Dealing with the remains of dead dictators

Franco and Eisenhower in Madrid during 1959. Photo: Collected
Franco and Eisenhower in Madrid during 1959. Photo: Collected

As in Spain, where the divisive tomb of dictator Francisco Franco may be removed, various countries have had difficulty dealing with the remains of controversial leaders.

Here are some examples:

- Soviet Union: Joseph Stalin -
On his death in 1953, Stalin was buried in the Moscow mausoleum of his predecessor, Vladimir Lenin.

But eight years later, a process of "de-Stalinisation" was launched to dismantle the dictator's cult of personality and his remains were quietly transferred to a more modest resting place near the Kremlin.

The site is still, however, a site of pilgrimage for some die-hard communists.

- Albania: Enver Hoxha -
The authoritarian communist ruler of Albania for 40 years was buried as a national hero in the Martyrs Cemetery after his death in 1985.

But after the fall of communism, his remains were exhumed in 1992 and transferred to an ordinary public cemetery in a suburb of Tirana.

A pyramid-shaped complex in his honour served for a while as a cultural centre but is in ruins today.

- Romania: Nicolae Ceausescu -
The dictator and his wife Elena were arrested after a popular anti-communist uprising in 1989, summarily judged and executed by firing squad.

Fearing their graves might be desecrated, they were surreptitiously buried at night under crosses bearing false names.

The bodies were exhumed in 2010 to dispel doubts about the identity and reburied at Ghencea cemetery in Bucharest, this time together.

Amid rising nostalgia for the communist era, some Romanians visited the red marble grave in January 2018 to mark the 100th anniversary of Ceausescu's birth.

- Libya: Moamer Kadhafi -
Killed during the Libyan revolution in October 2011, the dictator for nearly 42 years was buried in a secret location in the desert after a religious ceremony.

The military said it wanted to avoid his grave becoming a rallying point for his supporters.

One official said the aim was to follow the example of what happened to Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler, whose body disappeared after his suicide as Soviet troops stormed Berlin in 1945.

- Iraq: Saddam Hussein -
Having ruled since 1979, Saddam was arrested by US forces in 2003 as he hid down a hole near Tikrit.

After his execution in 2006 for crimes against humanity, his body was buried in a mausoleum he had built for himself in the village in which he was born, Awja, near Tikrit.

The tomb became a place of remembrance for his family and supporters but around 2014 was destroyed in mysterious circumstances.

Some suggested an attack by the Iraqi air force, while others said it had been blown up with dynamite.

The whereabouts of the body, including whether it remains in the ruins, is a subject of much speculation.

- Ethiopia: Haile Selassie -
The remains of the last emperor of Ethiopia were discovered in 1992 and exhumed from a grave in Addis Ababa where they had been cast by leaders of the 1974 revolution.

It was only in November 2000 that Selassie, who died in 1975 in mysterious circumstances, was finally buried in a church in the presence of the imperial family.

- Germany: Rudolf Hess -
The remains of Hitler's former righthand man, who died in prison in 1987, were exhumed in secret in 2011 in Bavaria and his grave destroyed to get rid of the biggest neo-Nazi pilgrimage site in Germany.

His remains were placed in another coffin which was incinerated and his ashes scattered at sea.