Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Make a New Plan Stan

As someone interested in government websites, I thought it might be useful to look at the officially sanctioned homepages of two resource-rich countries from the former Soviet Union that are currently aiding the U.S. in the War on Terror: one surreal (Turkmenistan) and the other formerly corrupt (Kyrgyzstan).

The official website of Turkmenistan (loads better in Explorer) originates in a country known to policy wonks as the personal fiefdom of megalomaniacal President Saparmurat Niyazov. Niyazov is the author of the nationalist text at the heart of the entire educational curriculum, the Ruhnama, a work that combines many genres (autobiography, ethnic mythology, and pseudophilosophy), which is helpfully available in translation in several languages on the website. (Click the image below to make it large enough to read!)

In fact, the "Holy Ruhnama" is given a website position considerably more exhalted than information about the economy, trade, demographics, or government. In Turkmenistan, the Ruhnama is the subject of several serious contests in which everyone from schoolchildren to judges must compete (and at least one parody competition).

Not so prominently explained is the fact that Niyazov or "Turkmenbashi," as he is also known, has placed a golden statue of himself in the capital that turns to face the sunlight as the day progresses. He has also named months after himself and his mother, banned beards, lip synching, and gold teeth (along with political dissent), and has made discussion of the plague illegal. For those who enjoy White House press conferences, there is a weekly blog maintained by the State Information Agency that is worth a visit if only for the aphorisms in the sidebar like "Victory with the smell of bread!" and "Only purity can elevate our people!"

The website of Kyrgyzstan is also a marvel of golden statuary and heroic views of the steppes. Former president Askar Akayev currently faces an F.B.I. investigation into corruption. (U.S. troops are stationed in Kyrgyzstan, thanks to a mysteriously generous Pentagon oil deal, according to "Pentagon Fuel Deal is Lesson in Risks in Graft-Prone Regions," which appeared in a recent New York Times.) The homepage makes clear that it seeks to attract online "members" from foreign communities to the website's special features, perhaps to better explain the nation's role in the Great Silk Road Region. Unlike the website of Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan has a live "comments" section for visitors, although there are "0" posts in all areas, and this has been true for months.

(To learn more about both countries, you can visit the CIA Factbook, where the intelligence is agreed to be actually quite accurate. And while you are at it, you can check out the new website of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and enjoy ads for North Korean cars and MP3 files with folk songs, or you can visit the original North Korean site that is still being updated.)

In comparison to these august and glorious countries, the website of Prime Minister Villepin of France looks positively slapdash in its informality, with its tabloid graphics and news magazine style banners.

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