Dictators of the World reader Michael left a comment asking for more about North Korean dictator, the Dear Leader himself, Kim Jong-Il. As ever, Michael, I'm eager to oblige my loyal readers, and remind them that I do indeed take requests.
Kim certainly appeared to have the world by the short and curlies when he detonated North Korea's first nuclear bomb last October. News about the Dear Leader himself, however, is very hard to obtain thanks to North Korea's worst-on-earth press freedoms and highly secretive military style governance. What little the west does hear comes largely from rumors, and from the occasional high level defectors who manage to sneak across the Chinese border on their way to eventual relocation in South Korea. So what's the latest scoop on Lil' Kim?
Apparently, things aren't looking so rosy for the reigning demigod of juche thought. There are reports that the 66 year old portly scion of the Kim dynasty is suffering from heart disease exacerbated by "advanced" diabetes. That Kim is suffering from diseases of affluence in a country that is, once again, wracked by hunger and malnutrition and reliant on foreign charity to feed itself, sums up the reign of the Kim dynasty almost perfectly. As any monarch in poor health is wont to do, Kim Jong-Il is reputedly weighing his options regarding secession to the throne.
Rumors abound of a nascent power struggle emerging from Kim's three eldest sons, and Kim allegedly fears incapacitation by poor health would lead to a power struggle, not just among his sons, but also among North Korea's ridiculously bloated military high command. Would the generals knock off the pretenders to the throne if Kim were laid low by a stroke? Would one of his sons kill his brothers to eliminate his potential rivals? Will the Chinese finally lose patience and put a long overdue end to the entire charade of the North Korea's existence once and for all by leaning on their client state to unify with South Korea?
If any of these rumors are true, we could be looking at the last gasps of the world's most repressive country. But even if Kim is on the way out of the picture, he has one thing he can still take comfort in - apparently, he's become an ironic icon for Japanese hipsters.
I'm still trying to figure that out, too.
Thursday, May 31, 2007
Dictators of the World reader Michael left a comment asking for more about North Korean dictator, the Dear Leader himself, Kim Jong-Il. As ever, Michael, I'm eager to oblige my loyal readers, and remind them that I do indeed take requests.
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Against all odds, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad has managed to win "re-election" in the non-existent race for the Presidency in Syria by the only-in-a-dictatorship margin of 97.6% of the vote. Interestingly enough, this is a marginal improvement over his first "election" where he succeeded his father, Hafez al-Assad, where junior only tallied 97.29% of the vote. I suppose we can infer that he's become .31% more popular during his first term?
There are idiots, especially here in the United States, who will point to a result like this and mistake it for genuine political legitimacy. Don't laugh - I heard people making this argument for the legitimacy of Saddam Hussein and Josef Stalin (ie, "why would 99% of the people vote for a dictator? You're just smearing them!"). It's a bit like asking why people would love pro-wrestling so much if they even suspected that it's fixed. I suppose we'll have to spell it for them:
Ahem. This election, like elections in any dictatorship, was a complete and deliberate farce. Bashar al-Assad's ruling Syrian Baath party is the only party allowed to compete in elections, and al-Assad was the only candidate to appear on this completely ridiculous ballot. Even the 2.4% that al-Assad "officially" lost is bogus, since blank ballots are simply discarded, and write in candidates are not allowed (or advisable - there's little in the way of ballot secrecy in dictatorships). al-Assad received 100% of the vote because, like so many elections in a dictatorship, it was only a formality to try and put on a veneer of respectability on al-Assad's otherwise completely unrepentant tyranny.
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
There's still one month left to vote for the next dictator to receive a top 10 profile, but so far, the results aren't encouraging. There have been only 14 votes, and so far, Adolf Hitler is winning. If you haven't voted yet, do so today by clicking on the dictator of your choice in the sidebar and submitting the results.
UPDATE: Not related to the poll, really, but this blog has climbed to the fourth highest Google result for "dictators of the world". Not too bad considering it was number six back in February.
Slate.com reporter John Lancaster has traveled to the Maldives to find out if the sleepy Indian Ocean archipelago has become a tropical paradise for Islamic extremism. His report, however briefly, touches upon the role of dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in creating a fertile environment for Saudi backed Islamic fundamentalism and religious intolerance.
Since taking office in 1978, Gayoom has ruled the Maldives with a heavy hand, issuing severe restrictions on press freedom and jailing and torturing political prisoners. As Lancaster points out, one Gayoom's primary tools in promoting his political legitimacy is his relentless promotion of Islam, highlighted by the tireless promotion of his own Muslim piety; a hoary tactic used by Muslim dictators from Libya to Baghdad. However, it appears that Gayoom's relentless use of Islam as a political tool may have had the unintended consequence of helping create a homegrown Islamic fundamentalist movement opposed to his rule, instead of the relatively meek and harmless relatively secularized political opposition Gayoom handled so easily.
So what's a dictator to do? Gayoom's apparent solution is to give up, and transform the Maldives into a genuine democracy by 2008. Skepticism abounds, however, and they may be onto something: how many dictators can you name who have put their jobs on the line by risking free and fair elections? Then again, Gayoom's proposed political reforms, however insufficient to some, might just do enough to keep a marriage of political unrest and fundamentalist Islam from gaining traction, in which case, it might be a shrewd move by one of Asia's most obscure autocrats.
Thousands of people gathered in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa on Sunday for a ceremony honoring the victims of the Red Terror on the anniversary of the overthrow in 1991 of former dictator Haile Mengistu Miriam. The ceremony was not only for remembrance, but offered a final, proper burial for the remains of Mengistu's victims found scattered in mass graves across the country. Some 150,000 were murdered in cold blood by Mengistu's senseless Red Terror campaign, with countless more starved to death in a famine deliberately exacerbated by the Mengistu regime.
