Dictatorship has its perks, as Sunday’s People’s Tour of Viktor Yanukovych’s presidential lodgings near Kiev showed.
The main one is being able to rob your country blind. You put your hand in the till because there isn't much governance - and certainly no Margaret Hodge - around to stop you. You go from being an insurgent, an exile, a soldier, a whatever - ducking and diving - to the existence of a de facto billionaire when you take office.
A very nouveau one. You haven't learnt the knocked back discretion of the Brit toffs or the Euro chateau people. You go for top-of-the-range Knightsbridge bling, The Great Classic Dictator Style. You follow the rules as described in my epic volume of architectural history Dictators' Homes. That's just what Mr Yanukovych has done.
People were astonished, first, at the acres, the mini-park that surrounded the place. Rule no 1 in Dictators' Homes is Big It Up, make sure everything is seriously over-scale. (“It's so big, Charlie” as they said in Citizen Kane). The house itself is in some sort of woody, vernacular, retro Edwardian style, just 10 times bigger than usual, as if you'd taken a By-pass Variegated Semi and pumped it up. Some reports say it cost £300 million to build.
In pictures: Inside the lavish residency of fugitive president Victor Yanukovych
In pictures: Inside the lavish residency of fugitive president Victor Yanukovych
1/25 Ukraine Mansion
A staircase winds up in a view of a room inside President Viktor Yanukovych's Mezhyhirya estate, which he abandoned as further evidence of his corrupt behaviour continues to surface from the incriminating documents found at his mansion
2/25 Ukraine Mansion
Books are left out on a desk inside President Viktor Yanukovych's Mezhyhirya estate. Former President is believed to have left his residence outside Kiev, where Ukrainians have discovered a private zoo, mock galleon and a number of vintage cars that their taxes and the corruption he presided over helped to fund
3/25 Ukraine Mansion
Former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych is wanted for ‘mass murder’ and is believed to have evaded security forces by fleeing the country in a helicopter during a three-day dash for freedom
4/25 Ukraine Mansion
A white piano sits in one of the rooms inside President Viktor Yanukovych's Mezhyhirya estate
5/25 Ukraine Mansion
A view of Viktor Yanukovych's Mezhyhirya bedroom
6/25 Ukraine Mansion
Balls are left on a billiards table in a room inside President Viktor Yanukovych's Mezhyhirya estate
7/25 Ukraine Mansion
A collection of ammunition is displayed in cases inside President Viktor Yanukovych's Mezhyhirya estate
8/25 Ukraine Mansion
After Viktor Yanukovych's leaving the capital Kiev, the campus containing Yanukovych's residence put under protection by anti government protestors, charms the visitors in Kiev. Houses of Yanukovych, a heliport, boxing ring, places for animals, gas station, a garage for more than 50 cars, a golf range, an artificial lake and waterfalls, many food courts, ships and the scenery of Dnieper River from Yanukovych's residence adorn the campus. People raiding to the campus, look at the former president's golden toilet and taps, valuables in luxurious yacht
9/25 Ukraine Mansion
A group of opposition activists take over a mansion allegedly connected to former Ukrainian president Yanukovich's family and close circle in Koncha Zaspa area near Kiev
10/25 Ukraine Mansion
An exterior view of the main building in the residence of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych
11/25 Ukraine Mansion
People wander and take photos around President Viktor Yanukovych's Mezhyhirya estate, which was abandoned by security in Kiev
12/25 Ukraine Mansion
People take a photo in front of the Viktor Yanukovych's Mezhyhirya estate
13/25 Ukraine Mansion
A man sings karaoke in the empty mansion
14/25 Ukraine Mansion
People look through windows of the Mezhyhirya residence of Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovich
15/25 Ukraine Mansion
Viktor Yanukovych's personalised bottles with alcohol
16/25 Ukraine Mansion
A luxurious bar is found on Victor Yanukovych’s presidential lodgings
17/25 Ukraine Mansion
A protester poses in a bathtub at the residence of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych
18/25 Ukraine Mansion
Other protesters took the opportunity to use the facilities on the abandoned estate
19/25 Ukraine Mansion
Protesters sort captured documents at the residence of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych
20/25 Ukraine Mansion
This collection of cars was left behind in pristine condition
21/25 Ukraine Mansion
A man holds a golf club with the name of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich on a golf course at the Ukrainian President Yanukovych's countryside residence
22/25 Ukraine Mansion
A man feeds an ostrich around President Viktor Yanukovych's Mezhyhirya estate
23/25 Ukraine Mansion
A petting zoo is found on President Yanukovych's countryside-residence in Mezhyhirya, Kiev's region, Ukraine
24/25 Ukraine Mansion
A protester examines one of the statues found in the grounds
25/25 Ukraine Mansion
A full size replica of Spanish galleon found on President Yanukovych's countryside-residence was one of the more unusual finds on the estate
Rule 2, is Go Repro, and clearly this new place looks like something built by a British coal baron in 1900. Dictators like the old look because there's more opportunity to show off. Modern Movement buildings look far too much like prisons or barracks to men who know them well.
Other reports say Mr. Yanukovych's place is somewhere between Ceausescu's palace and Michael Jackson's Never-land. That's par for the Dictator course too, because dictators, like flaky pop stars, install things they can never really use - in Yanukovych's case a full-size replica Spanish galleon, a petting zoo, and an ultra-bling sauna in the 19th-century Palace style. There are also huge over-stocked garages with vintage hyper-cars - branded bling that you can show off by parking them out front (Rule 8, involve Known Luxury Brands).
Pictures of Yanukovych's dream interior show all the things I expected, starting with Go For Gold (Rule 5), meaning anything that could possibly be gilded will be.
And there's all that glass. (Rule 6, Get More Glass). There are chandeliers and mirrors everywhere. And lots of heavy over-cut crystal drinking glasses in the shinily panelled bar. They're the diamonds of interior decoration; everything that doesn't glitter should sparkle. Or shine. The floors are marble - the shiny new hotel kind of course. Marble that looks like fake marble, with elaborate inlays of other exuberant marbles. Why cover any surface with wood or laminate when it could be marble? (Rule 9, Make It Marble).
People are already saying that it's all quite astonishingly vulgar. It is vulgar, to educated Western European bien-pensant taste 2014, but not remotely surprising to me at least, because I've seen hundreds of pictures of this style. It's the style of many global plutocrats and of hyper-criminals too. The Scarface look.
When “the People” broke into the Gaddafi compound in 2011 and we started to see the pictures, my darling friends were similarly horrified and astonished at those breaches of taste and decorum. “ You're not going to believe this!” they said. But there it all was: oversized; golden; glassy; marbly and dodgy. And quite idiotically outdated in obeying Thorsten Veblen's rules of for conspicuous consumption as laid down in his 1899 classic sociology text, “ Theory of the Leisure Class”, in which he shows how aristocrats and plutocrats can demonstrate their absolute disengagement from working or worrying about anything at all. The Marie-Antoinette rules.
It's idiotic for a hard-scrabble working politician in a poor rough country who can never have had the time to play with many of those toys. And now he'll never see them again. But if he's parked enough dodgy money in enough dodgy places he may just attempt to build a replica in some part of suburban Berkshire that is forever Kiev.
Peter York's ‘Dictators' Homes: Lifestyles of the World's Most Colourful Despots' is published by Atlantic Books