Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam was the communist dictator of Ethiopia for 17 years, from 1977 to 1990. He came to power following the assassination of the old dictator, who in turn came to power following the murder of the emperor. It's a shame that Mengistu is so forgotten today because he was easily one of the worst tyrants of the 20th Century. There were widespread purges of political enemies, a brutal civil war to suppress the nationalist ambitions of the now-independent state of Eritrea, as well as traditional communist mangling of the economy and agricultural sector, both of which helped to intensify the damage inflicted by one of Africa's worst famines. His overall death count is usually attributed at anywhere from the high tens of thousands to the low hundreds of thousands, and if you factor in the causalities from the famines, civil war, and forced relocations, he can easily be blamed for presiding over at least a million unjustified deaths.
Mengistu was deposed in 1991 by a rebel coalition led by Meles Zenawi, who remains Prime Minister of Ethiopia to this very day. Ethiopia is still not a very free country under him, but at least it's freer. His government put Mengistu and his inner circle on trial for crimes against humanity in 1994, but the proceedings were notoriously slow and bungled, and took 12 years to finish. Today Mengistu was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of 2,000 political enemies in 1978.
But wait! As the Associated Press is quick to point out, the colonel is "unlikely to ever spend a day behind bars." This is because shortly after being deposed Mengistu fled to nearby Zimbabwe, where he was welcomed into a posh exile by that country's Marxist dictator, Robert Mugabe. In the years since then Mr. Mugabe has steadfastly refused to extradite Mengistu to face trial, and still refuses to do so, even now that Mengistu is a convicted felon. As Human Rights Watch quipped, "one dictator is protecting another."
Why I don't like Wikipedia
As an aside, I would like to point out just what a raging double-standard in the popular culture there seems to be when it comes to the damnation of dictators. There are some dictators we all remember and hate, while others we quickly forget, or never cared about in the first place.
This may change in the coming days, but as I write this Colonel Mengistu's article on Wikipedia is rather pitiful. It's short, incomplete, and superficial. Only 2,000 words in all. By contrast, when we look at the article for the late General Pinochet of Chile, we see an article over 3,700 words long, with lots of historical background, political analysis, footnotes, links, pictures, etc. In addition, there are several other 2,000+ word articles on the site detailing other aspects of Pinochet's dictatorial career, including his 1973 coup, "Chile under Pinochet," and his subsequent arrest and trial.
Now if we consult a notoriously fair and balanced source of information, such as the "Wonderful World" segment of Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine, we can see that Pinochet is at most responsible for the death of 5,000 Chileans. Comparatively speaking, this makes him a rather small fish in the global context, and an especially small fish compared to someone like Mengistu who murdered upwards of three times that number over a shorter period of time.
Yet in the popular culture and the popular imagination of much of the world, it is Pinochet who is remembered as this uniquely horrible monster- one of the worst dictators of all time. In his later years people hated Pinochet so much he couldn't even travel freely because every country in the world wanted to arrest him.
Far be it for me to engage in shallow partisan bashing, but I honestly believe that this particular phenomenon is all the left's fault. Left-wingers always had a particularly intense animosity towards Pinochet for mostly ideological reasons. They hated the fact that he deposed a socialist, they hated that he was an ultra-capitalist right-winger, and they hated that he was supported by Nixon and Kissinger. As he embodied a lot of things the leftist set wanted to rally against, Pinochet's evils became greatly exaggerated for partisan reasons.
The left-wing obsession with Pinochet continued years after he left office, and it continues to play out to this day in sites like Wikipedia, where critics from the United States and elsewhere slavishly seek to research, chronicle, and document every single obscenity perpetuated by his regime. The western media played along with much of this as well, and as a result today the "conventional wisdom" raises us to believe that Pinochet was one of the worst tyrants of the last 100 years.
Pinochet was a egotistical sadist whose regime committed many vicious crimes- of that there can be no doubt. But he will ultimately be little more than a footnote to history, one of many Latin American military despots presiding in an era rife with them. Mengistu was one of many African despots, but his regime was uniquely gruesome, and- in the words of his own country- genocidal on a scale that was extreme even by continential standards. It is an insult to our collective morality, as well as his victims, that we will never recognize him as such.
News relating to Austria
In less polemic news, Alfred Gusenbauer was sworn in as Chancellor of Austria today. He's yet another European social democrat presiding over a weak coalition government resulting from an indecisive election.
Austria is the only country other than Germany that has a "chancellor" as their head of government. Here we see Herr Gusenbauer being ratified by the country's figurehead president.