Mengistu, for his part, remains a guest of Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe, surviving on a comfortable Zimbabwean pension in a government supplied estate. Predictably, Mugabe has refused every Ethiopian demand for extradition of his honored guest, even though (or perhaps because?) Mengistu is one of Africa's most notorious mass murderers. For his part, Mengistu is completely unrepentant, and used the "you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs" argument in defense of the Red Terror.
"The so called 'genocide' was this war in defense of the revolution."- Haile Mengistu Meriam
Venezuelan autocrat Hugo Chávez made good on his threat to shut down his nation's oldest television network on Sunday night, replacing RCTV with a government operated mouthpiece station. Thousands of Venezuelans took to the street, and predictably, they were dispersed with tear gas, plastic bullets and water cannons. Eroding civil liberties are, apparently, much more noticeable when Chávez's yammering mug replaces your favorite telenovela.
At any rate, it didn't take long for Chávez to announce his intentions to target the remaining television outlets he views as hostile to his "Bolivarian revolution", accusing the Globovision network of airing a veiled assassination threat. Globovision was, perhaps predictably, attacked by Chavista thugs as "retaliation" for assaulting the dignity of the President. The shutdown of RCTV sends a message to Venezuela's remaining independent press that unless they start toeing the Chavista line, they're next in line to be shut down.
Western leftists, predictably, ignore the fact that Chávez is systematically eliminating his potential political threats because (as Quico from the Caracas Chronicles put it), Chávez is stroking their ideological erogenous zones. They're creaming their jeans over the decision, calling RCTV a complicit partner in the anti-Chávez coup attempt in 2002. Perhaps they'd forgotten (or rather, ignored) that Chávez himself attempted a coup d'etat in 1992? They're squirming, but when push comes to shove, they can't ignore the fact that Chávez has become a dictator who rules by decree, squashes the free press, and is poised to turn Venezuela into nothing more than a squalid OPEC aligned Cuba. On the other hand, they've never had anything bad to say about any dictatorship that offers free health care, so I suppose they've got that going for them.
UPDATE: Publius Pundit has pictures galore of all hell breaking loose in Caracas.
UPDATE II: Now CNN has incurred the wrath of the caudillo!
Friday, May 25, 2007
Eritrea celebrated its 16th anniversary of independence from Ethiopia yesterday. Eritrea is also celebrating, if that's the right word, 16 years of the dictatorship of Isaias Afewerki.
Under Afewerki's rule, Eritrea has become one of the world's most repressive authoritarian states, including one of the world's worst records on press freedom, freedom of religion, and needless to say, political freedoms. Then again, perhaps political freedoms aren't necessary because everyone in Eritrea supports Afewerki. Take it from the man himself, who recently declared that Eritrea does not even have a political opposition. Afewerki, ever modest, did not even mention his role in achieving this remarkable feat: throwing anyone who would oppose him in prison. To his credit, he's managed to keep his level of notoriety hidden from the outside world, but I suppose that's just one of the many side benefits of kicking foreign reporters out of your country.
So, does Eritrea have anything to celebrate on her birthday? That would depend on who you ask, I suppose. I can tell you what the people of Eritrea will be receiving as a gift for their birthday, and that's another year of one of the world's most repressive dictatorships that hardly anyone in the world's ever heard of.
Thursday, May 24, 2007
Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead, as the joke goes, but perhaps he can feel a little better about one thing - he's been named the 23rd greatest Spaniard ever by viewers of a Spanish television network. If you're wondering who was #1, that would be King Juan Carlos I.
I can't seem to find out who lags behind Franco, however, but really - are we honestly to believe that a non-entity like José Luis Zapatero (#16) or a distinguished but unremarkable scientist like Santiago Ramón y Cajal (#6) are greater than el caudillo de España y de la Cruzada? Someone's got to be rolling over in his grave right now, especially since his Portuguese counterpart António Salazar managed to snag the top spot in Portugal's poll. Franco managed to keep his country out of the second world war too - are Spaniards less appreciative of this than the Portuguese?
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
One of the great things about being a dictator is the concept that the state and the maximum leader are a united entity, aka, l'etat c'est moi. This concept is especially useful when it comes to building a retirement fund, and you're willing to play fast and loose with the barrier between public money and your own private bank account.
There have been many dictators who have been described as thieves, but only a select few have been rapacious enough to be described as kleptocrats, that is, running a form of government whose very basis is stealing everything that isn't nailed down. Among the most famous of the 20th century's kleptocrats were Haiti's infamous Duvalier dynasty, and both François "Papa Doc" Duvalier as well as his corpulent successor, son Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, were two of the most talented kleptocrats ever born.
During their 29 year rule, the Duvalier dynasty had the dubious distinction of turning an already poor Haiti into the poorest nation in the entire western hemisphere, and among the very poorest on earth. Corruption, always a problem in Haitian history, was kicked into overdrive, and the state even dabbled with extortion, using their feared secret policemen (the Tonton Macoutes) as bagmen to shake down the public for funds ostensibly intended for chimerical government projects, and instead, went straight to the Duvalier's pockets. When Papa Doc kicked the bucket in 1971, Baby Doc took over right where his old man left off, trying to squeeze every last cent from his terrified citizenry. By the time Baby Doc was forced into exile in 1986, the Duvalier dictatorship had stolen enough money to last several lifetimes.
After 21 years of living the high life in Cannes, France as one of the world's most sordid political refugees, the years of doling out for champagne, Ferrari maintenance and most ruinous of all, a divorce from his wife Michèle, have finally caught up with him: he's broke. Almost flat broke, in fact. So naturally, Baby Doc is on the prowl for any recoverable financial assets that might help get him back on his feet, and he appears to have hit the jackpot. Baby Doc is set to recover nearly $6.5 million dollars in embezzled money from heretofore frozen Swiss bank accounts when the clock runs out on a challenge to the funds by various Haitian governments.
