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Nation-Creation – the Basis of Autocratic Stability in Turkmenistan

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Abstract

Until today largely isolated, Turkmenistan receives little attention in international media. And the majority of reports focus on its vast gas reserves and the country’s presidents’ extravagant cults of personality. This cult, however, is only the most visible part of a complex system of government controlled nation-creation. In a difficult neighbourhood and after a series of coloured revolutions in other post-soviet countries, the surprising stability of the Turkmen autocracy can in large parts be explained with the strict enforcement of this all-embracing nation-creation programme. Additionally the ruling elite stabilizes itself trough clientelist structures and derives further legitimacy from a neo-patrimonial system of distributing various goods free of charge. The final pillars of Turkmenistan’s political stability are the country’s voluntary international isolation and a powerful and omnipresent secret service that is aimed at producing an atmosphere of fear and constant surveillance among the population. When Turkmenistan became an independent state in 1991, it was without any national legacy. Therefore inventing national myths and traditions became important aspects of the nation building process. By renaming cities, landscapes or streets, “Soviet space” was turkmenified. Moreover a “golden history” of Turkmen nationhood was constructed as both, proof for the right of independence and to develop the incumbent president as legitimate successor of great ancient forefathers. He was established as omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient producer of apodictic truths. An exceptional governmental construction-boom in the country''s capital Ashgabat complements these efforts, aiming at the creation of pride among the population and supporting the clientelist structures.