Corporate suckup watch

Companies interested in doing business in Turkmenistan are underwriting the translation into 30 languages of a book by the country’s maximum leader and president-for-life Saparmurad Niyazov, The Washington Post reports.

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.
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 grids.”

I imagine the queues to buy the book when it was published in Finnish stretched for several blocks outside Helsinki bookstores.

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.

The Post reports:

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 reports.

There is even a monument to the book in the capital Ashkhabad.


It’s worth noting that Turkmenistan is one of a cluster of repressive former Soviet states in Central Asia and the Caucacus that– despite President Bush’s recent rhetoric– have yet to receive the attention they deserve from Washington.

When Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee (R-R.I.) challenged Condoleezza Rice to explain why the administration looks the other way when it comes to countries with near-dictatorships, such as Russia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Pakistan, “while heaping scorn on nations with some level of elections, such as Venezuela and Iran,” she responded evasively.

“Some of this is a matter of trend lines and where countries have been and where they are now going,” Rice replied. Countries are “going to move at different speeds on this democracy test. I don’t think there is any doubt about that. But what we have to do is that we have to keep this item on the agenda.”

Whatever scorn the administration heaps on the regimes in Venezuela and Iran is largely deserved, in my opinion. But the “trend line” for Turkeministan obviously is not moving toward freedom or democracy at the moment. And dictators like Niyazov deserve no slack from the Bush administration.