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dictator's book paid for by international corporations

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  • Greg Cannon
    A Turkmen Tome Gets Foreign Aid Corporate Patrons Help Spread the Writing of President for Life By Peter Finn Washington Post Foreign Service Wednesday,
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 23, 2005
      A Turkmen Tome Gets Foreign Aid
      Corporate Patrons Help Spread the Writing of
      'President for Life'

      By Peter Finn
      Washington Post Foreign Service
      Wednesday, February 23, 2005; Page A13

      MOSCOW -- In Sicily, a reception was held recently to
      launch the Italian translation of a controversial book
      written by Saparmurad Niyazov, dictator and "president
      for life" of Turkmenistan. In Amsterdam, a Dutch
      translation of the book was unveiled at a party in a
      historic 17th-century house.

      The various releases this month of the two-volume
      "Book of Spirit" -- "Ruhnama" in Turkmen -- are part
      of an international drive to boost the book's
      circulation as well as what the government-controlled
      Turkmen media call a "victorious march around the
      world" by the author-president, 65, also known in his
      country as Turkmenbashi the Great.

      The book contains Niyazov's moral code as well as his
      philosophical and historical musings. Its translation
      into 30 languages and publication outside Turkmenistan
      have been underwritten by international firms doing
      business in the natural gas-rich Central Asian
      republic, according to Turkmen media reports, exiled
      opposition groups and a number of the companies
      involved that were contacted by The Washington Post.

      Human rights groups say the book is at the center of
      Niyazov's cult of personality and is ravaging
      educational and cultural life in his country. Almost
      everyone in Turkmenistan is compelled to study the
      book and pass exams about it, and the country's
      libraries have largely been emptied to leave little
      but the Ruhnama and Niyazov's collections of poetry.
      This month, Niyazov ordered most libraries in
      Turkmenistan closed, according to Russian news

      "If the Ruhnama were a benign text, like the memoirs
      of a U.S. president, this would be harmless, but the
      Ruhnama is the principal instrument for indoctrination
      and brainwashing in Turkmenistan," said Erika Dailey,
      a specialist on the country at the Open Society
      Institute in Budapest. "Companies cannot ignore that
      and they have to be called to account."

      Those involved in the translation and publication of
      the book, however, described their efforts as

      "We sponsored it for inter-cultural understanding,"
      said Arantxa Doerrie, a spokeswoman for Zeppelin
      Baumaschinen, a German machinery company that
      translated the second volume of the book and presented
      it to Niyazov this month. The company plans to
      distribute the book in Germany, she said.

      "In principle, yes, it is a dictatorship," Doerrie
      said, "but simultaneously we see that very much is
      being done to help the people there -- for the
      infrastructure with the building of streets, for
      example. That is what we understand. We sell building
      equipment, so yes, there is a market for us there, but
      we see our contribution as a way to help the people

      Niyazov, who allowed the United States to use his
      country's airspace during the war in Afghanistan, has
      been in power since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
      He tolerates no dissent and has turned the country of
      5 million into a monument to himself.

      The president's image adorns vodka bottles and is
      shown constantly in the top right corner on national
      television. A 36-foot-tall, gold-leaf statue of the
      president rotates atop a 250-foot base to follow the
      sun. The streets of the capital, Ashkhabad, are shut
      down when he chooses to whiz around town in one of his
      cars. And he has renamed months of the year after
      himself, his mother and his book.

      Niyazov appeared in a 90-minute live broadcast from
      one of his palaces last September to read from his new
      poetry collection, "The Spring of Inspiration." He
      also interrupts government meetings to recite his
      poems, including a session last May when he told his
      military leadership that he had some verse about the
      dangers facing the country:

      Be vigilant and be cautious, that is my request to you

      Even when you and your country are facing luck

      And you are as mighty as King Solomon

      And when you feel yourself strong

      Be aware, for there are many traitors with traps to

      Foreign distribution of the Ruhnama began several
      years ago.

