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16 Apr, 2009 06:55

Lenin still pulling crowds at 139

Vladimir Lenin’s tomb is reopening on the weekend before his birthday after months of maintenance work. Amid calls to relocate the Soviet leader’s remains, Lenin’s Mausoleum is once again ready to receive visitors.

Lenin died more than 85 years ago, but he still holds a central place in the very heart of Russia.

According to historian Aleksey Abramov, his tomb on Red Square is a symbol of the life of the revolutionary leader.

“At first it was a wooden cube with black letters over it that said Lenin. The builders barely made it in time. Lenin died on the 21st, the decision to bury him was taken on 23rd, they worked day and night and on the 27th of January the funeral procession entered Red Square while the builders were putting on the last coat of paint,” Abramov says.

The current building was erected in 1930. The mausoleum became a Soviet Mecca and the ultimate goal for communist pilgrims from all over the world.

Communist activist Irina Khanutina lost count of the times she went through its doors. Every Friday her modest group is by one of the Lenin monuments in Moscow raising funds to maintain his tomb.

“Going to the Mausoleum allows me to pay my tribute to a great genius,” Khanutina believes.

Times have changed, and what used to be a solemn site and the rostrum for numerous leaders is now simply a stopping point along the tourist trail.

“It's a good question why did I decide to look at a dead body. I guess because it is a big tourist attraction and a part of Russia's history. So I felt that if you come to Moscow, it's something you have to see,” US tourist Zsofia Budai says.

It’s no longer about ideology for the majority of people who come to stare at Lenin in the mausoleum. Rather, it is curiosity. Many prefer to look at the iconic site sipping their coffee from one of the most expensive department stores in Moscow.

Just as it was decades ago, Lenin’s tomb still faces GUM shopping centre across Red Square – although these days Russia’s most famous shopping mall houses western designer brands – a testament to capitalism the father of communism no doubt would have disapproved of.

“Look, we are standing in Red Square and what we have is a cross on the cathedral, the two-headed eagle on the museum and the red stars of the Kremlin towers. These are the centuries of our history. If we tear down the mausoleum it’s like ripping out a page of our history. It's a kind of vandalism,” Abramov says.

Not everybody is as understanding. Debates over whether to bury Lenin or not are as furious as debates over to honour him as a hero or to curse him as a tyrant.

So far the chance of him getting buried seems a long shot.