Apparently, the Swiss government can only freeze assets for a certain length of time, and perhaps unsurprisingly, Haiti's infamously disorganized governments have failed to perform any of the legal work to recover the Duvalier fortune within the required time limit, so Jean-Claude has patiently waited for the clock to expire before taking control of the money. The Haitian government is upset, if only because they, along with Baby Doc, the Swiss, and everyone else on earth, knows that the accounts contain stolen money, but perhaps that should have spurred them to work more diligently to recover it? Then again, it may very well have cost more than $6.5 million in legal fees to recover it, so who can say for sure?
For now, though, it looks like Baby Doc will be getting the last laugh ... and the $6.5 million. I just wonder how long it will take him to blow through this fortune.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
HOT: Hugo Chávez (Venezuela)
Caracas caudillo Hugo Chávez is licking his lips at his impending victory over his hated enemy, Radio Caracas Television (RCTV) on May 27th. Yeah, the proles are protesting because they love their telenovelas, and they certainly aren't particularly fond of watching pro-Chávez propaganda on every television channel. So what? Are any of them ruling Venezuela? No? I thought not. Let them eat cadenas!
The tighter Hugo squeezes his subjects, the more the foreign left swoons in approval. He's on a winning streak with no end in sight.
Not Hot: Pervez Musharraf (Pakistan)
It's hard not to feel bad for the poor general, because I never seem to have any good news about him. Which is fair, because frankly, nothing has gone right for Pervez Musharraf for the past few years now. In fact, this entire Hot or Not? segment leads us all to experience some serious deja vu.
What's the latest in bad news for Pakistan's brasshat dictator? How about a wildly successful public speaking tour by his one of his most devoted political enemies, a Supreme Court judge he himself removed from the bench, and a Taliban presence in his own country that he cannot control, no matter how hard he tries? Why even today, even his allies in Britain are getting snarky with him.
How bad is it, really? Even Indian newspaper columnists are starting to feel sorry for him, and everyone agrees he's a goner. The biggest question remaining is: how long can he hold on? He's never been the type to rule with an iron fist, and when push comes to shove, he'll go careening into the dustbin of deposed Pakistani dictators.
Monday, May 21, 2007
Let's pretend for a moment that you're the dictator of a country that has long since reached the point of political, economic and social collapse. Your country, once one of the region's wealthiest, is now among the world's poorest, thanks to you. To make things worse, unemployment has surpassed 80%, inflation at nearly 4,000%, power cuts are rampant, and where your country used to be a major food exporter, it is now almost completely reliant on foreign charity to feed itself. What would you do next?
If you're Zimbabwean autocrat Robert Mugabe, the answer is simple: spend nearly $5,000,000 of public funds on a museum honoring yourself.
If Mugabe's decision to spend that much money on an utterly frivolous temple to himself seems odd, it shouldn't. He's always had a preference for putting symbolism at a higher premium than the mundane business of governance; his museum will simply reflect this. Since Mugabe's actual achievements as President have been frankly negligible, his museum will apparently devote the bulk of its space to honoring Mugabe's role as a freedom fighter against the government of Rhodesia. And that's probably a good thing, since good will for Mugabe took a fairly sharp nosedive when he decided to become de facto President for life of the nation he worked so hard to liberate.
The museum will also devote a large amount of exhibition space to gifts from visiting diplomats and heads of state (sound familiar?), a rather embarrassing choice in a country where the populace has been put into poverty by the government. One article describes one such recent gift that will be going in the museum, a 16 foot long stuffed crocodile given to Mugabe by his toadies in the ruling Zanu-PF party. One such sycophant, the improbably named Webster Shamu, gushed that the taxidermy specimen ...
" ... symbolized maturity, distilled and accumulated wisdom, and majestic authority - attributes that have been characteristic of the president's leadership during the protracted anti-colonialist struggle and even in the current struggle against imperialist and neo-colonialist forces."
That's obviously great news for the Zimbabwean public, who might have had cause to suspect that their country's transformation into a hell hole was due to leadership completely bereft of maturity, distilled or accumulated wisdom and majestic authority. Whatever else Mugabe's subjects might be angry about, I suppose they can be grateful that Wilson Shamu has cleared that up.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
Less than four months ago, I cynically implied that newly "elected" Turkmen president Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedov would run the country more or less the same way as his predecessor, the late, unlamented, Saparmurat Niazov. I had to make something of a reappraisal back in March, when Berdimuhammedov took the decidedly un-Niazov like move of voluntarily abolished some of his own executive powers, and even more startlingly, made it clear he would not build a personality cult of his own.
And now the top man in the 'Stan has taken another step to make his own mark, by firing the country's long time state security services boss, vertically demoting Turkmenistan's secret police chief to an as yet unnamed government post. The former boss, Akmurad Rejepov, served as the eyes, ears and iron fist both during Soviet rule and during Niazov's rule. No explanation was offered for the firing, but it's likely that Berdimuhammedov is looking both to rebuild the police state in his own image, and secondly, to reduce any possible threats from within to his own power. Given the political power amassed by security chiefs and generals in a dictatorship, the threat of a coup d'etat to a "reformer" (however modest) like Berdimuhammedov certainly needs to be taken seriously.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Ok, so it actually is customary for visiting heads of state to exchange gifts. But what do you give the megalomaniac dictator who has been raised from birth to believe he's a demigod? If you've ever wondered if the dictator business is lucrative enough for your tastes, take a gander at this article detailing some of the swag given by foreign dignitaries to North Korean despot Kim Jong-Il. Despite North Korea's image as international pariah, the gifts keep coming in for Kim Jong-Il, and even more remarkably, for his late father Kim Il-Sung who, although quite dead, is still (legally, anyway) North Korea's head of state.