      "Dear Mr. President," wrote a director of the Finnish
      electricity concern Ensto in a letter last year. "The
      publication of your book will undoubtedly serve as a
      stimulus for the development of relations between our
      countries. It will allow for close acquaintance with
      the culture and national traditions of your people,
      and the political principles of Turkmenistan. . . .
      The international industrial concern has an important
      role in the manufacture and maintenance of energy

      The company's chief executive, Seppo Martikainen, said
      in a telephone interview that the company now planned
      to translate the book only for its employees. "The
      situation has changed," he said. "We had discussion on
      how far we should go with this, and it's only for our
      own use."

      The Irish firm Emerol, which has contracts in
      Turkmenistan worth tens of millions of dollars,
      published the book in Lithuanian -- one of its
      directors is Lithuanian, according to company
      registration documents filed in Dublin.

      DaimlerChrysler, the automobile giant based in
      Stuttgart, Germany, and Auburn Hills, Mich., sells
      ambulances and other vehicles to the Turkmen
      government. The firm published the first volume of the
      Ruhnama in November 2003.

      "I can tell you that employees of DaimlerChrysler
      translated the book," said Ursula Mertzig-Stein, a
      company official. "A contract was signed and the book
      was presented to the leader." She said the company did
      not otherwise publish books but noted that "there are,
      I believe, not many other heads of state who are
      authors." She declined to be quoted on the human
      rights situation in Turkmenistan.

      When a translation is complete, the book is launched
      abroad with coverage in the Turkmen media.

      "Millions of readers whose mother tongue is Italian
      are looking forward to an opportunity to [get in]
      touch with the great history of the ancient Turkmen,"
      reported the State Information Agency of Turkmenistan
      after this month's reception in Sicily, which was
      attended by local schoolchildren.

      A sales representative for an Italian water company
      with major contracts in Turkmenistan organized the
      Italian translation.

      Turkmen opposition leaders say they are dismayed by
      what they see as a cynical quid pro quo -- books for

      "Having millions of copies of his nonsense in various
      languages is immoral when children in school have no
      textbooks," said Khudaiberdy Orazov, a former deputy
      prime minister under Niyazov. He is now in exile in
      Sweden, where he leads the opposition group Watan.

      "For these companies, who should know better, it's
      unforgivable," he said.

      A spokesman for the Turkmen Embassy in Moscow said the
      companies were under no obligation to publish the
      president's work and acted on their own initiative.

      "Who can prohibit this if they wanted to do it of
      their own free will?" said Grigory Kolozin, the
      embassy spokesman. "The Turkmen leadership approaches
      the issue of making contracts with foreign companies
      on the basis of pragmatism."

      "We felt it was only polite to do it," said Imre
      Sesztak, head of the gas industry firm Turbo Team in
      Hungary, which paid for the publication of 1,000
      copies of the book in Hungarian in October. "People
      know very little about Turkmenistan, so we feel we're
      spreading information."

      Russian news media reported recently that the energy
      giant Gazprom, which has been involved in a dispute
      with Niyazov over huge natural gas contracts, is
      behind a recent proposal by a number of renowned
      Russian poets to translate the president's poems into
      Russian. The offer kicked up a literary storm.
      Alexander Tkachenko, general director of the Russian
      PEN center, condemned the offer as a "disgrace and a
      shame." He also said that Niyazov's "gibberish is
      impossible to translate."

      A Gazprom spokeswoman said the report was untrue. One
      of the poets, Mikhail Sinelnikov, would say only that
      "a sponsor with business interests," whom he declined
      to identify, had suggested that they write to Niyazov
      offering to translate his work. The poets, who had
      planned a volume of classical Turkmen poetry, now
      suspect they were hoodwinked into a second project.

      "We made ourselves targets by signing this in haste,"
      said poet Yevgeny Rein, who co-signed a letter to
      Niyazov that read, "Your verses about mother, moral
      purity, about family and statehood have become secular
      prayers in the life of Turkmens. Their publication in
      Russian would raise the significance of poetry."

      Special correspondents Shannon Smiley in Berlin, Stacy
      Meichtry in Rome and Kriszta Fenyo in Budapest
      contributed to this report.
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