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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 March 2006, 15:22 GMT
Death stirs debate over sullied leaders
By Becky Branford
BBC News

The struggle over where Slobodan Milosevic should be buried goes to the heart of the debate about his legacy.

Supporters of the former Philippines president crowd around his glass coffin, in a refrigerated mausoleum
The body of Ferdinand Marcos, forlornly awaiting a state burial
Authorities were faced with a dilemma: allowing a home burial could be seen as conceding Milosevic a measure of historical respect. But for the nationalist leader a foreign resting place would have been a final snub.

It's a decision many governments have had to face.

Repatriating or honouring the remains of leaders who die after being exiled or overthrown risks signalling the rehabilitation of their reputations - a worrying prospect for authorities keen not to resurrect old social divisions.

But a newfound fondness for leaders past can also be traced to nostalgia for the passage of history with which they are associated.

For more than 20 years from Uganda's independence in 1962, power exchanged hands several times between two men - Milton Obote and Idi Amin. Both were eventually deposed and exiled, Amin in 1979 and Obote in 1985.

Different deference

Both leaders were accused of atrocities in power, with hundreds of thousands of people estimated to have died due to the actions of each man.

But when they died in exile within two years of each other, only one was accorded a state funeral: Obote, whose remains were flown back to Kampala from Zambia after he died in 2005.

When Amin died in Saudi Arabia in 2003, his family were given the option of flying his remains home, but a state ceremony was ruled out.

Tsar Nicolas II and family in 1914
The Romanov family came to symbolise a bygone era
"To put it crudely, it's the kill rate," Patrick Smith, editor of the UK-based Africa Confidential newsletter, told the BBC News website.

"I know people differ on this, but most of the counts reckon Amin was the most evil of all the mass murderers."

While opinion on Obote was mixed, with some crediting him for helping bring independence to Uganda, "everyone was heartily sick of Amin and glad that he was gone", says Mr Smith.

But Mr Smith says international perceptions of the two leaders also helped shape domestic reaction to their deaths.

"They are different figures - Obote was a presidential figure with an academic backdrop, while Amin was a large thug. There was caricature and racism in the way the West treated Amin," he says.

Refrigerated

Far away in the north of the Philippines, the corpse of the authoritarian former President Ferdinand Marcos, who died in exile in Hawaii in 1989 after being overthrown in popular protests in 1986, lies in a refrigerated mausoleum.

For years, his wife Imelda has campaigned for his remains to be given state honours and a hero's burial in Manila.

But her husband is so discredited - and his wife so maligned in the press for her lavish lifestyle and corrupt associations - that she has little chance of ever realising her goal, say analysts.

In China, authorities are acutely aware of the power of memorial ceremonies to become a focus for protest.

The Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 were triggered by the death of a party leader, Hu Yaobang, a reformist dismissed in 1987 for failing to deal strongly enough with student protests.

His successor, Zhao Ziyang, opposed the harsh measures taken against the Tiananmen protesters - and was himself sacked and put under house arrest. When he died in 2005, authorities acted quickly to minimise the public reaction.

Government officials known to be sympathetic to him were forbidden to leave their homes, and only officially approved guests were allowed entry.

Romanovs resurrected

The story of the Romanovs - the family of Russian Tsar Nicolas II - also provides an interesting example of how the bestowal of state honours can be symbolic of a deeper social judgement.

The family and their servants were shot dead and buried in a forest pit by the Bolsheviks after the October 1917 revolution. In 1998, the remains were reburied at St Petersburg cathedral. President Boris Yeltsin spoke during the ceremony, referring to the murders as one of the most "shameful pages" in Russia's history.

"The reburial was hugely significant," says Professor McGregor Knox, European historian at LSE.

Despite his defeat in successive wars, many Russians associate Tsar Nicolas with the great expansion of Russia in the 18th and 19th Centuries, says Prof Knox.

More importantly, however, he says the homage paid to the imperial family reflected profound dissatisfaction with the decades of communist rule.

"I remember seeing, during the collapse of the Soviet Union, a demo on Red Square. There was a placard which said '70 years on the road to nowhere' - it was the sense that Russia had been ripped off its normal path by the revolution," he said.

Emperor returns

French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte died in 1821 in lonely exile on the island of St Helena, six years after surrendering to the British at the Battle of Waterloo.

But 19 years later his remains were returned to Paris to be entombed under the magnificent dome of Les Invalides.

French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte
The government seemed afraid of the ghost it was evoking. It both showed and concealed Napoleon
Victor Hugo
One of France's most vaunted writers, Victor Hugo, witnessed the scene.