Gifts to "living Kim" and "dead as a doornail Kim" are all housed in the 215,278 square foot, 200 room International Friendship Exhibition, which serves both as a museum and warehouse of all the expensive knicknacks and other gaudy luxury items given as gifts to two of the world's most repressive leaders. For a final laugh, go ahead and compare and contrast the gold plated ashtrays, ivory furniture and blinged out cars given to the Kim dynasty to the average North Korean citizen, who is now making do on fewer calories and less heating fuel than almost anyone else on earth.
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
There was a small burst of excitement from Libya where unconfirmed reports from a Palestinian news agency stated that the venerable Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi had suffered a stroke and gone into a coma. Now the ever nattily attired Colonel Qaddafi has not only declared that not only is he alive and well, but that he intends to sue the reporters who released the story. In a bizarre news conference in Tripoli, Qaddafi vowed vengeance, declaring bombastically, "the one who fires at you, you should fire at him too. The one who tells you 'I am your enemy', consider yourself his enemy."
Whatever the hell that means.
In other news, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad wants the world to know he's just getting comfortable running the family business. Since assuming power after the death of his father, the bloodthirsty Hafez al-Assad, Bashar al-Assad has had a somewhat tough time of things. All that work his father put into turning Lebanon into a satellite state? That turned out badly, no thanks to Junior. However, a family dictatorship is still a dictatorship, and one bad turn deserves another. So when the Syrian Ba'ath Party nominated Bashar al-Assad to run for a second 7 year term as President, we here at Dictators of the World congratulated al-Assad, knowing that the May 27th popular election is a mere cynical exercise in ballot box stuffing. Frankly, since al-Assad is the only candidate on the ballot, one wonders: why is this election even required as a formality?
If you cock your head towards the West African nation of Equatorial Guinea, you may be able to hear someone howling in an English accent, and perhaps even smell the sizzling bacon odor of high voltage roasting someone's scrotum. Why, you may ask?
In March of 2004, English mercenary Simon Mann was arrested in Zimbabwe loading a quarter of a million dollars worth of arms and supplies onto a Boeing 727 bound for Equatorial Guinea. It goes without saying that Mann and his crew weren't planning a trip to the beach, but rather, they were hired stage a coup d'etat to overthrow Equatorial Guinea's dictator, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo. Mann's co-conspirators in Equatorial Guinea itself were arrested, and one of whom has already died in captivity, leaving Mann and his co-plotters in Zimbabwe jailed on variety of weapons and immigration offenses.
As Mann already knew before embroiling himself in the coup plot, Equatorial Guinea has gained a reputation for having the absolute worst human rights record in all Africa. The situation is so bad, in fact, that human rights organizations have fled Equatorial Guinea for fear of government reprisals, and even the infamously useless United Nations Human Rights Commission has long since given up even trying to document conditions in the country. Having Africa's worst human rights record is no mean feat, as Mann himself well knows, and unfortunately for him, as he's about to find out for himself first hand just how bad it can get.
So how did Mann find himself going from a bad stint in a Zimbabwean prison to almost certain torture and death in Equatorial Guinea? A gentleman's agreement appears to have taken place between Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe and Obiang Nguema. While Equatorial Guinea is barely a smudge on the map, it holds the distinction of being Africa's third largest oil exporter, a fact not lost on Mugabe, whose country ran out of fuel years ago. Mugabe, who hates the English and foreign coups, certainly shed no tears exchanging Mann for gasoline, while Obiang Nguema gets the satisfaction of toying with a political prisoner who threatened his lucrative rule. The 63 year old Obiang Nguema is reportedly suffering from late stage prostate cancer, so it's safe to presume he'll dispose of his new plaything fairly quickly once he arrives.
So what lies in store after Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo shuffles off this mortal coil? His American educated playboy son Teodorin, resident of Malibu, aspiring rapper, and boyfriend of hip-hop skank Eve is next in line. Although he is apparently more interested in Ferraris than fascism, it's a safe bet that he'll pick up where dad left off, doing just enough to insure that the foreign oil monies keep rolling in, and that the foreign mercenaries stay the hell out.
Monday, May 14, 2007
Is nothing sacred in China any longer? Police in Beijing have arrested a man accused of setting fire to the enormous of portrait of the late Mao Zedong hanging in the Forbidden City.
Even though China has officially distanced itself somewhat from Mao (who has the highest body count of any single dictator in history), the "Great Helmsman" is still held in an official position of reverence, and the very idea that someone would try to burn the portrait is still considered fairly scandalous. In 1989, three men who were convicted of defacing the same portrait by throwing red paint on it served over 10 years of hard labor in prison. Can you imagine what fate awaits the would be arsonist? Just imagine what would happen if he were actually still alive!
More to the point, is Mao becoming increasingly irrelevant in the world's fastest growing capitalist economy? Does anyone besides rich American college students looking to piss off daddy or Nepalese rebels still hanker for Mao Zedong thought now that the Chinese themselves have moved on?
UPDATE: Mao Zedong is one of six dictators awaiting your vote for profiling on the Top 10 list. Don't delay, vote today, or the secret police will haul you away.
Friday, May 11, 2007
In a tedious row over international cricket, Australian Prime Minister John Howard has made a ridiculous comparison of Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party to Adolf Hitler's Nazi party. I think we can all agree, that however bad Mugabe's rule has been for Zimbabwe, the comparison of Mugabe to Hitler is inapt, offensive, and absurd.
After all, Hitler managed to fix the German economy.
UPDATE: Howard backs off a bit.
