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Key European Dictators from the Twentieth Century

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Twentieth century Europe showed that history has not been a progression through to democracy, as a series of dictatorships rose on the continent. The following are the major dictators of Europe’s recent history.

Adolf Hitler (Germany)

Getty Images / Getty Images
Getty Images / Getty Images
Arguably the most famous dictator of all, Hitler took power in Germany in 1933 (despite having been born Austrian) and ruled until his suicide in 1945, having in the meantime started and lost World War 2. Deeply racist, he imprisoned millions of "enemies" in camps before executing them, stamped down on "degenerate" art and literature and tried to reshape both Germany and Europe to conform to an Aryan ideal.

Vladimir Ilich Lenin (Soviet Union)

Library of Congress
Library of Congress
Leader and founder of the Bolshevik division of the Russian Communist Party, Lenin seized power in Russia during the October Revolution of 1917, thanks partly to the actions of others. He then led the country through civil war, starting a regime called “War Communism” to deal with the problems of warfare. He was pragmatic though, and stepped back from full communist aspirations by introducing the “New Economic Policy” to try and strengthen the economy. He died in 1924. He is often called the greatest modern revolutionary, and one of the twentieth century’s key figures.

Joseph Stalin (Soviet Union)

Library of Congress
Library of Congress
Stalin rose from humble beginnings to command the vast Soviet empire largely by a masterful and cold blooded manipulation of the bureaucratic system. He condemned millions to lethal work camps in bloody purges and controlled Russia tightly. In deciding the outcome of World War 2 and being instrumental in starting the Cold War, he perhaps affected the twentieth century more than any other man.

Benito Mussolini (Italy)

Bain News Service / Library of Congress
Bain News Service / Library of Congress
Having been expelled from schools for stabbing classmates, Mussolini became the youngest ever Italian Prime Minister in 1922 by organising a fascist organisation of "blackshirts" which literally attacked the political left of the country. He soon transformed the office into dictatorship before pursuing foreign expansion and allying with Hitler. He was wary of a prolonged war, but entered into WW2 on the German side; this proved his downfall. With enemy troops approaching, he was caught and killed.

Francisco Franco (Spain)

Keystone / Getty Images
Keystone / Getty Images
Franco came to power in 1939 after leading the nationalist side in the Spanish Civil War. He executed tens of thousands of enemies but, despite negotiating with Hitler, stayed officially uncommitted in World War 2 and thus survived. He remained in control until his death in 1975, having laid plans for a restoration of the monarchy.

Josip Tito (Yugoslavia)

Having commanded communist partisans against fascist occupation during World War 2, Tito created a communist Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia in the aftermath with support from Russia and Stalin. However, Tito soon broke from following Russia’s lead in both world and local affairs, carving his own niche of in Europe. He died, still in power, in 1980. Yugoslavia fragmented shortly after.
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