"At eleven, I leave the house. The streets are empty, the shops shut. Here and there an old woman walks about," he wrote in an article on 15 December 1840 called The Interment of Napoleon.

"You can feel all of Paris tilt to one side, like water in a basin... Rue Sainte-Andre-des-Arcs, you begin to sense the festivities. - Yes, festivity: a corpse-in-exile is coming back in triumph...

"I came home along the boulevards. The mass of people remains enormous. ... Little children shout: 'Long live the emperor!' This whole ceremony had something of a magician's trick about it. The government seemed afraid of the ghost it was evoking. It both showed and concealed Napoleon. What was too great or too touching about him was set aside." (Translation by Keith Botsford.)

In the intervening years between his death and the repatriation of his remains, "Napoleon's reputation had gone up enormously," says Prof Knox.

"The 1.8m French dead in the wars of revolution were forgotten, and the drab restoration monarchy was not inspiring to many good French nationalists. Napoleon represented the era of glory when France dominated Europe."

Some discredited leaders are aware of the sensitivities their deaths may occasion. Disgraced US President Richard Nixon, for example, averted a posthumous row by himself decreeing that he should not be buried with state honours.

But there are other arguments looming. In Africa, the former rulers of Ethiopia and Chad, Haile Mengistu Mariam and Hissene Habre, are growing old in exile.

And deep-rooted passions will return to the surface in Chile when General Augusto Pinochet dies.


What do you think? Is it acceptable for discredited leaders to be given state burials? What factors influence the decision on whether to give them state honours? Send us your comments using the form below.

Your comments:

Why possible value is there in beating up on a dead man? The time to criticize is when they are in power, when criticism may have some effect. A state funeral honors the office of head of state, not the person or his policies.
Robert, Waukegan IL USA

Leaders dying in exile is an anachronism. How they are treated after death depends upon how they appear to the present society in a historical perspective. There can be no general rule about how dead exile leaders are to be treated. It all depends upon the judgement the present society passes on them. Indignity or ignominy, it is better to dispose of the mortal remains without much ado.
a.sathyamurthy, Coimbatore India

In our country, the Philippines was far better during the times of Marcos than all his successors. Though he is corrupt and a dictator, he have done so many good things during his time in power. Marcos was very popular during his first term as President and was overwhelmingly re-elected during the 1969 election. It is right to condemn him for all his wrong deeds, but is it not right to honor him for all the good things he have done?
Bert, Manila, Philippines

Milosevic should not be given a formal state funeral because it does grant some degree of legitimacy to his legacy in official Serbian history. Moreover, burying him in Serbia, whether it's Belgrade or Pozarevac may create a sort of nationalist shrine in the same way Rudolf Hess' gravesite serves to Neo-Nazis in Germany. By refusing an official funeral, the Serbian government has wisely indicated it wants to sever Serbia's link with its authoritarian past.
Mike, New York, USA

Such leaders should be buried in remote plots of land without fanfare; the people they hurt should be revered and recompensed, even though no amount of recompensation can ameliorate the pain and loss of dignity.
Sydney Morgan Harrison, Guadalajara, MX

The remains of all discredited leaders from the past, present and future should be flushed down the toilet bowl. They do not deserve the compassion and respect from fellow mankind. Having noticed that many of them who take the oath of office to lead, seem so eager to become tyrants and thieves. This is just my point of view, which some bleeding hearts will disagree. Too bad. Have a good day!
Alex Gomez, Victoria, Canada

i once asked a priest how he had peace when leading a funeral service for any evil person? he replied that it was only his job to take the service and that any of us had to stand alone before a greater judge, so the human decent attitude is to bury anyone who has passed on but to glorify a person's funeral should only go ahead if the nation or it's people believe the honour should be bestowed...
sean, aberdeen,scotland

No, it is not acceptable for discredited leaders to be given state burials. A state burial is an honour bestowed by a grateful people on great leaders. A disgraced head of State should not be honoured. Thousands of people were murdered during the American-backed Marcos regime. He left behind a nation in shameful poverty and a legacy of entrenched corruption. Why should the Filipinos honour Marcos with a state burial?
D. Hidalgo, Manila, Philippines

What people have to remember is that these leaders had supporters. When you read the newspapers and sit at home, it is difficult to imagine what times are like for all involved. I hated the fact that someone like Reagan in the US should get such high honors having been involved in wars and predujice politics. It was politicians from the west who gave most of these tyrants power in the first place. Dislike these people for who they are but understand that they represent a turning point; learn from their rule however you judge them, as long as we remember the poor souls lost in conflict, too.
jono, Taiwan, from UK

