Tag: dictators

Kim Jung Il is Dead

In a week filled with the death of intellectuals and political activists, we now have the death of Kim Jung Il. Other than the fact that this destabilizes an already crazy country (and I mean ‘crazy’ in that professional IR kind of way), I can’t think much of us will miss him. Except maybe the creators of South Park.

But who knew Juche could be so funky?

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Spoiler Alert! Latest Episode of ‘Dictator Survivor: Africa’

For all you fans of ‘Dictator Survivor: Africa,’ the forthcoming episode is sure to be the most dramatic one yet. Before this year, fans had gotten tired of some of the story lines and characters (I mean it seems obvious that Mugabe will win, so why bother watching right?), but this last season the international community producers have really intervened to make things more interesting.

Forget about Charles Tayor. Sure he was considered at one time to be the front runner in the dictatorship survival race- from the beginning he was named one of the Top Ten African Dictators of all time (no, really). He had it all: rebel forces in more than one country, massive diamond wealth, and illegal elections. Remember his bio episode when he talked about escaping from a US prison so he could return to rule the country? What about the shots of his election campaign where we learned that his slogan was ‘He Killed My Ma, He Killed my Pa, I’ll Vote for Him‘ (seriously). Even when Taylor was indicted voted off, producers continued to pursue his story line. They brought in celebrity guests to spruce up ratings when audiences grew tired of his Special Court trial, which continues to drag on. Bringing in Naomi Campbell and Mia Farrow with the whole diamond drama was pure reality TV genius. Bitchy drama, big rocks= high ratings.
Then we had Hosni Mubarak- no one thought he would leave so soon and most assumed his sons would join the cast.
But the real story is Gaddafi…

What a spoiler! Most audience members were convinced that he and Mugabe had formed an alliance that would assure they remained the last dictators standing. However, a few weak efforts in the regular Survivor challenges (control of the media, for one) has left Gaddafi all but assured of losing his place. What will the producers do without Gaddafi? His sexy female guards, the speculation about his ever-changing hair and face (check out the before and after photos), the costumes that seemed part Bea Arthur from Golden Girls and part Jesus Christ Superstar…can the show go on without him? Luckily the producers are dragging his exit from the show out over several episodes. Recently, an element of humor has been added to the story line, with a key Gaddafi spokesperson being caught dressed as a woman trying to flee the country. Audiences have also been taken on a virtual roller coaster with teasers about Gaddafi’s location: he was getting on a South African plane, he was underground in a bunker, he fled to Niger, he’s at the Algerian border…what will happen in the real finale?
Stay tuned for the developments. If history past seasons are any indication, even if Gaddafi is indicted voted off it will likely be another few years before he gets his own spin-off series goes to trial. Viewers will remember that Taylor was voted off in 2003 and didn’t get his series trial until 2006. This drama is now in the 6th season, with international attention viewership dropping drastically after the Naomi Campbell episode.
So fans may need to stay committed for the long haul. Luckily, for Mugabe, all the diversion in attention has meant that he has crept even further in the Survivor lead, with more years, more financial ruin, and more human rights violations than ever. Unfortunately, he may outlast the show.
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Which Dictator Are You?

This weekend I discovered Facebook’s “Which Dictator Are You?” application. This is a seven-question quiz that spits out a result with some basic historical information on a dictator and some cheeky comments about how the application inferred a match from your answers.

I have some unanswered questions about how the quiz works and some preliminary thoughts on how history is being communicated through such a device.

1) First item of note is the questions themselves. They arguably tell you very little directly about a person’s leadership style. They include things like musical taste, whether you buy girl scout cookies, and how you behave when stuck in a line at the bank. This contrasts to more straightforward “Which Dictator Are You” quizzes like the one at PoisonedMinds.com, which ask questions like “What’s your preference on facial hair?” “Who are the handy scapegoats for why your country sucks?” “What is your weapon of choice?” and “What kind of building do you live in?” – things that can be easily correlated to the actual behavior of historical figures.

2) Secondly, the questions measure how people see themselves – and actually, on how they wish to present how they see themselves publicly, since your Facebook friends can view the results of your quiz. So it’s not based on anything objective. If you’re going to correlate this to the personality traits of specific dictators, the matches should be generated on the basis of how dictator see themselves (thru memoirs perhaps?), not “objective” history. How is the matching actually done I wonder? (It could be completely arbitrary – two friends of mine with completely different personality types IMHO have gotten identical results.)

3) Regarding what lessons of history are being taught to the general public through four-sentence snapshots of historical figures: there is a curious gender disparity in the results I’ve been able to see so far. First, there are relatively few female dictators in the sample, at least, as far as I can tell – seems I am limited to looking at my friends’ quiz results, so I’ve only seen a handful out of the possible outcomes. (According to other Facebook user reviews of the application, many other dictators are also missing from the population.) But more interestingly (because of course fewer women have been in power historically) is the variation in commentary for male / female dictators. Compare the descriptions of Hitler and Castro, which emphasize their deeds and leadership styles, to Theodora, an 11th-century Byzantine ruler.

“You and Adolf may party hearty and crash hard, but you do know how to comfort and rally those who are panicked. If you’re not careful, though, your empire will peak as quickly as Hitler’s, and you could end up with the whole world on your tail. I think you’re nicer than him, though.”

“You and Fidel Castro have strong nationalistic pride, and can get by without many resources, resorting to ingenious guerilla tactics. Some even call Castro a benevolent dictator (and hopefully you’ll end up this way!) but sadly he resorts to the same oppression he fought against.”

