Lecture Hopping: the second President of the day

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Lee Bollinger, we are forced to conclude, is a superhero. He talked with the Presidents of Malawi and Turkmenistan this morning, took on Ahmadinejad this afternoon, and is now teaching his class. Alexandra Muhler was there for Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov.

jhWith all the trouble coming out of Central Asia recently, it’s nice to return to the Central Asia we knew last November, when Borat “taught” us all about the region’s questionable English and surrealist authoritarian government. This morning, at Casa Italiana, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov (Bollinger garbled it out as

bair-dee-moo-hah-MAY-doff, which I’ll assume is an acceptable pronunciation) brought second-rate Powerpoint and funny hats to the World Leaders Forum.

Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov is a monotonous speaker, who occasionally adds emphasis by raising and dropping his voice the way one would pinch up a piece of loose skin and watch it snap back.  Thus I was thankful that his entourage had designed a Powerpoint presentation to accompany him.  The Powerpoint was everything it should have been: multiple silent videos of the “come visit/invest in some country you’ve never heard of” genre. Steppe horsemen and dancers in traditional garb cut to footage of gleaming buildings and children using laptops.  More unexpectedly, one clip on the natural gas extraction slide seemed to come from a black and white silent film pantomime. The stationary aspects of the slides kept pace with such absurdities.  The titles celebrated Turkmenistan‘s “independency” and the capital, Ashgabat (sounds rather like Jagshemash, no?), which “is as beautiful in daytime…so in night.”

All provincialness aside, President Berdymukhamedov was much like other leaders who speak at Columbia. He brushed over unpleasant questions (on his fraudulent election, Turkmenistan‘s butt-boy relationship with Russia, etc) with outright lies and redirections to barely related parts of his bland speech.  For example, when a student asked what the president was doing to ensure freedom of speech, Berdymukhamedov responded that Turkmenistan “never had any professional repression of the press” and, as if to prove his point, that students had their own newspaper. When he paused, and a new questioner began to speak, Berdymukhamedov bellowed of the paper’s editor: “Moreover, I think he was a sophomore!”  

Which I, as a member of the class of 2010, found personally inspiring.  


  1. Anonymous  

    Thanks for the delightful piece on Turkmenistan. I also like fur hats.

  2. Anonymous

    Any mention of the late great Turkmenbashi, who renamed the days of the week and whose poetry was required reading in Turkmenistan's schools?

    • Anonymous  

      Yes, and it was one of the more entertaining moments of the forum!! Someone asked a question about whether Turkmenistan would do anything to undo the personality cult of the great Turk Daddy, which drew a response along the lines of (and through a startled translator): He is a part of our history, a great man for our nation, and we won't do anything to diminish his presence." Which I took to mean: Fuck off and mind your own damn business.

      Just priceless.

  3. yay  

    yay alexandra muhler!

  4. anna  

    gurbanguly!! nice to see him get some attention. it was pure propaganda (though the film stills with muskmelons, akhal-tekinskiiye horses, and turkmen rugs were nice) until the q and a period when he completely fell apart and proved that there is really no such thing as a reform agenda in turkmenistan. i did, however, get to meet the "director of turkmen national institute of democracy and human right under the president of turkmenistan" and she was...nice.

  5. Oh yeah!!

    Evo Morales.. president of Bolivia was at Cooper Union tonight

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