Since taking over this year, new Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has been viewed as a hopeful reformer who might open up one of the world's most repressive societies. But a new order to remove all private satellite dishes from homes in Ashgabat - which critics say could block access to independent information - is quickly tarnishing that image.
The article made me ask myself: Is the West really so naive as to believe in the liberalism of a man who was indoctrinated by Soviet propaganda for several decades, and who later participated in the creation of one of the most repressive regimes in the world? Can the reinstatement of pensions, 10-year schooling, or the abolition of the daily obligation to pledge allegiance to the president be considered as really liberal moves?
This reminds me of when Vladimir Putin was first elected. For the first few years he was depicted as a liberal who would reform Russia. And what was the result? From the relatively liberal country that Russia used to be during Yeltsin's rule, it was transformed into an authoritarian state ruled by the secret service, gradually isolating itself and hoping for a return to "Soviet grandeur". However, when writing about ‘Putin-the-liberal', no one asked the simple question: can a former KGB officer (although "there are no former KGB officers" as Russians like to say) be a liberal?
The same question should be asked in relation to Berdymukhammedov. Can a man who went to a Soviet university, spent half of his life as a faithful servant at the court of Turkmenbashi and never travelled abroad for more than a few days be liberal? I will risk saying that he doesn't even know the meaning of the word.
The west still has confidence in him [...]. But when they realise that he's not interested in democratisation, they will start criticising, and with increasing harshness. What will be the result? Berdymukhammedov - like Islam Karimov or Nursultan Nazarbaev - will feel offended by the west and choose to cooperate with Russia and China. Why? Because for him liberalisation and democratisation is what we now see happening in Turkmenistan. He knows no other liberalisation and can't even begin to imagine it."