Magazine article The Spectator

After the Tyrants

Magazine article The Spectator

After the Tyrants

Article excerpt

What's the best way for a dictator to fall, wondered Owen Bennett-Jones on Saturday night's Archive on 4 (Radio 4, produced by Simon Watts). Is sending the deposed dictator into exile better for the recovery of the abused nation than execution? Would a domestic trial lead more quickly to justice than an international tribunal? These are tricky questions. Yet the recent fall of dictatorships in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya requires us to find some way of understanding how these countries might find a way of living peaceably with the reality of their violent pasts.

Gaddafi's rule of terror in Libya ended with his brutal death, but very few dictatorships are brought to an end in this bloody way, as Bennett-Jones reminded us. Pol Pot in Cambodia, for instance, infamously lived on in his own country for decades after the Vietnamese invasion brought an end to his mad, bad dictatorship. So did General Pinochet in Chile, who was only forced to confront the fear he had inflicted on the Chilean people when he was extradited to Great Britain. Until that point, one third of Chileans thought of him as a kindly, paternalistic ruler whom they wanted back in power. Stalin and Mao Tse-tung, too, died peacefully in their beds, in spite of the horrors they perpetrated.

They were mourned as father figures, strong men who had bestowed stability and pride.

Bennett-Jones's programme was a useful reminder of how ambiguous the historical lesson can be, and just how easily people can be taken in. As Misha Glenny said about the Soviet Russians: 'They were brainwashed into a stupor.' That's why it's so worrying to hear the kind of ludicrous connections that are being made by the campaigners who have occupied the plaza in front of St Paul's.

We are so easily taken in.

Best of all on this archive programme, though, was a recording from the early 1960s of a BBC interview with Hastings Banda, the inscrutable president of Nyasaland.

After a series of monosyllabic replies, 'I won't tell you that, ' or 'Don't ask me that, ' and 'Need you ask me that question at this stage, ' Banda was asked by the perplexed interviewer, who kept his cool with remarkable professional composure, 'Are you going to tell me anything?' to which Banda replies, 'Nothing.'

'In fact, you're going to tell me nothing at all?' the interviewer persists.

'Nothing at all, ' repeats Banda.

'So it's a singularly fruitless interview?'

'That's up to you, ' says Banda.

Tyranny of another kind has been exposed this week by Jeanette Winterson as she reads from her frank, compelling memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? …

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