmenistan and render assistance with text-books and literature." Of course, Vladimir Putin completely supported this approach to the problem, noting that "Russia can and should do a great deal in this area." According to the Russian president, this topic should be reviewed during the upcoming meeting of the bilateral intergovernmental commission. An extremely positive aspect was that during this visit an intergovernmental agreement was signed on the opening of a joint Russian-Turkmen general secondary school in Ashghabad to be named after Pushkin.
Unfortunately, there are serious doubts about the sincerity of Saparmurad Niyazov's statements that "Russia is a great country with which we have lived and evolved for centuries." In his words, a great deal has been done in Turkmenistan with Russia's participation, so its residents, neither before or after the collapse in the Soviet Union, have ever related superficially or antagonistically toward Russia, and a feeling of love and respect for the great Russian nation, its culture and literature is alive in the country. But the facts presented above show the opposite.
The actions of the Turkmen leadership in the humanitarian sphere graphically show a policy toward eliminating that part of the national intelligentsia which was raised on the values of Russian and world culture. In this way, space is being made for a social stratum which is totally devoted and entirely supports Saparmurad Niyazov. At the same time, the generally accepted norms and rules of culture are being replaced by the canons of "Turkembashism." The supreme manifestation of this process is the book Rukhnama approved at the meeting of the Khalk Maslakhaty (October 2001), written (as the meeting participants particularly stressed) "by the president of the country and called upon to become a kind of spiritual constitution of Turkmenistan."
This book is the quintessence of the revival of the grandeur of the national spirit (to be more precise-nationalism) and its introduction into the public consciousness of the Turkmen people. This unique spiritual code summarizes the life orientations of the state and was born, as President Niyazov noted, "to cultivate in the Turkmen people strength and grandeur of spirit." The book is a study of essentially all spheres of public life of the Turkmen nation and prescribes the "correct" norms of life, right down to everyday behavior. It should be said that its radical-nationalistic conceptions also have a religious flavor: some postulates of Rukhnama correlate with the provisions of the Koran and serve the basis for affirming the unshakable nature of Niyazov's power. Incidentally, some short-sighted Turkmen politicians hastened to christen this book the modern equivalent of the Koran. But many Muslim theologians of the Arab countries have openly opposed its distribution in the Islamic states, harshly reproaching Saparmurad Niyazov: "You can build your own policy, but don't touch Islam and the Koran."
The postulates on which Rukhnama is based preach the sacral idea that Turkmenbashi has been preordained from above to become the nation's leader and bring it to prosperity in the "golden 21st century of the Turkmen nation." Such precepts, which are in some way reminiscent of the moral code of the builder of communism, are the complete opposite of the president's previous assertions that "Turkmenistan does not intend and will not make any ideological or religious factors the basis of its policy." All of this confirms that the actions of the country's leadership in the ideological sphere are directly aimed at supporting and reinforcing an authoritarian system of rule and are giving Saparmurad Niyazov's personality cult increasingly hypertrophied features.
* * *
An analysis of Saparmurad Niyazov's domestic, including social, policy shows that the president's actions are aimed at the purposeful embodiment of extremely nationalistic precepts called upon to reinforce Turkmenbashi's personal power. The so-called democratic transformations he declares are purely superficial and cosmetic in nature and do not have anything in common with the real democratic values recognized in the world community. The slogan declared by the president, "Our current policy is high democracy," is designed to create the impression in the world community that Turkmenistan is building a genuinely democratic society, but is moving toward it in its own way, that is, taking into account the national features and mentality of the Turkmen people. But this approach only reflects the striving to retain and strengthen the foundation of the current totalitarian regime. In this respect, we cannot rule out that an increase in authoritarianism, active propaganda of the impeccable nature of President Niyazov's ideas and deeds, and his deification will cause an increase in inarticulate irritation and discontent in the broad strata of the country's population, which has not yet escalated into open criticism of the regime only because the leading circles are taking strict forceful measures to suppress it.