Turkmenistan’s authoritarian leader sought to burnish his strongman credentials this week by appearing in a propaganda video that portrays him as a sharp-shooting, knife-wielding, military man of action. He’s a former dentist. Guess what happens next.
In the video broadcast on state media Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov wears commando gear, dark sunglasses and sports a steely, determined look. He is seen expertly firing a rifle, throwing knives and calling in an airstrike to blow things up. A group of admiring men in fatigues applaud nearby.
The point of the exercise, according to Berdymukhammedov’s government, which released a statement after the video was broadcast, was to demonstrate the president’s “high level of military training” and “mastery of target shooting.”
However, an exiled, opposition publication saw it as an opportunity for mockery and produced an edited version that channels the 1985 movie Commando with Arnold Schwarzenegger, who plays a retired, special forces commander.
The theme tune to the movie plays in the parody version of the official video.
Like Russian President Vladimir Putin and other authoritarian leaders from North Korea to the Philippines, Berdymukhammedov appears to enjoy showmanship. Putin has released images and video of himself assisting in polar bear research, hunting Siberian tigers and riding horses — sometimes bare-chested — across remote Russian tundra.
Berdymukhammedov is by all accounts a talented guy. As well as being the president of the gas-rich Central Asian nation since 2006 — Turkmenistan declared its independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991 — he deejays, plays the guitar, sings emotionally-charged ballads and is pretty good at basketball, too.
Still, Turkmenistan has one of the world’s most repressive governments, according to Human Rights Watch, a United States-based research and advocacy group.