Charlie Chaplin despots

3 March 2006

Belarus candidate is arrested” said the little headline low down on the front page. There was a picture: a strange one showing a shiny marble floor, a modern staircase and big pot plants. In the foreground eight or ten men in thick jackets and warm hats were scuffling. The caption read: “Security agents beating the opposition presidential candidate Aleksandr Kazulin as they arrested him in Minsk on Thursday…” I’m afraid I laughed.

Just underneath was another story. “Dozens of masked Kenyan police officers knocked a television station off the air Thursday before moving to a newspaper plant where they disabled the printing press and torched thousands of papers.” Three journalists were charged with “publishing a false rumour” about President Mwai Kibaki.  

Sometimes the despots – and Kibaki seems intent on joining Lukashenko in that club -- are their own parody. They behave as though Charlie Chaplin, Bertolt Brecht and Gilbert and Sullivan had never mocked them, as though there was no such thing as a cliché of power. Sadly, though, I expect these two do it with their eyes open. Beating up election candidates and smashing printing presses, brazen as it is, is a way of pointing a finger westwards and saying there is nobody left with the moral authority to stop them.



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