Review: “Turkmenistan’s Foreign Policy: Positive Neutrality and the Consolidation of the Turkmen Regime” – Luca Anceschi

Luca Anceschi’s “Turkmenistan’s Foreign Policy: Positive Neutrality and the Consolidation of the Turkmen Regime” was another swing and a miss by Routledge.

Just like Irina Y. Morozova’s “Socialist Revolutions in Asia,” the subject of Anceschi’s book, i.e., Turkmenistan’s doctrine of Positive Neutrality, is of great interest to me. Since the overthrow of the USSR in 1991, Central Asia has been plagued with instability, including civil wars in Afghanistan and Tajikistan, ethnic violence and state failure in Kyrgyzstan, and Islamic fundamentalism in Uzbekistan. Turkmenistan, however, under the megalomaniac President-for-Life Saparmurat Niyazov (1940-2006), has occupied a rather peculiar place politically in the region. An analysis of Turkmenistan’s UN-recognized neutrality I had hoped would provide valuable insight into the class struggle in Turkmenistan.

Unfortunately, like most Western liberal political analyses, Anceschi’s book does everything but that. Throughout the book Anceschi seems more interested in colouring between the lines imposed by Western academia than offering any valuable insight into Turkmenistan. For all his political analysis, Anceschi fails to connect Turkmenistan’s Positive Neutrality to conditions existing within Turkmenistan. Even the chapter on Turkmenistan’s “Economic Foreign Policy” offers little beyond abstract analysis of “the problem of continuity and change in Turkmen foreign policy making” (p. 64). This is a major handicap of Anceschi’s book and Western academia. Since any discussion of class, class struggle, capitalism, imperialism, etc. is forbidden lest it threaten Western interests, books like Anceschi’s are limited to exercises in political philosophizing. Moreover, to ensure his material passes the censorship of Western academia, the quality of Anceschi’s political analysis is further weakened by such cliches as comparing Niyazov to Stalin. It is a documented fact that Stalin was against the cult of personality around himself. According to S. Davies, Stalin repeatedly “spoke out explicitly against the formation of the cult around himself”: “In speeches of the 1930s, Stalin repeatedly deemphasized the role of leaders (vozhdi) accentuating instead the key historical importance of broader social forces. Thus he affirmed in February 1933 to the First Congress of collective farm shockworkers (kolkhozniki-udarniki) that the time had long passed when vozhdi were considered the only creators of history. The history of states was now decided primarily by millions of workers.” This is in stark contrast to Niyazov, who renamed cities, streets, mosques, collective farms, celestial bodies, and even days and months of the calendar after himself and redefined the age of man! To claim that Stalin and Niyazov were both examples of Weberian sultanism is simply liberal hogwash.

Anceschi’s conclusion, that Turkmenistan’s doctrine of Positive Neutrality, is a “domestically-orientated foreign policy,” i.e., intended more to strengthen and consolidate the regime within Turkmenistan than have any meaningful impact on international affairs, is hardly a ground-breaking discovery. Bruce Pannier’s article in Radio Free Europe is just as good at Anceschi’s book but also way less expensive and quicker to read.

This book could have been much better.

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