When strongmen fall, so do their statues


When the strong and feared seize power, those eager to prove their allegiance are quick to glorify the leader with statues on every square and portraits in every office. When the strongman falls, so do his statues.

The giant statue of President Saddam Hussein in the center of Baghdad, Iraq, was toppled Wednesday. It was hollow inside, somehow symbolic even though such a large statue, made out of metal, would be too heavy to erect if it were not.

Still, as one Russian writer has observed, when the Soviet Union was collapsing, it took hours for a Moscow crowd equipped with heavy-duty cranes to pull down the statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky, founder of the secret police. And that statue held together instead of shabbily snapping off above the ankles.

Statues of Vladimir I. Lenin were dispatched at a rapid rate as the Soviet Union dissolved - from Lithuania to Tajikistan. In yet another bit of symbolism, no Lenin statues were torn down in Russia. Russians have never been able to bring themselves to renounce the leader of the Revolution.

In September 1991, thousands of men gathered in the main square in Dushanbe, capital of Tajikistan, to pull down their Lenin statue. It crashed to the ground, and the head came off. Workmen started to throw shattered pieces into Lenin's head, as if into a broken cup.

"We don't support communism," a Russian woman who was watching said, "but when we saw what happened to Lenin, we were afraid this would happen to our way of life."

Last week, a gang of men and boys dragged the head of the Saddam Hussein statue through the streets of Baghdad. They looked as if they were destroying a way of life.

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