Down goes the dictator! A visual history of statue vandalism

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.