January 20, 2011
Having spent a great part of my life charting the decline of civilization, I am not surprised at the goings-on in Tunisia, especially as I never considered the place to be civilized. How apt that the arch-crook dictator Ben Ali (Baba) slithered away to Saudi Arabia, itself a beacon of democracy and human rights—especially for women—instead of landing here in good old Helvetia and embarrassing my little community of Gstaad. Mind you, Saanen Airport can only take very small jets, the kind in which a crook such as Ben Ali Baba would never deign to escape.
But it’s nice that crooks and dictators help each other. Imagine if Robert Mugabe had not taken in that Ethiopian arch-murderer Mengistu; he’d probably be living in a place like Athens or even Rome. When King Farouk fled Egypt in 1952 he left in style, onboard the royal yacht and headed straight for Capri. Farouk may have been useless as a king, but he was a gentleman.
The Central African Republic’s Emperor Bokassa was far less cultured. He not only kept dead children for midnight snacks in his fridge, he also gave some pretty nice diamonds to French President Giscard d’Estaing, who had the bad taste to keep them. Publicly embarrassed by Bokassa’s cannibalism, the French overthrew him but allowed the monster to live in one of the chateaus he had purchased in France. Bokassa then inexplicably returned to the Central African Republic, which immediately put him on trial for cannibalism and found him guilty on all counts. But his successor was a softy and announced that the CAR was a civilized place that didn’t execute people for eating children. Bokassa was sentenced to solitary confinement for life but was pardoned after five years. He died with 17 wives and nearly fifty of his children surrounding his death bed, none of whom he tried to eat, his weakened condition not permitting it.
Charles Taylor, who sipped a Budweiser as his henchmen chopped off his predecessor’s ears while filming the process—or am I mixing up my Liberian strongmen? It could have been Prince Johnson—fled to Nigeria in his private jet and is now in The Hague standing trial for crimes that would make Genghis Khan blush, but never mind. European taxpayers are paying his tab while he lives in a suite and is allowed conjugal visits. I wonder if ex-Liberian President Sergeant Doe was allowed a conjugal visit before Prince Johnson or Charles Taylor lopped off his ears? These Middle Eastern and sub-Saharan presidents play rough. We Europeans, on the other hand, are very civilized with our dictators. Both Franco and Salazar died in their beds, and rightly so, as both strongmen saved their countries while keeping them out of the disastrous Second World War. Il Duce died in an undignified manner, caught wearing a German officer’s topcoat and then, after being machine-gunned to death, hanged from his feet in a Milanese piazza for all to see. (What I never understood was why his mistress was also put to death. A girl had to make a living.)