UPDATE II: This is my 100th post of 2007. I told you that I'd be stepping things up this year.
Thursday, May 10, 2007
I've vented my spleen on more than one occasion about the "international community's" pathetic response to and assertions about the Darfur disaster, especially the failure of anyone to adapt a negotiating strategy that recognizes that Omar al-Bashir of Sudan is a dictator instead of, say, the Prime Minister of Belgium. Dealing with autocrats requires a different approach than dealing with with democratically elected politicians. Frankly, you have to speak their language. Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak and Libyan strongman Colonel Muammar Qaddafi understand this perfectly, and held an impromptu Darfur crisis summit meeting with one another in Tripoli.
As one might expect, Mubarak and Qaddafi had a chat on Darfur that proved they understand a dictator's language, insofar as it urges the rest of the world to get off of Omar al-Bashir's back and focus on bringing the rebel armies fighting against Bashir "to the negotiating table". However, Mubarak and Qaddafi made it immediately clear they wouldn't press al-Bashir to do anything he hasn't already promised to do. Which is good, since the last thing Omar al-Bashir needs right now is yet another set of cheap promises he'll have to find ways to ignore down the road. Both Mubarak and Qaddafi are vaguely concerned about the violence in Sudan spilling over into their fiefdoms, but frankly, they appear to be much more concerned about the rest of the world taking dictatorships to task for shoddy, violent, and unaccountable rule. Why is everyone giving us a such a hard time, they appear to be saying, just shut the hell up and let us do our thing!
If, on the other hand, Mubarak or Qaddafi happened to be at war with Sudan, they'd shift to a dictator's other natural dialect, about the need to totally annihilate Omar al-Bashir, and how nothing on earth will get them to the negotiating table. As it just so happens, neither dictator has any particular beef with al-Bashir. They're all members of the Arab League in good standing. None of them have any territorial disputes with one another, and hey, they all resent the "neo-colonialism" of smug, holier-than-thou European Union do gooders, human rights organizations, and other such douchebags telling third world leaders how to act, or worse, linking things like foreign aid to their human rights record. Given that the aforementioned douchebags are all screaming about Sudan right now, it would be impossible for Mubarak and Qaddafi not to sympathize immediately. Dictators don't have trade unions to represent their interests, but it usually isn't too hard to find one or more dictators banding together to stick up for a beleaguered tyrant when he's facing tough times. The idea that Qaddafi and Mubarak had any ideas better suited towards providing a plan with an outcome geared towards relieving the misery of the people of Darfur instead of the unimpeded right of Omar al-Bashir to do whatever the hell he wants is a complete non-starter as far as they're concerned.
I will give Mubarak and Qaddafi credit, however, for matching their desires openly with the expected outcome. Omar al-Bashir is, in fact, going to do whatever the hell he wants, anyway, and there's nothing Egypt or Libya will do to stop him. At least al-Bashir's fellow dictators won't be attending any ridiculous candlelight vigils or hypocritically wringing their hands about how the "inaction of the world community" is at fault. They know Omar al-Bashir calls the shots in Darfur, and they're comfortable with that. Now, if only one of the countries that talks about how concerned they are about Darfur would learn to speak to Omar al-Bashir like a dictator, and threaten him to get results? Well ... that might just work.
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
Once again, comrades, it's time to vote for the next dictator to receive a Top 10 profile. When last we voted, you, the readers, chose North Korean dictator Kim Il-Sung as your Eternal Great Leader. But man cannot live by juche alone, and so we will be voting for a new top 10 dictator to have a day in the sun.
The field is now down to six. Will it be ...
- Fidel Castro?
- François Duvalier?
- Adolf Hitler?
- Enver Hoxha?
- Josef Stalin?
- Mao Zedong?
Has anyone else been following the election in France this past week? Well, even if you haven't been, it seems like half of the world's dictators have just lost one of their best friends: outgoing French President Jacques Chirac, who has highlighted a lengthy, some would say interminable, career in French politics, has apparently managed to become best friends with nearly every single dictator in Africa and the Middle East.
Chirac's friendship with the mercifully deceased Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein is legendary, of course, once gushing "you are my personal friend. Let me assure you of my esteem, consideration and bond" to the Butcher of Baghdad. Saddam, who apparently wasn't particularly looking for compliments, must have been somewhat baffled by his newfound Gallic admirer, but became fast friends with Chirac all the same. Especially since Chirac found no problem with selling nuclear technology to Iraq during Chirac's stint as French Prime Minister in 1975.
Did Jacques Chirac object to Saddam's unique stipulations that the nuclear technology transfer program "contain no persons of either the Jewish race or Mosaic religion" both on the Iraqi and French sides of the project? Mais non! Pas de problème, mon ami! Saddam eventually came to find his strangely obsequious ally very useful indeed, especially when the French adamantly opposed the war the eventually toppled him. He might have preferred French military support, but that's something of a sore topic with France.
Chirac stepped up his fawning relationship with world dictators when he became President of France, especially when the dictators in question ruled French speaking, or especially, former French colonies. Chirac not only bankrolled, but struck up personal friendships with some of the world's most notorious tyrants, such as Algerian dictator Abdelaziz Bouteflika, autocrat Félix Houphouët-Boigny of Côte d'Ivoire, and Tunisian strongman Zine El Abdine Ben Ali. The more notorious the reputation, the greater Chirac's apparent eagerness to strike up a friendship.
