6 Bizarre Laws Enacted by Dictators

Bizarre, NakedLaw

The term “dictator” is tossed around a lot in today’s political climate, but in truth when a dictator comes to power he exhibits absolute control over a nation and its people. A dictator generally recognizes no other authority and will create law unchecked by any legislative body or constitutional limitations on his power. Dictatorships are generally associated with totalitarian regimes, brutal oppression, and human rights violations. Throughout history dictators, having seized power, have taken the opportunity to put even their slightest whims into law. Some of these dictates may seem laughable, but they serve as an example of how one person can exert control down to the tiniest detail.

Peter the Great

Pyotr Alexeyevich Romanov became czar of Russia in 1682, at the age of 10, and ruled until his death in 1725. He surrounded himself with advisors from Western Europe and was determined to modernize Russia, to the point of brutally suppressing any opposition. He put laws into place forbidding courtiers and officials to wear their traditional long beards and forcing them to adopt European dress. A beard tax of 100 rubles per year was levies on those who refused to shave. He also ruled that no Russian man could join a monastery before the age of 50, as he believed he was losing men to the Church he could use in the army. As a result very few Russian men became monks during his rule and the power of the Russian Church weakened considerably.

Theodorus Pangalos

General Pangalos was Chief of Staff of the Greek Army when he engineered a coup d’etat in 1925. He proceeded to abolish the Greek constitution, censor the press, and establish a whole host of bizarre laws. He attempted to devalue the currency by ordering paper banknotes cut in off and even regulated the length of women’s skirts. Pangalos was reputed to go around Athens with a measuring tape and pair of scissors, shredding the dresses of Greek women whose hemlines were more than 30 cm(about one foot) from the ground. He declared himself dictator in January of 1926 and had himself elected president the following April; in August 1926 he was ousted by a military counter-coup.

Nicolae Ceauşescu

Romania’s Nicolae Ceauşescu, Secretary General of the Romanian Communist Party from 1965 to 1989 and president from 1974 to 1989, became increasingly erratic in the second decade of his rule. It was estimated in 1982 that at least 15,000 Romanians died per year as a result of his austere measures. Among the more capricious of his laws before his ouster and execution in 1989 including banning the ownership of typewriters without a government license; television newswomen were prohibited from wearing jewelry; books on human sexuality and reproduction were classified “state secrets” to be used only as medical textbooks. One of  Ceauşescu’s primary goals was to increase the Romanian birthrate; women who did not have children, even if they were infertile, had to pay a “celibacy tax” of up to 10 percent of their monthly salaries.

King Abdullah

Technically Saudi Arabia is a monarchy, but the king of the nation has absolute authority and brooks no opposition to his rule. King Abdullah has been instrumental in mondernizing many aspects of Saudi culture, promoting education, public health, and economic stimulus. Under Abdullah’s rule the first co-educational university opened in Saudi Arabia. However, Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are banned from driving automobiles (although they are allowed to drive in villages and on private housing compounds) and King Abdullah has so far ignored the Saudi Shura Council’s 2008 recommendation that these restrictions be relaxed. All women, regardless of age, are under the rule of a male guardian — typically either a father, brother, husband, or son. Segregation by sex is strictly enforced at most public places and even in the home; In 2008 Khamisa Mohammad Sawadi, a 75-year-old woman, was sentenced to 40 lashes and imprisonment for allowing a man to deliver bread to her directly at her residence.  A woman must have permission from her guardian to travel, get married, and seek higher education; however in 2008 the law requiring a woman to have her guardian’s permission to seek employment was repealed.

François “Papa Doc” Duvalier

“Papa Doc” was President of Haiti from 1957 until his death in 1971, during which time he made voodoo the official state religion. Claiming to be Baron Samedi, the voodoo spirit of death, he spoke in a nasal tone associated with the spirit and wore the spirit’s trademark top hat and tails. He requested the heads of dead rivals so he could trap their spirit and ordered all black dogs killed on sight after a political rival was rumored to have transformed into one. He forced Haitians to sell their blood to the government for under $2 a pint, and then resold it internationally for ten times that amount. Duvalier’s regime reportedly killed up to 30,000 Haitians for political reasons; his private army, called the Tonton Macoutes after a Creole word for “bogeyman,” took pride in terrorizing anyone that didn’t explicitly state their support for Papa Doc.

Saparmurat Niyazov

Niyazov named himself President for Life of Turkmenistan in 1990. While not a well-known dictator, he was a particularly nutty one. Among his bizarre decisions: he changed the names of the weekdays and calendar months to honor family members and Turkmen cultural icons, outlawed long hair and beards (again with the beards!) on men, made it illegal for performers to lip-sync at public concerts, and banned dogs in the capital city of Asgebat. He put his own picture on Turkmenistan’s currency and changed the word for bread, naming it after his mother. He also outlawed gold teeth and  banned television news reporters from wearing make-up. Unfortunately he didn’t limit his megalomania to this relatively minor weirdness; he also closed all libraries and hospitals outside the capital and fired 15,000 public health workers, cancelled pensions for many of the elderly and ordered them to pay back the previous two years of payments, and nearly bankrupted the country building lavish municipal buildings of white marble. Deaths from illness and starvation were rumored to number in the tens of thousands. Niyazov died in December 2006; his successor repealed many of these laws, restored pensions, and went back to the original calendar.