Thursday, December 21, 2006

Turkmenbashi and Abramovich leave their posts

Just heard that the President of Turkmenistan has died of a heart attack. He is the first to die of those post-soviet leaders (except maybe the chap in Azerbaijan, but he died slowly and could appoint an heir) who made themselves full dictators, with a plan to run the country for life. This he certainly did, though perhaps his life was shorter than planned. As the article says, he called everything after himself, from the Turkmenbashi (a name he adopted) kindergarten to the Turkmenbashi factory.

Only a few weeks ago I had chatted to a Turkmen lady living in Vilnius, who told me that the pensions in Turkmenistan had recently been cut, on account that the families should be responsible for their relatives. He also abolished the opera and ballet since they were not within the spirit of his nation. At one stage it was proposed that young women marrying foreigners had to pay about 50,000 dollars to the state to be allowed to leave, but apparently this could not be implemented realistically. Pictures of him, and a statue in gold, were everywhere. Turkmenistan has huge gas and oil reserves and is a very rich country, but where all that wealth goes, no-one knows. The Gross Domestic Product per person, according to the CIA world fact book, is 7900 USD per person per year. My friend's mother's pension was, before the cuts, 600 USD per year - a good pension, as she said....

And Mr Abramovich, owner of Chelsea football club and a large chunk of Siberia, where he is governor, is giving up politics. I hope this is good for his health. The deal was, according to some sources, that as a governor the Russia government could not do him over like Mr Khodorkovsky, owner of Yukos Oil , who had intended to be a presidential candidate in 2008, but who was thrown into prison on tax evasion charges about 2 years ago; his company was stripped from him, sold in a rather dubious transaction to another company, and the foreign parts of the company were dissolved. Apparently Mr Abramovich has sold most of his assets in Russia and intends to live in Europe, possibly London. He's probably between a rock and a hard place now - he will definitely not please Mr Putin. Will he have to look over his shoulder and into his teacups for the rest of his life?