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Quod splendet ut aurum

The Holy Grail of modern political journalism is a fallen dictator’s gold taps. Mind you, the bloodsucking hypocrite need not be actually dead when the assorted hacks and hackettes barge into what, until the new government sent out its press release, had been his bathroom; it is quite enough if the villain of the piece was deposed, exiled, or otherwise rendered inoperable.

Did I say dictator? The bloodsucking hypocrite need not actually be a dictator, either; it is quite enough that he is the democratically chosen villain of the moment – a Marcos, a Milosevic, an Osama. I am pretty sure that the Indian posse that finally ran to ground and proudly scalped this last scourge of democracy were sorely disappointed not to have found in his hideout any gold taps worth exhibiting. What puzzles me is why they hadn’t thought of bringing some along, so they could plant them in Osama’s bathroom and have them filmed by CNN and photographed by the New York Times. Perhaps his lair did not have a bathroom, and you can’t reasonably expect people to believe that even the most dastardly of hypocrites had had gold taps fitted in an outhouse.

Not only does the average Russian oligarchess buy more shoes in a year than poor Mrs. Marcos was able to amass in a lifetime of ceremonial duty – she was, after all, the wife of a public figure – she buys handbags, too, which are likewise collectible yet vastly more expensive than the shoes they may or may not match. Well, nobody has ever exhibited, amid cries of bloodsucking hypocrite, the handbag collection of Mrs Marcos. Perhaps, like Mrs. Thatcher, she was in reality a woman of consummate modesty and deportment who clung to the same Launer handbag for all her years in the limelight.

All of this is apropos of the gold taps found, or else planted by secret agents of a foreign power, in the house of the deposed president of Ukraine. I spent that week in London, but I imagine the same template was being used to churn out newspaper articles in New York, Paris, Rome, and Berlin. In Harare, too, probably, unless the Chinese sway over Africa is keeping journalists more squeamish over there when it comes to regurgitated platitudes.

You couldn’t get away from those blasted taps. Nobody ever asked if in reality they were gold-plated, or of fool’s gold, or merely the color of tinsel. Nobody ever weighed them, or performed any other Archimedean assays in poor old Yanukovich’s bathtub. All they wanted was to yell bloodsucking hypocrite, and yell bloodsucking hypocrite they all did, in the kind of deafening unison that made my childhood’s Pravda editorials, by comparison, sound like some weird John Stuart Mill fantasy of diversity.

“But those guys do get gold taps,” I hear you mutter, “that’s what they do, to a man, on their very first day in power!”

To this I can only reply that, according to a guide I once queried at the Stalin Museum in Gori, Georgia, the greatest mass murderer in modern history had a total of four jackets, called french in Russian, which he thriftily alternated for the better part of thirty years.

And guess what?  That man never even had a Swiss bank account.

Andrei Navrozov

Andrei Navrozov, born in Moscow, lives in Palermo and is European editor for Chronicles.  The former publisher of the Yale Lit, he is a widely published author and translator.  His Italian Carousel: Scenes of Internal Exile was published by Peter Owen Publishers.

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