Friday, September 7, 2018

Turkmenistan – A Totalitarian Country Without an Image of an Enemy

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 7 – No country in the post-Soviet space receives less coverage in the West than Turkmenistan at least in part because the media outlets in that country do not behave the way they do elsewhere and thus do not provide the kind of information that directly or indirectly can help outsiders understand what is going on. 

            In a new Kazakhstan commentary, which draws on articles in the Western media about Turkmenistan as well as the Turkmenistan files of the Fergana news agency, journalist Roman Ivanov offers three insights into the nature of Turkmenistan’s media and thus into Turkmenistan itself (

            First of all, he says, in Turkmenistan, there is no such thing as the kind of media which exist elsewhere. “What are called the media there,” he continues, “in fact play a decorative role, an embellishment for the regime and an inexhaustible source of jokes for foreigners” but seldom any news in the usual sense.

            That is especially true, Ivanov says, with regard to the official media which do not provide any information on crime, accidents, or indeed anything negative. There is almost no world news and in general there is no mention of the opposition.”

            Second, Turkmens no longer believe either the official press or the opposition media either.  Ever more often, travelers report, “the people consider that neither the one nor the other show a true picture” of what is going on.  But this lack of trust in any media extends to friends and family as well.

            No one trusts anyone else, Ivanov says, “neither the powers that be, nor the banned opposition sources, nor even their own friends and neighbors.” Instead, they rely on rumors, some put out by the authorities but most created by the people themselves, rumors that have little or no relationship to reality.

            And third – and Ivanov stresses that this is “the most interesting” aspect of media in Turkmenistan – the media there “unlike the typical media of totalitarian states does not offer an image of the enemy, neither external nor internal.” Instead, outlets promote the idea that “neither other countries nor the opposition prevent the flourishing of the Turkmen state.”

            No one is accused of causing problems, Ivanov says; instead, the media simply do not say anything at all. 

            That makes Turkmenistan an outlier among totalitarian states given that all other ones in this category rely on the image of enemies foreign and domestic to mobilize the population; and thus this isolated Central Asian country raises the question as to whether the image of an enemy is as necessary for totalitarian mobilization as most theorists believe.

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