Even Chirac's notorious hostility to the English language couldn't prevent Chirac from striking up a personal friendship with Zimbabwean dictator, and international pariah, Robert Mugabe. So consistent was Chirac's track record in maintaining friendship with the world's most repressive leaders, Mugabe could not help but feel offended when France later made a big show of possibly denying Mugabe permission to visit Paris. If it's any comfort to Robert Mugabe, Chirac's newfound reluctance came only after his former willingness to embrace Mugabe caused a scandal in the French press. Chirac finally found courage enough to ignore the feelings of the French public and extend a warm hand to the visiting dictator. Mugabe was right to take umbrage, however briefly justified. Since when had the scorn of the public stopped Jacques Chirac from cozying up to a dictator?
While some will grant that maintaining diplomatic relationships with dictatorships is an unavoidable necessity, is it really necessary to befriend the dictators themselves? Chirac saw no problem with this whatsoever.
UPDATE: President elect Nicolas Sarkozy vows to discard the French status quo with regards to coddling injustice in the name of "stability".
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
Limey blogger Harry Hutton noted:
"... it is my experience of life that there is a strong correlation between Anglophilia and being a nutter, especially when their Anglophilia has survived an actual visit to the UK."
One of his examples that stood out was the late Malawian dictator Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda, an oddly fervent Anglophile who sought to turn his picturesque central African nation into Stratford-on-Nyasa by virtue of building a Malawian replica of England's prestigious Eton College. It seems odd that the good doctor, who led the movement against English colonialism, would be so smitten with the culture of his former colonizers, but who am I to judge?
Another Anglophile tyrant was the equally dead dictator of Chile, General Augusto Pinochet who described the United Kingdom as "an ideal place to live". Ironically so because England isn't ruled by a demented brasshat dictator. Anyway, the General was so fond of England, he made excuses to visit at least twice a year, making a point to have tea with English Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher "whenever possible", and going shopping at Harrods. While Pinochet's rule wasn't quite as eccentric as Hastings Banda's, you have to wonder where on earth Pinochet developed such an admiration for England in the first place.
So chalk one up for Harry Hutton. Anglophiles are completely nuts.
We'd like to imagine that people have an instinctive and intuitive way of confronting history. We'd be wrong, of course. The best example, perhaps, is Germany, which has been issuing mea culpas for the behavior of the Third Reich non-stop since its defeat in the second world war, and owned up to its own murderous history. The reality, however, is that German self-awareness is more the exception than the rule.
Many Russians are only dimly aware of the extent of the brutality of Josef Stalin's regime, and many of those who are, see no need to be ashamed of them. Students in Japan know very little in depth knowledge about Japan's role in World War II. I've even had a chance to examine a Japanese high school level history book for myself, and you can imagine my surprise when the entire section on this rather pivotal conflict in Japanese history was two paragraphs long, and capped off with a little cartoon Zero pilot waving a surrender flag. When asked for a translation, I was given one "Japan entered an armed conflict with the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union and other allied countries. Mistakes were made by the military leadership, resulting in a Japanese defeat after atomic bombs were detonated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki."
Ah. Who would need to know more than that, anyway?
Now in 2007, Cambodia is struggling to deal with its own history.
In 1975, a Maoist guerrilla army called the Khmer Rouge conquered Cambodia, led by a man named Saloth Sar, but better known by his now infamous nom de guerre Pol Pot. Within days of seizing power, Pol Pot began one of the most infamous genocides in human history. Pol Pot rebooted Cambodian history, and instituted his "Year Zero" program to turn Cambodia into an entirely agrarian Maoist society. "Class enemies" like teachers, engineers and doctors were either executed outright, tortured to death, or sent to the fields to work themselves to death as slave laborers. By the time the Khmer Rouge were overthrown by a Vietnamese military invasion in 1979, nearly two million of Cambodia's eight million people had perished.
"We are building socialism without a model. We do not wish to copy anyone; we shall use the experience gained in the course of the liberation struggle. There are no schools, faculties or universities in the traditional sense, although they did exist in our country prior to liberation, because we wish to do away with all vestiges of the past."- Pol Pot
Though removed from power, the Khmer Rouge did not entirely disappear. The military faction retreated to isolated strongholds in the Cambodian boondocks, fighting a low intensity guerrilla war against the Cambodian government. Pol Pot himself died in 1998, his body burned on a bed of trash and discarded tires. However, many of the new leaders of Cambodia were either members of the Khmer Rouge, or had collaborated with the Khmer Rouge, like Prime Minister Hun Sen, Cambodia's de-facto dictator since 1997.
So what have Cambodians learned about the Khmer Rouge and the genocide? Well, it's tricky. The Vietnamese installed government of the 1980's took a nakedly propagandistic anti-Khmer Rouge angle, which denounced the Khmer Rouge and glorified the Vietnamese invasion, but students learned very little about the events themselves. When Hun Sen took power, information about the genocide started flowing somewhat more freely. It was now safe for educators to acknowledge the existence and scope of genocide, and it was also safe to acknowledge the role and responsibility of Pol Pot. Controversies, inevitably, arose. For example, were the Vietnamese liberators or invaders? And, naturally, discussing the role of any former Khmer Rouge serving in the current government remains uncomfortable.
Therefore, nobody should be surprised when Hun Sen's government recently squashed a history textbook that gave a complete chronology of the Khmer Rouge, calling it "unsuitable" for inclusion in the curriculum (they haven't censored it completely, however) for fear that it may cause embarrassment for former Khmer Rouge currently serving in the government. One member of the textbook committee went as far as to say that there should be a 60 year waiting period between an event and its discussion in history textbooks. By that timeline, German students would still be waiting for classes dealing with the Berlin Wall.
For young Cambodians, their knowledge of the genocide is mostly anecdotal, passed along by oral histories from the survivors. Is it any wonder some of them have chalked these horror stories up to gross exaggerations? Cambodia is doing more to confront history than Russia or Japan, but like so many others, the catharsis of coming clean can't compete with the reluctance of politicians to answer awkward questions about their involvement.
