Red Corner: Tchotchkes of Evil

With so few despots and dictators ruling these days, state-sponsored monuments to megalomania are rare and endangered. They used to be run-of-the-mill during communism when numerous museums lovingly displayed every item Lenin once touched, thought about touching, or ordered others to touch for him. Without fail, there was always a section dedicated to the numerous gifts Lenin received from abroad. The tchotchkes were universally absurd, in bad taste, and always amusing to Westerners like myself.

Naturally, such museums have all but disappeared. And so, it was with nostaligic humor that I came across a recent LA Times article detailing what might simply be the very last musuem dedicated entirely to such inane gifts. No surprise here that it is located in North Korea.

This fascinating article paints a far more extreme museum than I have experienced anywhere else in the world. Even Moscow didn’t have Lenin musuems buried NORAD-style deep in a mountain and protected by enormous steel doors and submachine gun toting guards. And yet, apparently North Korea’s International Friendship Exhibition feels the need to do so. At stake are the museum’s nearly 300,000 gifts, ranging from beer coolers to train carriages, that foreigners have presented to the late Kim Il Sung and current leader Kim Jong Il (including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright who thoughtfully gifted a glass bowl to the evil tyrants).

The collection is so extensive that it takes 200 rooms to house all of the gifts and a year and half of your life if you want to spend one minute admiring each one of them.

Visit now before the Bush Administration decides it wants Madeleine’s bowl back.