When Saparmurat Niyazov became president of Turkmenistan, he commissioned a 12-meter gold-plated statue of himself that rotated always to face the sun. That was actually one of his more modest decrees. Others:
- He had his parliament officially name him Turkmenbashi, “father of all Turkmens.”
- He named streets, schools, airports, farms, and people after himself, as well as vodka, a meteorite, the country’s second largest city, and a television channel.
- He banned the Hippocratic oath and demanded that doctors swear allegiance to him.
- His autobiography, the Rukhnama (“book of souls”), was studied in schools and became a textbook in other subjects, such as history and geography. Libraries, now superfluous, were closed.
- Gold-plated statues to him were erected throughout the country.
- He banned ballet, opera, public smoking, lip syncing, beards, gold teeth, recorded music, health care in rural areas, and car radios.
- He planned the construction of a “palace of ice” and penguin enclosure so that residents of the desert could learn to skate.
- He decreed that the word old must not be applied to people — when one turns 61 he enters “the prophetic age,” and 73 marks “the inspired age.”
- He applied the name Gurbansoltan Edzhe (“the Turkmen heroine”) to his mother, a women’s magazine, the year 2003, April, and bread.
“I’m personally against seeing my pictures and statues in the streets,” he said, “but it’s what the people want.”