EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


March 2, 2014

Column: What is it about dictators and bad taste?

Let's ruminate about dictators and their stuff. Specifically, the things they leave behind when they flee, die or are ousted or captured.

We have been seeing pictures of the huge palace and gardens of Ukraine's president Viktor Yanukovich, who fled after Ukrainians revolted under his repressive leadership. While the political situation is intense, we're all fascinated by Yanukovich's zoo, cages of rare pheasants with iridescent red tails and his pirate ship dining room, "The Galleon."

What is it about dictators and bad taste?

You will of course remember Imelda Marcos and her amazing collection of shoes, reputed to have numbered 3,000 pairs. She also had a lot of dresses with poufy sleeves. When she and her dictator husband were forced to leave the Philippines in 1986, she left behind 1,220 pairs of shoes. If she had worn a different pair every day for three years, she still couldn't have worn them all.

(Sadly for fashionistas, many of the shoes and dresses have been damaged by termites, floods and neglect while stored in the Philippines. It happens.)

Then there was Saddam Hussein, whose many garish palaces in Iraq were filled with great treasures and great quantities of junk. Just about every U.S. soldier stationed in Iraq has a picture posing on one of his plastic thrones. Or one of his many toilets.

Saddam also was known for owning rare animals; his sons kept a 20-year-old Siberian tiger and a blind brown bear.

Alas for Saddam, all that stuff did him no good in the end. He was found in a dirty hole, with a filthy beard and a makeshift toilet.

Zimbabwe's tyrant Robert Mugabe has one of the most nightmarish bedrooms ever seen outside of the Poconos. It is immense, filled with a crystal chandelier, red velvet upholstered furniture and enormous oil paintings framed in gilt surrounding a bed on a platform. He also has a sitting room done entirely in gold, for which the phrase "ostentatiously, hideously ornate" was coined. Mugabe, 90, compares himself to both Jesus, who had no possessions, and Hitler, another dictator who loved stuff.

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