The president's portrait hangs everywhere in Turkmenistan
BBC Radio 4's Crossing Continents was broadcast on Thursday, 17 November, 2005, at 1102 GMT.
The programme was repeated on Monday, 21 November, 2005, at 2030 GMT.
With reports of plague and anthrax in Turkmenistan, Lucy Ash goes undercover to find out what life is like for citizens of one of the world's most secretive and repressive autocracies.
We talk to people who are struggling to exist in a world where one man's whim is law and where the basic functions of state have long since collapsed into an anarchic quasi system of corruption.
President Saparmyrat Niyazov, now known as "father of the Turkmen", Turkmenbashi, was put in power by Gorbachev as the Soviet edifice crumbled.
He is known for his eccentric decrees, banning gold teeth or long beards, outlawing ballet, and naming a month after his mother.
Millions of dollars from the export of oil and gas has been spent on gold and marble clad buildings in the capital Ashgabat.
But there is a sinister reality behind this pomp and glitz, at no time thrown into sharper contrast than during the country's Independence Day celebrations.
Assignment: Inside Turkmenistan was also broadcast on the BBC World Service.
Producer: Andy Denwood
Presenter: Lucy Ash
Researcher: Sian Glaessner
Editor: Maria Balinska