As Crikey noted on Monday, a few ex-dictators live on in retirement, in exile or in the dock. But others live on as restaurants.
Last week, controversy broke out in India with the opening of a Mumbai restaurant called “Hitler’s Cross“, originally graced by a large picture of Adolf Hitler(since removed) and decorated with a swastika and Nazi colours. Its owner told Reuters “We wanted to be different. This is one name that will stay in people’s minds”.
No question about that. Out of a century’s worth of evil rulers, Hitler is still sui generis; in AJP Taylor’s words, he “had a depth and elaboration of evil all his own”. So to describe a Hitler restaurant as “insensitive” is an understatement. Not surprisingly, the local Israeli consul said “he had been receiving calls from concerned and irate Jews across the world.”
But this sensitivity does not extend to other mass murderers. Some years ago I ate at the “House of Mao” in Singapore, still one of the country’s most popular restaurants and chock-full of Mao Zedong memorabilia. His name appears in several Australian eateries as well, apparently without protest.
Is this part of our habit of sweeping the unpleasant facts of Chinese dictatorship under the rug? Or do we feel so safely removed from Mao’s rule that we can treat it as a bit of a joke? Perhaps laughter is the appropriate response to dictatorship – that’s certainly the view that Mel Brooks immortalised in The Producers. But can we always distinguish between endorsement and satire?
I haven’t found a Stalin restaurant anywhere, but Soviet nostalgia is big business in eastern and central Europe, so if there isn’t one already then it’s only a matter of time.