Interview With the Despot of Ustrank


On Thirdday, the 13 of Seventhmonth 4599, the World News Network (selector eleven) aired an interview with the Despot of the Dictatorship of Ustrank, as was evident from the television listings of that day. Because a reader was interested, I asked Lanni Hargelstope to review the tape and prepare an edited and translated transcript of it.

Here it is:

The screen shows two wicker chairs seated side by side, separated by a small table. There are two harng cups on the table. It’s obviously a hot day. The television interview was obviously taped in a hotel lounge, and not on a television set. The interviewer, Romo Nylak, sits on the left with a note pad on his lap. He’s typically Thorgelfaynese in appearance: tall, well-built, very darkly complected. He’s wearing green pants, a straw hat, and a brightly colored shirt with a large floral print. Lromink Hrashkat, Despot of the Dictatorship of Ustrank, sits on the right. He’s a jovial, bald-headed fat white man. He is similarly dressed, and has his ham-like hands clasped and resting on top of his rather large belly.

Romo Nylak:
Lromink Hrashkat—what should I call you, Lromink or Hrashkat?
Hrashkat:
Hrashkat. In Ustrank, the surname comes first.
Romo Nylak:
(continuing) Hrashkat, you have the distinction of being the only absolute dictator in the world! Many of our viewers back home in Hapdorn may be curious about your position.
Hrashkat:
I was appointed absolute dictator by the Ustranki People’s Party. All political power is vested in me, and I may delegate to committees or task forces as I wish. However, I remain personally responsible for all aspects of the government. (Takes a sip of harng, then places the cup back on the table.) Of course, if there are any major problems, the party can stage a coup. In Ustrank we feel that the government works best when one person is given total responsibility for the whole of it. (Hunching over to emphasize the point) Unlike any other head of state, I can quickly cut through bureaucratic red tape and correct problems.
Romo Nylak:
I see.
Hrashkat:
So the Ustranki people pride themselves on their enlightened, if unusual, form of government.
Romo Nylak:
(Changing the subject) Of course, the topic on everyone’s mind at the moment is the Ustranki trade deficit. I trust I am not embarrassing you to bring it up so abruptly.
Hrashkat:
Oh, no! That’s quite in order. The whole world knows of the deficit! (His belly convulses as he chuckles briefly. Becoming serious:) but I do appreciate your concern for my personal feelings. The deficit is my major preoccupation at the moment. I’m doing everything I can to rectify this dreadful situation as soon as I can, but I guess that every national leader says something that sounds like that in a time of crisis. Actually, the problem is caused by one industrial sector: the shoe manufacturers.
Romo Nylak:
I understand that, historically, shoes are Ustrank’s export mainstay.
Hrashkat:
You are correctly informed. However, we’ve fallen behind in our shoe exports lately, and that has been sufficient to cause our deficit. (Shifts his weight in his chair.)
Romo Nylak:
What do you see as the remedy?
Hrashkat:
Modernization of the factories, to start. We’ve been manufacturing shoes longer than most nations, and as a result, we have a lot of inefficient equipment still in use. I need to modernize the factories to restore my competitive edge. (Waving a finger to make the point) However, not only does it take time and money to replace machinery, I have to be very careful about the labor force, or I’d be deposed in a coup in a flash.
Romo Nylak:
(Laughing) I guess you would! (Pauses) By the way, did you come to power in a coup?
Hrashkat:
(Proudly) I most certainly did! The former despot was deposed by the party because of massive cost overruns in a national highway building project. At that time I was acclaimed Despot. (As an aside) Of course, I have inherited the economic side effects of those cost overruns, and that is not making my present situation any easier.
Romo Nylak:
I suppose it is not. How are you addressing this issue of the deficit?
Hrashkat:
I have applied for foreign aid with a number of countries—I’d prefer not to name them now—(Romo Nylak nods) to beef up our vocational reeducation program. Obviously, the number of people required to operate the newer factories will be much smaller, and the excess workers have to be retrained.
Romo Nylak:
What about economic diversification? Have you given thought to that?
Hrashkat:
There is an obvious need for me to broaden the Ustranki industrial base. I have called a task force into being to devise and implement an effective plan.
Romo Nylak:
I see. (Consulting his note pad.) What has become of the radio and television dispute with Halakan of last year?
Hrashkat:
That has been amicably settled. The Regulatory Council of the International Electromagnetic Conference straightened out the channel assignments, and all is well. However, most of the credit should go to the United Republic of Halakan! When our joint request for an Extraordinary Convocation of the Council was declined, they voluntarily took measures that made it possible for Ustrankis in the Stran valley to receive Ustranki-language broadcasts at night. It is a treacherously narrow valley, but all that breath-taking scenery plays tricks on radio waves!
Romo Nylak:
I suppose that Ustrankis derive little value from the Halakanian broadcasts.
Hrashkat:
There is quite a lot of value in watching television signals from across the border, even if you can only watch the pictures; but (mirthfully) hardly any Ustrankis have enough lifetimes to learn the Halakanian language!
Romo Nylak:
Best way to learn it is to join a religion that believes in reincarnation, die and ...
Hrashkat:
(Laughing) It may be an old joke, but it’s true!
Romo Nylak:
But I understand that Halakanians are proud of the complexity of their language.
Hrashkat:
Yes, and living next door to them we hear that all the time! (Chuckles good-naturedly)
Romo Nylak:
What about our beloved Duchy of Thorgelfayne? What sort of relations do you seek with us?
Hrashkat:
Good and close ones, of course! Thorgelfayne has the best educational expertise in the world, and I intend to spend a lot of money there if I get the foreign aid I am seeking. If I want my factory modernization plan to work, I need to retrain displaced workers. My people deserve to have the best I can get them, and everyone knows that the best educational experts in the world be found in the well-respected Imperial Duchy of Thorgelfayne.
Romo Nylak:
We Thorgelfaynese have often extended our fayne to those in need in the past.
Hrashkat:
Absolutely! I have every confidence in your national good character. The Thorgelfaynese are the smartest people in the world (Romo swells in an obvious reaction to the flattery.) and that intelligence has taught them many virtues—upon which I intend to gamble.

But there is one other matter on my mind!

Romo Nylak:
What would that be?
Hrashkat:
Let me put it this way. You have flown here all the way to Ustrank to interview me for the Thorgelfaynese “World News Network” —what are your thoughts on Ustrank as a vacation spot?
Romo Nylak:
Well, there I am impressed! This hotel is simply a delight! (Lifts his cup in a toast to the hotel staff standing beyond camera range. Turning to Hrashkat.) We have mountains in southern Thorgelfayne, you know, but none like this! Ours are rounded and filled with trees; but you country has vast expanses of colorful, rugged scenery! (Nodding his head) It would make a good place to travel. What are you getting at?
Hrashkat:
One of the ways in which I am attempting to diversify my economy is by expanding the tourist trade. I would like to encourage your viewers to check with their travel agents—a vacation in Ustrank is relatively inexpensive, and chock-full of scenic wonders.
Romo Nylak:
I can certainly attest to the scenic wonders. But I haven’t seen the bill yet! (Hrashkat lets out with a belly-laugh!) Hrashkat, I thank you for your time.
Hrashkat:
All Ustrank thanks you.

The two men rise and hug.

** END OF TAPE **