Staunton, February 2 – Semyon Reznik, an opposition deputy in St. Petersburg’s legislative assembly, says the best way to understand what is happening in Russia in the waning years of Vladimir Putin is the “’Turkmenbashi-ization’” of the country, a reference to the brutal and curious rule of Saparmurat Niyazov over Turkmenistan.
“We live in conditions of victorious authoritarianism,” he said recently, “and today we are being offered in essence a chance to affirm Vyacheslav Volodin’s formula, ‘Where there is Putin, there is Russia; where he isn’t, Russia isn’t either.’ That is, for the rule without end of the present president” (golos-ameriki.ru/a/russia-parlamentarism/5268750.html).
What is important to remember is that “all this is taking place not at the same time. One must not say that before this we lived under conditions of developed democracy. All these years, democratic procedures have been compromised, and rights and freedoms restricted … Now we see an attempt to keep a specific individual who has already led the country in power forever.”
The most adequate description of this process is “’the Turkmenbashi-izaiton’” of Russia, the transformation of the country in the direction of the brutal and eccentric ruler of Turkmenistan who built statues to himself even as he destroyed all political life around him in order to remain in office.
Russians are suffering something similar, Reznik continues. Those who might be in a position to assume positions of responsibility have been destroyed or marginalized or exiled. “We saw this in the recent Moscow elections, and I think we will observe this with a refusal to register Navalny’s party, Gudkov’s party, the problems of Yabloko and so on.”
“It is impossible to discuss the history and future of parliamentarianism in the absence of democracy. These things are interrelated,” the deputy says. But just like Niyazov in Turkmenistan, Putin and his team “over the course of may years have destroyed any political competition and continue to do so.”
But what is especially noteworthy is the way in which Putin himself increasingly resembles the late Niyazov in making himself irreplaceable by destroying all those who could do so. More than that, the Russian leader like the Turkmenistan one, “wants to rule on everything but not to be responsible for anything.”
“He wants to be involved with everything. Ballet, the Olympics, and big construction projects, he wants to teach history to everyone, to educate the whole role, and to threaten everyone with his fingers.” But at the same time, he doesn’t want to take responsibility for anything people turn out not to like, such as the pension reform.
The Turkmenbashi before his death erected a gold statue of himself that rotated so it always faced the sun, he changed the names of the months to honor his family members, he devastated the country with massive projects, and he used brutality and psychiatric prisons to maintain himself. (For a description of Niyazov, see theguardian.com/world/2006/dec/21/1).
Putin hasn’t yet erected a gold statue yet, but he has taken some of the other steps “the father of the Turkmens” did. And once he is president for life as Niyazov became in 1999, Putin may move even further in the horrific and absurd directions of the man Reznik suggests he all too much resembles.