I've been reading the noted Orlando Figes book The Whispers: Private Life in Stalin’s Russia, despite its’ weighty heft is a moving account of life for the common people during Stalinist rule from the late twenties through 1952.
This lead me to consider the impact that both democratic and authoritarian leaders can have on a society, even years after their death or disposition. Examples such as Hitler, Pol Pot, and Milosevic are renowned for their brutal campaigns of genocide, and Gadhafi is known for his terrorist actions and far reaching excentricites.
Democratic societies are not immune from having historical figures that cast a long shadows over their parties. The Republican party in the United States continues to invoke the memory of Ronald Reagan, while the Democratic party has been lost in the shadow of the Kennedy’s. In order to achieve electability, you have to prove that your either a proper conservative or have the liberal zeal of a Kennedy. Sometimes, figures cast such a shadow that it consumes politics itself.
This occurs often in post-genocidal and civil war societies. A figure emerges with the task of either reconciling the country or letting the country fall back into civil war. If you can pull the task off like Nelson Mandella in post-appharteid South Africa, you’re a nationwide hero and global legend. If you fail, your just another man who couldn’t get the job done when it mattered. To offer a Brittish analogy, your either the Winston Churchill or Neville Chamberlain.