Down goes the dictator! A visual history of statue vandalism

For the oppressed revolutionary, there are few things more gratifying than the destruction of a dictator's statue. Whether it's Poles tearing down a statue of Lenin in 1990 or Iraqis doing the same to Saddam Hussein in 2003, the symbolism of a despot dismantled creates an indelible moment in history. On Monday, the world watched Syrian rebels relish one of those moments for themselves after the seizure of the northern city of Raqqa -- followed on Tuesday by the capture of the province's loyalist governor. Widely distributed videos captured opposition activists toppling a gold statue of Hafez al-Assad, the late father of President Bashar al-Assad, in the city's main square. The footage is an instant classic, and, depending on how the Syrian conflict turns out, could join the pantheon of demolished dictator statue videos the world over. Here are some of the best of the genre:

Down Goes Stalin 

It's difficult to count the number of places where Joseph Stalin's statued form has been desecrated. But Oct. 31, 1956 certainly stands out for residents of Budapest, who toppled this towering statue of Stalin during a short-lived anti-communist uprising. 

In 2010, Stalin's statue was removed in the Soviet dictator's hometown of Georgia. The removal followed Georgia's bitter five-day war with Russia in 2008.

But no hard feelings, Joe! The statue was restored in December to recall "happier times." 

Down Goes Saddam

This video of Iraqis pulling down the statue of Saddam Hussein in Firdos Square in 2003 remains a classic of the form, though the media certainly played a role in inflating the myth surrounding it. But it was also a moment of false foreshadowing, as any semblance of Iraqi unity quickly collapsed in the years to come.

Down Goes Lenin

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Lenin statues have been removed in numerous squares and parks around the world .While the production values of these destruction videos are not always great, here's a rather kinetic one from Cherkassy, Urkaine in 2008, replete with flying sparks and crumbling stone. 


We'd be remiss if we left out this gem from Ethiopia in 1991. Here, Ethiopians stand by a toppled statue of the Communist leader two days after the exit of Ethiopian pro-communist leader Mengistu Haile Mariam.  

Down Goes Mubarak

In 2011, former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's face was desecrated in this monument in the 6th of October city, on one of the main roads to Cairo. The monument features Mubarak rather presumptively looming over Egyptian Nobel Prize winners Ahmed Zewail, Anwar Sadat, and Naguib Mahfouz. 

Down Goes Qaddafi

One of the most memorable moments from the Libyan civil in 2011 was rebels toppling Muammar al-Qaddafi's golden fist statue, decapitating another Qaddafi statue, and kicking the head like a soccer ball. Cell-phone footage surfaced from every which angle:

Down Goes Assad (the Elder) 

That brings us back to this week's news. Here's video of the rebels attacking the monument to Assad's father. But as my colleague David Kenner notes, the euphoria was short-lived, as the square soon came under shelling.


Assad loses a city

Since the beginning of the Syrian uprising, supporters of President Bashar al-Assad could always take comfort in one fact: The regime had not lost control of a city. Of course, it had been challenged in Homs, Aleppo, and even Damascus - but if Assad could still control neighborhoods and pay salaries in major urban centers, he could plausibly make the case that he was still in the driver's seat.

That argument doesn't hold water any more. The northern city of Raqqa unexpectedly fell to the rebels yesterday, as anti-regime Syrians toppled the statue of Hafez al-Assad in a city square and captured the provincial governor. Raqqa had long been considered one of Assad's strongholds in the north: In November 2011, he performed Eid prayers in the city's al-Nour mosque to demonstrate his continuing hold over the region.

The toppling of Assad's statue quickly became the iconic image of the city's uprising. The image above juxtaposes the statue coming down, over the words "Made in Syria," with the toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue in Baghdad, over the words "Made in America." The joy at this example of self-empowerment, however, was short-lived. Shortly after the statue of Assad was toppled, video showed the same square targeted by shelling, causing several casualties.

The fall of Raqqa is just the latest example in what has been a consistent deterioration of Assad's control over northern Syria. By early February, rebels were looking to wrest control of Idlib Province from the regime. On Feb. 12, they captured the country's largest dam, to the west of Raqqa. On Feb. 15, they overran a military airbase to the east of Aleppo's airport. On Feb. 23, they first broke into a police academy on the outskirts of Aleppo. And on Feb. 28, they seized a checkpoint along the Iraqi border, and were only beaten back after the Iraqi army intervened.

The rebels' growing momentum in the north raises more questions than answers about where this conflict is heading. Can Assad hold on in his remaining northern strongholds, most importantly Aleppo? With the rebel advance slower in the rest of Syria, is the country heading for de facto partition? The Islamist Ahrar al-Sham and Jabhat al-Nusra took the lead in capturing Raqqa -- how will they govern the city? If anyone tells you they have the answers, they're lying.