Sunday, July 31, 2005

Dictator, I served with Joseph Stalin. I knew Joseph Stalin. Joseph Stalin was a friend of mine. Dictator, you're no Joseph Stalin.*

After reading about Stalin prohibiting marriages between Soviet citizens and foreigners, I wondered if there were any countries with similar restrictions today. Enter Turkmenistan, an all but closed society that from 2001 until earlier this year levied a $50,000 marriage tax against foreigners marrying a Turkmen citizen.

The country borders a founding member of the Axis of Evil, and seems to be looking for more than a Contact High of Evil itself: it is the only former Soviet republic in which no form of political opposition, not even a sly shake of the head at the local coffee shop, is allowed. This has benefited one man since 1985, Saparmurat Niyazov, the former Communist Party Leader of the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic and until recently President for Life. (There will be elections in 2009, he has declared. As for the level of debate you can expect during the campaign, well, in a country that outlaws opposition, it's sure to be interesting:

Niyazov: I think my opponent should be tortured and then shot.

Opponent: I agree. But perhaps we differ in our approach. Let me explain.)

According to the United States Embassy in Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan:

In the past some Americans have been told there is an oral decree of the Hakim (Mayor) of Ashgabat forbidding foreigners from marrying Turkmen citizens. Regardless of what you may be told, you can get married and you do not have to pay any "administrative fees" to do so. If you have any difficulties, please let us know.

Still, if you wish to marry a Turkmen woman, it will still cost you, if only in time. You must live in Turkmenistan for no less than one year before your marriage will be recognized by the Turkmen authorities.

*Title Disclaimer, through which the author explains that he isn't in fact on friendly terms with Joseph Stalin.