You call yourself the People’s Horse Breeder? The strange titles world rulers give themselves | Stephen Moss

Turkmenistan’s authoritarian president Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov (aka the headline-writer’s friend) is in danger of becoming a figure of fun.Though not in Turkmenistan, of course, where he was re-elected with the support of 97% of the electorate in 2012.

It was a hard-fought election contested by seven other candidates, and marred only by the fact that most of them said they would be voting for President Berdymukhamedov, who likes to style himself Arkadag, or “Protector”, in a presumably unwitting nod to Oliver Cromwell.

Turkmenistan president wins re-election with 97% of vote

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But President Berdymukhamedov and this is where he may leave himself open to ridicule has now been awarded another title: the “People’s Horse Breeder”, which does not have quite the same Cromwellian ring.

The horse-mad leader of a horse-mad country was given the title at the weekend, appropriately enough to mark the Day of the Horse. “Our country is moving forward with the speed of an Akhal-Teke stallion and I call on you all to move forward and only forward,” he declared hoarsely.

While the People’s Horse Breeder may be an eccentric title, however, among national leaders past and present Berdymukhamedov is a novice when it comes to honorifics.Indeed, his predecessor Saparmurat Niyazov was far more self-aggrandising, styling himself Türkmenbaşy, or Leader of Turkmen, and renaming months after himself and members of his family.

Compared to such grandiosity, the People’s Horse Breeder, who happens to be a former dentist (the “People’s Dentist”?) has so far proved the soul of restraint.

Heads of state just can’t resist titles.Haile Selassie, the emperor of Ethiopia who accumulated a magnificent list of titles before being deposed in a coup in 1974, has a strong claim to be called the all-time king of bombast.

His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, King of Kings and Elect of God certainly takes some beating.

Haile Selassie, the emperor of Ethiopia, has a strong claim to be called the all-time king of bombast

The Pope is another strong contender: Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the Vatican City State, Servant of the Servants of God.

The Servants of God would be an excellent name for a rock band.

Then there is our own dear Queen.She has different titles in each of the 16 countries over which she reigns, though they are all variants on her convoluted UK job description: Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her Other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith.

We are sorry to have lost Colonel (why was he never promoted?) Gaddafi, Brotherly Leader and Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. Nicolae Ceausescu, the general secretary of the Romanian Communist party from 1965-89 who styled himself “Genius of the Carpathians”, was another sad loss.

Of current “strongmen”, we are quite taken with Yahya Jammeh, president of Gambia since a coup in 1994, and leader of the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction a name which might usefully be borrowed by whatever chaotic multi-party coalition emerges from next week’s electoral imbroglio in the UK.

Jammeh’s full title is His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr Yahya Abdul-Aziz Awal Jemus Junkung Jammeh Naasiru Deen Babili Mansa, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and Chief Custodian of the Sacred Constitution of the Gambia.

Jammeh’s title is certainly impressive set against those current autocrats who settle for the simple “Supreme Leader”, “Dear Leader” or “Leader of the Nation”.Such a nondescript appellation will never win popular approval.

If you have absolute power, express it in as baroque a nomenclature as you can.We would, though, caution demagogues against declaring themselves “President for Life”, as they are invariably overthrown, usually in bloody circumstances, after a couple of gaudy decades.

In a rich historical field there can, however, only be one winner.Dictatorial allcomers must bow before Ugandan president Idi Amin, who styled himself His Excellency, President for Life [sic], Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Seas, and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular.

The MC and DSO were fictitious; the VC was a Victorious Cross he awarded to himself; and the law degree, too, was self-conferred.Amin also claimed to be the uncrowned King of Scotland, which later became the title of a novel by Giles Foden and of an Oscar-winning film.

A fitting tribute to the undisputed emperor of linguistic excess.

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