Monday, May 07, 2007
A newly published book claims that one of history's most notorious mustaches was borne of necessity.
According to a newly published biography of the writer Alexander Moritz Frey, Der Führer used to sport a larger, bushier mustache popular at the time in Bavaria when he joined the German army in the first world war. However, the long bushy mustache didn't fit under the newfangled German army gas masks, and so Hitler's superiors ordered him to give it a trim to comply with the new safety regulations. Frey recalls meeting Hitler in 1915:
"A pale, tall man tumbled down into the cellar after the first shells of the daily evening attacks had begun to fall, fear and rage glowing in his eyes. At that time, he looked tall because he was so thin. A full moustache, which had to be trimmed later because of the new gas masks, covered the ugly slit of his mouth"
Even the trim wouldn't prevent Hitler from being badly hurt in an English gas attack in 1918, which temporarily blinded him. In the battle of iconic mustaches, however, even Hitler's instantly recognizable facial hair was no match for the mighty bristle of his Georgian adversary, who sported perhaps the mightiest dictator mustache of all time:
Friday, May 04, 2007
Guess who's become a best selling author in the Muslim world?
No fair peeking at the picture of Jimmy Carter, but I suppose he's there for the same reason.
OK, go ahead and peek. Front row, top right.
Yes, that's the late German tyrant Adolf Hitler glaring from the window of a Jordanian bookstore. Der Führer's 1925 polemic Mein Kampf is a bestseller in the Muslim Middle East, ranging from secular, ostensibly pro-Israeli Turkey to Cairo, Egypt to Palestinian lands ostensibly controlled by Israel - it seems Muhammad's fan club can't get enough of Adolf Hitler's biography and manifesto. Call be a cynic, but I don't think the popularity of the book in Muslim majority nations is due to, say, Hitler's opinions on the lessons Germany learned after the first world war, or the consequences of the beer hall putsch.
Ironically, the presence of Mein Kampf in the Arab world is occasionally used as "proof" of a generally non-existent freedom of speech and press in countries where no such thing exists: "See? This book which is banned in Germany and France is legal in our country!" Considering the vast number of fairly innocuous books banned in many Muslim countries, the legality and popularity of Mein Kampf speaks more to the state sanction and promotion of antisemitism and demonization of Israel than it does to a generally non-existent culture of free thought and speech in the Muslim world.
Thursday, May 03, 2007
The beautiful Polynesian nation of Fiji! The very name evokes images of sand, surf, palm trees and ... military coup d'etats. When Commodore Voreqe "Frank" Bainimarama launched his successful coup d'etat in December of 2006, he knew it would generate shock and disgust in international circles. He simply didn't care. As it stands now, he was probably onto something.
While the United States, Canada, and the European Union were all quick to denounce Bainimarama's naked grab for power, what were they going to do about it? Australia, Oceania's longtime policeman, also vociferously deplored the coup, but they declined to send a military force to intervene on the embattled deposed government's behalf. New Zealand followed suit, issuing statements "condemning" the coup, but also couldn't be bothered to send warships to Fiji to restore democracy. Needless to say, Commodore Bainimarama weathered the storm of indignant squawking and waited for them to forget about it so he could get down to business under the radar.
Nearly five months after taking power, Bainimarama has kept a tight leash on the press, and extended Fiji's state of emergency citing shadowy, and probably fictional, threats to state security. When his coup failed to gain the recognition of Fiji's Great Council of Chiefs, he simply dissolved the Great Council. Even the council's lone "chief for life" former dictator Sitiveni Rabuka was powerless to stop Bainimarama. Fiji is certainly no stranger to coup d'etats, but few in the West are aware of why they keep happening.
"We can argue on the legality of the government until the cows come home."- Frank Bainimarama
Few in the west are aware of Fiji, and even fewer know about the political and social tensions that have led to four coups in the past 20 years. When the English absorbed Fiji into the British Empire in 1874, they realized that their occupation of Fiji would have to turn a profit to justify the costs of colonization. They also realized that there weren't enough native Fijians to employ for large scale commercial agricultural ventures, and what's more, forcing the natives to do so could result in a revolt the tiny British military presence in Fiji might not be able to suppress.
The lack of labor proved to be a somewhat serious impediment to British goals to turn Fiji into a cash crop economy based on large scale sugarcane plantation farming. The British, however, hit on a solution to this problem by bringing thousands of indentured servants from British India to Fiji. The British relied on their labor to make owning Fiji profitable, and preserve their relationship with the native Fijian rulers . Problem solved! The Indians provided the labor, the Fijian chiefs tolerated the British presence, and the British made Fiji a self-financing possession. Over time, the number of Indians in Fiji increased, both because of transport from India, and from Indians born in Fiji. By the time Fiji gained independence from Great Britain, Indians in Fiji comprised a little more than half of the population. Naturally, as the majority, Fiji's Indians strove for a measure of political participation relative to the size of their population and contribution to Fijian society.
And this is where things started to become a bit difficult.
Fearing that urban Indians would dominate the more rural native Fijians politically, a compromise solution was worked out where legislative power was allotted along ethnic lines. The prime minister, however, was a native Fijian. That is until an Indian prime minister was elected in 1987, at which point, the aforementioned Sitiveni Rabuka, himself a native Fijian, launched a pair of coups to depose the new prime minister. Rabuka called the coup a preemptive assault against discrimination against ethnic Fijians, but more to the point, the coup preserved the political supremacy of native Fijians.
