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Palaces of Dictators


Palaces of Dictators

by Kenneth Lyen

I’ve been reading about the exploits of Alexander the Great (356-323 BC). As a young soldier, he was loyal and friendly to his troops, but as time passed, he became increasingly unstable, paranoid, ruthless, and megalomaniac. Alexander considered himself a god. He killed anybody who opposed him, including old friends, and he would have no qualms in massacring entire cities. Like so many other dictators, he descended into madness.

It was Lord Acton (1834-1902) who said that "power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." This has proven true time and again, and virtually no country seems to have been spared from this dictum. Tyrants include Attila the Hun, Caligula, Ivan the Terrible, Napoleon, Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Francisco Franco, Mao Zedong, Augusto Pinochet, Pol Pot, Ferdinand Marcos, Nicolae Ceausescu, Kim Il Sung, Saddam Hussein and many others.

In his book "Talk of the Devil," Riccardo Orizio interviewed seven deposed dictators: Uganda’s Idi Amin, Central African Republic’s Jean-Bedel Bokassa, Ethiopia’s Mengitsu Haile Mariam, Haiti’s Jean-Claude Duvalier, Yugoslav’s Slobodan Milosevic, Poland’s Wojciech Jaruzelski, Albania’s Enver Hoxha's wife.

The interviews make chilling reading. Although Orizio does not analyze the psychopathology of these individuals, one can derive a few generalizations about them.

Firstly, most dictators have a reason, or can justify their coming to power. Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier was only 19 years old when his father died, and he was thrust into a leadership role. Others were dissatisfied with the then current rulers and felt they could do a better job. Some had an ideology. Jaruzelski wanted to save Poland from Russian invasion, Milosevic claimed that he was fighting terrorists.

Secondly, they all have delusions of grandeur. They could divorce themselves from reality. Baby Doc Duvalier felt that one day he will be deified. His dictator father, Papa Doc introduced a prayer to be adopted by all Haitians, which ran: "Our Pap Doc, who art in the National Palace for life, hallowed be thy name by present and future generations." Idi Amin called himself "the last king of Scotland." Jean-Bedel Bokassa, insisted that Pope Paul VI nominated him as the "13th apostle of the Holy Mother Church" and who solemnly announced to his subjects in the Central African Empire that he had awarded himself the title "Grand Master of the International Brotherhood of Knights Collectors of Postage Stamps."

Thirdly, they were all obsessed with gaining and maintaining power. This was achieved through ethnic cleansing and the removal of all opposition. Mrs. Hoxha dismissed torture and murder as "trifles not worth mentioning." All were reluctant to relinquish power, believing that it was a divine right to rule for their entire lives.

Fourthly, most did not feel they had to repent, either spiritually or morally. When asked by Orizio, "Do you feel any remorse?" "No, only nostalgia," was Idi Amin’s reply. Indeed, all believed that they were doing the right thing, and that events since their downfall had proven them right. To quote Fidel Castro, "History will absolve me."

Finally, their megalomania drove them to build gigantic monuments, fabulous palaces, and statues of themselves, often without regard to the fact that their countrymen were living in abject poverty and starving to death.

Throughout history, dictators have built some of the most extravagant houses and palaces for themselves. This is one of the most astonishing aspect of dictatorship.

Take for example Louis XIV’s Palace at Versailles, Napoleon’s house, Mussolini’s house. Excessive?

Hitler’s country home even made it to the front page of the November 1938 issue of House and Garden.

Kim Il Sung built ten palaces, with golf courses, stables, movie theaters, and garages containing luxury cars, while North Koreans starved.

Saddam Hussein lived in a lavish palace with gold-plated bathroom taps, chandeliers, and marble flooring.

Ceausescu built one of the largest palaces in the world.

Papa Doc Duvalier's palace, Ferdinand Marcos 29 Presidential Rest Houses, Idi Amin’s house, Jean-Bedel Bokassa’s house, and Francisco Franco’s house.

In January 2004, King Mswati III of Swaziland asked his parliament for $15 million to build 11 palaces, one for each of his wives. This is equivalent to the entire health budget, and the country has the world’s highest rate of HIV infection (33%).

Can you imagine having Earl Gray and crumpets with Mrs. Dictator, as she invites you to a brief tour of their modest little 600-room palace? Surreal!

16 November 2004