Turkmenistan must be the most mysterious country on the whole of the post-Soviet territory
Over the whole period of its independence (Turkmenistan celebrated the 12th anniversary of independence on October 27), the Central Asian country has become the model of the most flagrant dictatorship for some people, and the symbol of prosperity - for others. The former have mostly succeeded in formation of stereotypes in the public conscience. At least, many of Turkmenistan president's actions mentioned in the Russian mass media look at least strange. It has been already reported that the Turkmen president wrote a book and made students at all higher education institutions of the country study the book (at the same time, the number of higher education institutions is speedily decreasing in the republic); we have heard of record harvest of wheat that the Turkmen president grew in his estate; then information appeared that foreigners wishing to marry Turkmen women had to pay $5,000 as redemption, and so on.
However, the main achievement of Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov is that the state of Turkmenistan is now inseparably linked with his name. Turkmenbashi (this is how the president is called in the republic) means for Turkmenistan more than the flag, the national emblem and the anthem. It is not clear whether this is good or bad, but within the past 12 years and even longer the president has inured everybody to the idea that the country cannot live without his experienced leadership. This astonishing result can be achieved either by a tyrant who has intimidated people into the loss of self-respect or by a genius who enjoys the universal confidence of the Turkmen population. We want to believe that Turkmenistan population is lucky and has an outstanding political figure at head of the country. History knows just few political leaders who could be characterized this way. This is the problem of all the post-Soviet countries.
So, what are the achievements of Turkmenistan fixed over the period of Turkmenbashi being at head of the country? This is the world highest GDP growth that made up the fantastic 19 per cent in 2001. According to official data, over 700 factories and plants have been built in the country; the textile industry has been revived. The Turkmen population is supplied with free gas, electricity, drinking water and salt. What is more, the government supplies families having scanty means with free flour. Medical services are available to all layers of the population irrespective of their income. The Turkmen capital, Ashkhabad is now the most beautiful city in Central Asia. Finally, Turkmenistan is a neutral country that helps it avoid involving into different international conflicts (with the exception of the Caspian Sea water area's division).
These are Turkmenistan achievements briefly enumerated. In other words, this is what see and discuss the official propaganda and Niyazov's supporters.
However, critics of the incumbent regime point out quite different problems. The average wage in Turkmenistan is not higher than $30 per month. The widely advertised growth of pensions, allowances paid at higher education institutions and wages does not keep with the inflation that makes up not more than 6 per cent as stated by official sources but at the same time reaches 20 per cent according to unofficial sources (the information fixed in 2001). The absolute majority of Turkmenistan population is provided with essential goods only and drags out a miserable existence. The situation of ethnic minorities in the country has radically changed for the worse. For instance, it is impossible to buy Russian periodicals in Turkmenistan; the only newspaper published in the Russian language is Neutral Turkmenistan, the poorest sample of the official press. The government policy aimed at forcing people of non-Turkmen nationality out of the state structures and other spheres resulted in the deficit of highly-qualified experts. The quality of education has seriously worsened on all levels because education is now mostly focused on study of the Rukhnam book, the work allegedly written by Turkmenbashi personally.
The list of achievements or failures of Turkmenistan authorities made within the past 12 years can be supplied with more examples. This also concerns other former Soviet republics. After all, all of them are very much alike. So, at least in this respect Turkmenistan is a unique country.