Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Eight Ways Leader Cults Spreading Across Former Soviet Space

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 29 – Now that Vladimir Putin’s followers have their own equivalent of Mao Zedong’s little red book, more people are considering that ways in which he and other leaders in some of the post-Soviet states are promoting their own “cults of personality” to the point of absurdity.

            In a commentary on the portal, Moscow commentator Sabirzhan Badretdinov points to eight ways in which these cults are developing along what he describes as “the path to idiocy” and one that in an Internet age is as likely to provoke ridicule as respect (

            Cults of personality, he suggests, emerge and grow “approximately in the following way:”

            First, the leaders are given panegyric titles such as leader for life.  Turkmenistan’s former dictator Saparmurad Niyazov and his successor Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov have taken the lead in this and forced their subjects to call them “Turkmenbashy” in the first case and “leader of the nation” in the second.

            Second, such leaders encourage the development of songs, poems and other popular shows of support. Among them, Russia’s Vladimir Putin is a leader, encouraging Russians to sing songs about him and to write poems about his exploits.

            Third, almost all such leaders collect their sayings and require their subordinates to read and memorize them. Putin’s latest little brown book is only the latest.

            Fourth, they arrange to have statues and monuments erected to them even during their own lifetimes.  Turkmenistan’s leaders again are in first place in this regard in the post-Soviet space, but even in Russia, there are monuments going up to Putin.

            Fifth, they rename major cities in their own honor.  Turkmenistan has done this, without apparently recalling the fact that in 1982, Naberezhny Chelny was renamed for Leonid Brezhnev, only to see its original name restored six years later.

            Sixth, such leaders have their pictures put on the national currency. And seventh, they change the calendar so that their peoples will count time from the date of birth of the leader.  So far, the post-Soviet states have lagged in this regard, bur North Korea’s Kims have shown the way forward.

            And eighth, they encourage rumors and testimonials to the divine qualities of the leader.  Again, among post-Soviet leaders, Turkmenistan’s dictators have been at the forefront of this; but others, including Putin, are not so far behind with religious elites on occasion even encouraging this trend.

            As Badretdinov points out, “these states do not need to be introduced strictly chronologically one after the other, but on the whole, the follow approximately this list.” The cult begins “with comparatively harmless shows of respect and honor to the leader but with time acquires ever more obsequious and servile aspects and ends in complete idiocy.”

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