The scenario repeated itself in 2000, when Indian Fijian Mahendra Chaudhry was elected Prime Minister, only to be overthrown in a bizarre coup by a native Fijian nationalist named George Speight. Speight, who claimed to have acted preemptively to prevent the oppression of the now majority native Fijians against the tyranny of the now minority Indian Fijians, held Prime Minister Chaudrhy and 35 other government ministers hostage for nearly two months. Speight lost control of the government when, who else?, Commodore Bainimarama took control of the government, declared martial law, and lured Speight out into the open with a false amnesty pledge. Commodore Bainimarama appointed a native Fijian Prime Minister, Laisenia Qarase, who remained in power from 2000 until his ouster last December by, yes, that's right, Commodore Bainimarama.
4 coups in 20 years isn't a sterling track record, but Commodore Bainimarama is willing to bet that the same countries that are "outraged" now will forget all about it sometime this year, and they may be right. The economic cornerstones of Fiji aren't seriously being threatened, and the Commodore himself isn't a brutal dictator in the mold of Saddam Hussein or the like. He's simply another one of a long line of military leaders who covets power, and even in paradise, they're a dime a dozen.
Wednesday, May 02, 2007
I hope someone here can speak Czech and translate this, because I can't get enough this sort of thing. Or this one:
UPDATE: Speaking of requiring a translation, take a look at this article about Belorussian dictator Aleksandr Lukashenko from Azerbaijan. Can anyone tell me what the hell "there are evil wishers who discommend cooperation" is supposed to mean?
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
It is May Day, comrades! Our glorious leader has smashed the decadent, capitalist world order and restored power to the proletariat! Long live the workers! Long live the Red Army! Long live Comrade Stalin!
Click here to visit the glorious people's May Day parade in Moscow, 1959!
UPDATE: Speaking of Soviet hangovers, Joshua Foust at Registan.net is unimpressed with the glacial pace of Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedov's "political reform" in Turkmenistan. Read Joshua's analysis here.
UPDATE II: Fidel Castro a "no-show" at Havana's May Day parade. Poor Hugo.
The ordinarily sedate city of Tallinn, Estonia was rocked by rioting this weekend as ethnic Russians in Estonia looted stores, smashed windows and lit fires as part of a protest by the Estonian government to relocate a Soviet era statue (and mass grave) commemorating the Red Army soldiers who died liberating Estonia from Nazi Germany in 1944.
Actually, we need to back up a bit here.
Before the Soviet Union "liberated" Estonia, it had conquered Estonia with Adolf Hitler's full consent. You see, before Hitler and Josef Stalin went to war with each other, they agreed on a division of Europe into German and Soviet "spheres of influence", and codified it in a treaty - the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. Once absorbed into Stalinist Russia, Estonia suffered the full brunt of the "glorious socialist brotherhood" that nearly wiped out dozens of non-Russian Soviet republics, including mass deportations to Siberia, mass executions, torture as well as religious and political repression by the NKVD.
In 1941, Hitler doublecrossed Stalin. Hitler's plan for assaulting the Soviet Union, codenamed Operation Barbarossa, smashed through Soviet defenses in Poland, and quickly reached the Baltic countries, including Estonia. Estonians were initially overjoyed to see the wehrmacht chasing the Soviets out. After all, how could it get any worse than being ruled by Stalin? Their hopes were dashed by the heavy hand of the Nazi occupation, yet thousands of Estonians willingly joined the wehrmacht when it became clear that the Soviets would retake Estonia. Estonians knew they were deep trouble when the Nazis looked like the lesser of two evils. To make a long story short, the Soviets recaptured Estonia in 1944, and quickly picked up where they left off, liquidating all "traitors to the motherland", as well as their families including minor children, the elderly and infirm. Estonians had to be wondering - who's liberating us from whom?
When Estonia finally broke away from the Soviet Union in 1991, Estonians had made it clear that Estonia was a decidedly unwilling participant in the Soviet experiment. Estonia even joined NATO as soon as possible to safeguard its hard won independence from Russia. However, Soviet "Russification" policies meant that ethnic Russians made up nearly one third of Estonia's population, and what's more, a third of the population that neither spoke Estonian, nor wanted to give up the privileges they had enjoyed under Soviet rule. Estonia wanted Russians who decided to stay in Estonia to learn how to speak Estonian, and integrate into Estonian society. Many of these Russians (who were not made citizens of Estonia after independence, incidentally) wanted to keep speaking Russian, and they've demanded that their Estonian "little brothers" show the proper love and gratitude to Russia, especially an appreciation of Stalin's "liberation" of Estonia from the Nazis.
You can see where this was heading, can't you?
For years, a statue erected by the Soviets to commemorate the war in Estonia (known as the Bronze Soldier of Tallinn) had a double meaning. For Russians, it symbolized the shedding of Russian blood to liberate Russia from the Nazis. For Estonians, it represents a symbol of bloodthirsty Stalinist colonialist imperialism. Estonians wanted the statue gone. Russians wanted it to stay. Finally, the Estonian government decided to relocate the statue and the Soviet soldiers buried underneath it - and that's when all hell broke loose.
Estonia's ethnic Russians began rioting, incensed that Estonia would dare disrespect the Soviet war effort. Russia itself began to chime in, sending a "fact finding mission" to Estonia, and demanding that the Estonian government resign en masse. In Moscow, hostile crowds began assaulting the Estonian embassy and threatening Estonia's diplomatic corp, an astonishing abrogation of Russia's duties to defend foreign embassies from violence. Russia claims it is "powerless" to protect the Estonian embassy. Estonians claim that the Russian police look pretty good at crowd control when it involves Russians protesting against Vladimir Putin. Russia is making oblique threats to break diplomatic ties with Estonia. Rumors of an armed ethnic Russian insurgency being organized inside Estonia are even circulating.
All of this over a statue? World War II ended over 60 years ago, but the current battle over history and memory is still being fought in Estonia. I can't help but think that somewhere, Josef Stalin is having a hearty laugh about all of this.