The recent Libyan uprising has resulted in many serious consequences for Muammar Qaddafi — including the revelation of the various tchotchkes found stashed away in his private compound. There’s a lesson to be had here – if you have some sort of keepsake(s) that you’d rather the rest of the world not know about, then you’d better destroy them now, or at the very least never become a despotic dictator. No matter how innocent the hobby or fetish, it might reflect badly on your image as a Supreme Political Tyrant after you’re deposed. Here are a few of the more unusual items that some of history’s most hard-nosed rulers kept near and dear:
1. It’s Only a Schoolboy Crush
When Libyan rebels ransacked Qaddafi's private compound, they stumbled upon a photo album filled with pictures of former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Turns out the “Brother Leader” had a teenaged fan-boy crush on “my darling black African woman” who “leans back and gives orders to the Arab leaders.” When Rice visited Tripoli in 2008, Qaddafi plied her with gifts, including a diamond ring, a lute, and a locket with his picture tucked inside.
2. Awed by an Egyptian
Adolf Hitler was another tyrant who was fascinated by African beauty. One of his prized possessions was a limestone bust of an Amarna Period portrait of Queen Nefertiti, which had been smuggled out of Egypt by German archaeologist Ludwig Borchardt in 1913. The bust was loaned to the Berlin Museum along with other artifacts of the Amarna dig, but it was never put on display at the request of Borchardt. When Germany’s museums were closed in 1939, Hitler had the bust moved to one of his bunkers in Berlin, stating, “Nefertiti continually delights me. The bust is a unique masterpiece, an ornament, a true treasure!" He also proclaimed that when Berlin re-emerged as Germania he would “build a chamber, crowned by a large dome. In the middle, this wonder, Nefertiti, will be enthroned. I will never relinquish the head of the Queen."
Hitler had also planned to have a bust of his own mug made to be placed next to the Egyptian queen in his pleasure dome, but his plans came to a screeching halt when World War II didn’t end exactly as he’d envisioned.
3. When Papa Plays the Accordion
When a person admits to having tasted human flesh and allegedly kept the severed heads of his rivals in the palace freezer, it’s really hard to find any sort of “wacky” item in his personal collection. Unless, of course, it’s something that seems totally contradictory to said dictator’s public image. In this case we’re talking about Idi Amin, better known as the Butcher of Uganda, and his love of the accordion.
“Dada” absolutely loved accordion music and considered himself something of a virtuoso on the instrument. In fact, part of his agreement to participate in Barbet Schroeder’s 1974 documentary General Idi Amin Dada was that he would provide the accompanying musical score via his cherished accordion. How adept was he? Very much so, according to those closest to him, and that’s not because they felt obligated to say so, honest….
4. Put a Chain Around My Neck and Lead Me Anywhere
Nicolae Ceausescu’s 1,100 room palace was filled with lavish gifts and knick-knacks from foreign dignitaries who were for some reason anxious to court the Romanian dictator. But one large wing was filled with Ceausescu’s personal “trophies” – the hides of the nearly 4,000 bears he’d killed during his 25 year reign. Nicu was big on blood sports, and the brown bears of the Carpathian Mountains were his favorite target.
Oppressing a population is time-consuming work, though, so Ceausescu had to go about his hunting as expeditiously as possible. He’d fly via helicopter to one of the many “game management units” dotting Romania, where keepers nurtured nearly tame herds by putting out supplemental fruit and horsemeat for the bears at feeding stations. If Nicu was in a particular hurry, the keepers would slip their bears some food laced with ursine roofies and then herd the sluggish animals past Ceausescu’s raised hunting platform so that he could pick them off en masse, cubs and sows included. One afternoon he managed to bag 24 bruins in a matter of hours.
Perhaps it was a small slice of poetic justice that the topcoat that Ceausescu happened to be wearing when he was executed by a firing squad in 1989 was lined with bearskin.
5. Green Tea in Bed
China’s Chairman Mao Zedong’s Imperial Palace was filled with many luxuries only dreamed of by the average Chinese (including an indoor swimming pool and several tennis courts), but another staple was something that even the upper-middle-class American would envy – a large round bed with a feather-stuffed mattress. Mao enjoyed the company of many young women at one time and nothing less than a feathery nest would suffice for the Chairman’s erotic encounters. He even had such a bed installed in the Palace’s grand ballroom, apparently for those urgent quickies that arose during State occasions.
One item that was not to be found among Zedong’s belongings was a toothbrush; the Chairman was very much anti-dental hygiene and simply rubbed green tea leaves on his rotting choppers when the pain of inflammation grew unbearable.
6. You’ve Gotta Have Art
A common trait among dictators is the need to present an impressive, educated, epicurean persona to their people and the world. Iraq’s Saddam Hussein fancied himself a connoisseur of fine art and sublime libations, yet his bunker was decorated with an array of black velvet paintings and his wine cellar stockpiled with Mateus Rosé (not exactly Boone’s Farm, but a far cry from Château d'Yquem).
And then there were the murals that adorned the walls of his hideaway…for example, a nude Adonis-type male wrestling an enormous viper while a bare-breasted female looks on. The man who had a cleanliness fetish and had solid gold fixtures in his multitude of palace bathrooms was ultimately seized by U.S. forces in a tiny spider hole in which the only accoutrements were a fluorescent light and a ventilation fan.