Any civilised person can see that honouring the perpetrator of horrific crimes against humanity with a state funeral is in itself a crime against the people who suffered at the hands of this monster. It is a message of forgiveness by those in power not qualified to deliver such a message on the victims' behalf, and will only serve to encourage others to follow the same destructive, iniquitous path for personal gain.
Alf Riley, Chippenham, England

There is absolutely no question Mr Slobodan Milosevic would be buried in Serbia.As a previous leader,whatever he did,he deserve a decent funeral in his loving land.
Tao Tao, China,Chongqing

Your question is based in the concept of a "discredited leader", which is biased or a partial view. Is Castro a discredited leader ? Why is General Pinochet today a discredited leader compared to Castro? Is Allende a credited leader comapared to Pinochet ? He put the country almost at civil war. All depends on the international comunist propaganda. The answer to your question: yes, all leaders should be buried in their countries with honours. One sided discredited views should not alter this principle. Thanks.
Manuel Blanco, Santiago de Chile

I do not think that there is anything wrong in giving discredited leaders State burials. You should realise that there are burials and there are burials. We should not make enemy with the death. So even if we are not happy with our neighbour nothing stops us from giving them befiting burials. The reason is that we too do not know the state we shall be when we shall meet our own death. No quarrels with a death man I would say. The type of orations that will come from the people on the day of his burial will determine how popular or not he/she is with his people.
Udoka Aloysius, Onitsha / Nigeria

And one must wonder, what will be done with the corpse of Lenin? At what point will the nostalgia for his Soviet Republic become stale? Perhaps, soon or perhaps as he rest in Red Square his name will once again be invoked to inspire the Russian people. Regardless, the corpse of the man seems to have a few more acts before the curtain goes down.
David Cowell, St. Paul, Minnesota

Disgraced leaders and their causes should not be honored. Their passing should be noted but not commemorated. In the American south, their are countless memorials to men who fought to maintain the right to legally oppress others. These memorials are especially galling when found in black communities. Blind nationalism or regionalism should not be allowed to obfuscate the crimes of murderous criminals.
Mark Hamilton, Atlanta USA

I do not think they should be given state burial, rather be given state destruction, by cremeting their bodies and disposing the ashes in the waste bins, so that we do not have any tombs to remember their evils.
S. S. Akene, Abuja & Nigeria

sometimes discredited leaders are victimes of political plots and struggles, but for a enemies of humanity, there is no forgiveness.
John K W Tse, Southampton. UK

State funerals are meant for people to pay their last respects to a leader which is widely recognized as having made a positive difference and contributions to the development of that country. It is the true measure of popularity and respect which a leader can receive rather than having to resort to political propaganda used to win elections. In case of Milosevic, I believe that having been indicted and put on trail although without verdict is enough to be considered at the least a discredited leader. How could the Serbia President and its government justify to the Serbian nation that it should honour a discredited leader who has caused so much pain, hardship, destruction and death to his own people?
Dirk Smet, Cotonou - Benin Republic

Funerals are for the living.
Daniel, Paris, France

State honors indicate remarkable service to the nation. Massive malfeasance is at least a disservice, as with Obote, and is often much worse than that, as in the case of Amin. The middle ground between the alternatives is allowing a private burial on home soil and not permanently isolating the disgraced individual from the community. The families of former leaders mentioned in the story should be thankful for that grace when it's offered.
Gene Torisky, Greensburg, Pennsylvania USA

Honoring people like Milosevic is disrespectful to the many victims and their families that have died under tyranny and brutality. This is like giving Hitler or the Angel of Death a state burial. The victims deserved a proper burial and respect, but were never given the opportunity.
Bruce Southers, USA

It has always amazed me how passionate the common folk can be about their leaders, whether democratic or dictatorial. Once someone dies all their sins are washed away. US history personifies this in the almost mythical status accorded to the founding fathers. The people's attitude towards the famous is no different. At the end of the day we're all people of equal worth, faults and attributes. It's the fact that the masses can be so delusional that can disrupt that reality.
Paul Stowe, Miami, Florida

Dictator general Francisco Franco ruled Spain for 40 years and died in the bed. After winning the civil war (36-39) he got a giant mausoleum constructed for himself with defeated POW's labour force. This place is called 'Valle de los caidos' near Madrid ('Valley of the fallen'). Ask any spanish. Some dictators die peacefully and get away with it. His tomb is visited regularly by regime nostalgics. This tomb should be closed to fascist visitors and the POW slaves who worked and died there should be given official recognition.
Javier, huesca, spain




SEE ALSO
Philippines remembers Marcos era
25 Feb 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Beijing monitors Zhao mourning
19 Jan 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Romanovs laid to rest
17 Jul 98 |  Europe



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