“You and Theodora aren’t bad off, and you both vigorously assert your rights and work hard for what you want. You also shatter traditional ideas about gender roles on a daily basis.”

So let me get this straight: Theodora shatters gender stereotypes and asserts her own rights (standard feminism), and that makes her a dictator (defined by Facebook as having “sole power over his state and [being] usually oppressive or abusive”)? Hmm.

4) Hat tip to Facebook, though, for including Western dictators in their population. Turns out I’m “Abraham Lincoln.”

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Darkness ahead

Next Sunday, Russians are expected to go to the polls and overwhelmingly endorse the candidates of the pro-Putin party, Edinaya Rossiya.* What I find surprising is the level to which the government feels it needs to engage in electoral hanky-panky: all signs suggest that Edinaya Rossiya would receive a comfortable majority, even without the blatant manipulation of the system. Kommersant reports that a recent poll shows that it is very likely that no party besides Edinaya Rossiya will clear the 7% threshold for Duma representation–in that case, a “loyal opposition” may actually need to be manufactured to preserve the pretense of a multiparty system. Is this a dictator’s fear that his popularity is merely illusory? Or is it based in a belief that greater legitimacy is derived from a manipulated landslide than a clean victory? It’s hard to tell from the outside.

Whatever the cause, the Russian state has thrown its considerable resources behind Edinaya Rossiya. Riot police break up the pathetically small opposition demonstrations and arrest the participants for creating “public disturbances”. Opposition parties find it next-to-impossible to register their candidates. One of the primary opposition parties, the Union of Right Forces, had millions of copies of their campaign literature seized around the country on pathetically flimsy justifications. The government announced that it would restrict the number of OSCE election observers to 70 (compared to over 400 in the last Duma elections), then dragged their feet for so long on issuing visas to the observers that the OSCE simply cancelled the mission. In recent weeks, there have been “spontaneous” demonstrations around Russia by an organization calling itself “Za Putina” (For Putin), which is apparently dominated by Edinaya Rossiya members.

The rhetoric of the campaign is also notable for its strong flavor of Russian nationalism, the theme of the restoration of Russian greatness, and a focus on the person of Vladimir Putin that borders on a personality cult, with Putin cast as a father-figure reminiscent of the Little Father Tsar or Papa Joe Stalin. Edinaya Rossiya has adopted the slogan “Putin’s Plan is Russia’s Victory,” though few Russian voters admit to having any concrete idea as to what Putin’s mysterious plan might actually be. At campaign rallies, Putin has claimed that opposition groups are treacherous and unpatriotic–receiving their marching order from “foreign powers” who want Russia to be “a weak and feeble state”. Today, he accused the United States of meddling in the Russian election by pressuring the OSCE to drop plans for election-monitoring (those same monitors who couldn’t get their visas) in order to delegitimize the election.

I have never believed that Vladimir Putin was a committed democrat. I have long taken the view that he has authoritarian tendencies that have steered Russia in a non-democratic direction. Never before, though, have I felt so pessimistic about Russia’s political future. With this election, it is quite possible that we will see the consolidation of true authoritarianism in Russia. The rhetoric of confrontation with the West is rising, and US officials seem completely at a loss as to how to effectively reduce tensions. Sixteen years ago, we breathed a sigh of relief when the Soviet Union collapsed, ending the Cold War, and then turned our attention elsewhere. We’ve hardly turned it back since, and it shows.

* Edinaya Rossiya is usually translated as United Russia; I noticed the other day, though, that Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty translates it as Unified Russia, which I like because it carries a slightly different nuance that better reflects the orientation of the party. “United” in English has the connotation of joining and coming together, but this is represented by altogether different words in Russian (soedinyonniy is used for “United States”, while “obedinyonniy” is used for “United Nations”). Ediniy, on the other hand, has alternate meanings of “indivisible” and “common” (as in “shared”).

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Dictators on Parade

Parade Magazine–that little thing in your Sunday paper with all the advertisements from Best Buy and office Depot–has one article each year that I think is completely brilliant: Who is the World’s Worst Dictator?

Its such a simple thing, yet such a powerful statement, I’m surprised more people don’t do it. Yet I love that its in Parade magazine–something with such mass circulation in the Sunday paper that people normally look to for celebrity interviews and such. One week a year, they lay out the “bad people” in the world and call American’s attention to the other ‘evil-doers’ in the world outside of the war on terrorism.

This year’s list:

1) for the third year in a row topping the list, its Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, in power since 1989. Bashir earned and keeps his ranking because of Darfur.

This is why I love this article– it reminds a large number of people that there are international issues and leaders worthy of US attention and action. Darfur lingers on the edge of the current USFP agenda, crowded out by items such as Iraq and terrorism. I’m not saying that these things aren’t important, but rather, the point is, the worst person in the world (as Olberman might say) is not associated with either issue. There are other things out there that demand attention.

2) Kim Jong Il, everyone’s favorite lonely dictator, trying hard to recapture his number 1 ranking he last held in 2004.

3) Sayyid Ali KhamEnei of Iran. Key educational point here– its not Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president, but the Supreme Leader, the head of the religious clerics who control Iran who really calls the shots.

4) Hu Jintao, China

5) King Abdullah, Saudi Arabia

Ahhh, now it gets complicated. Key American Frenemies. We need them, we’re good friends with them, but Parade reminds us that we’re not always friends with the world’s best people.

Check out the rest of the top 20.

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