Monday, February 24, 2020

Amazingly, Even Turkmenistan President has Become Object of Satire

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 18 – Ever since Tom Lehrer stopped writing his classic songs because he said there was “no room in the world for satire after Henry Kissinger received the Nobel Peace Prize,” politicians around the world have kept raising – or is it lowering? – the bar to being satirized as ever more people say of them and their actions, “you can’t make this up.”

            One politician who has seem especially protected from being satirized because of the very outrageousness of his own behavior is Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov, the often outrageous president of Turkmenistan since 2007. But now satirists from the US and Russia have risen to the challenge – but none yet in his own country where doing so would be dangerous.

            Last summer, John Oliver on the US show Last Week Tonight and Trevor Noah on The Daily Show made fun of Berdymukhamedov. (The clips are embedded in a report on this trend at These efforts were followed in January by equally stinging satires on the Turkmenistan president on Moscow television and on a Russian satirical portal (

            But given the Internet, materials from these and other sources circulate back even into Turkmenistan.  The problem is that what the Turkmenistan dictator does is often so close to the satire that it is difficult to tell them apart. For example, consider just these two reports:

            According to one, “Turkmenistan has asked CIS countries permission to ship women in suitcases explaining this as one of its national traditions.” According to another, officials in one Turkmenistan district have been ordered to go gray if they are over 40 so that the president who is graying won’t look especially old.

            The first of these is a satire; the second is a true story. (For details, see It has often been observed that a dictator can put up with almost anything except being laughed it. With the Internet, satire can’t be kept out of Turkmenistan, and Berdymuhamedov should be worried. 

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