Russia’s dilemma: What to do with Lenin
Lennon always lives. So does Lenin. Here the similarity between
the two living legends ends, as the old maxim might not survive new
Russia’s search for self-identity. Descendants of old Bolsheviks
are debating what to do with the heritage of the leader of the
world proletariat, resting in a glass coffin in Red Square
Mausoleum, while his monuments are scattered all over Russia, the
vast post-Soviet space and far beyond – from Krasnoyarsk and
Ulan-Ude to Calcutta and Havana.
In a recent move, which sparked new controversy over the highly
politically-charged issue, a Russian lawmaker last week called for
the removal of the dozens of bronze and marble Lenin monuments from
Russia’s towns and squares. The person behind the initiative,
Russia’s Liberal-Democratic Party Deputy Aleksandr Kurdyumov,
explained that the time has come to get rid of Lenin’s
“stranglehold” and leave only monuments that are recognized as
masterpieces of art and only in those places where local folks
really want to see them. Other monuments should be dismantled,
placed in museums or sold to collectors of Soviet artifacts, the MP
Kurdyumov’s initiative, which has already been strongly
denounced by Russia’s Communist Party, the major opposition force
with the second-largest representation in the Duma, came as a
follow-up to another recent proposal to bury Lenin, made by
Russia’s new Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky. It is interesting
that 42-year-old Medinsky is not just a faceless apparatchik, but a
former diplomat, historian and the author of the bestseller “New
myths about Russia” – a recent collection of essays with a
thought-provoking, though not-fully-agreeable look at Russia’s
history and her perception in the world.
Medinsky, who in his book insisted that Russia is by no means an
underdeveloped country of hopeless drunkards and awful roads, this
time is after the removal of Lenin’s mummy from Red Square.
“I have always believed that a body should be entrusted to
the earth. And Lenin’s relatives begged the authorities not to
place him in the mausoleum,” Medinsky told Echo of Moscow
radio. “Vladimir Lenin was a high-ranking Russian official, so
the burial, should a decision about it be reached, should be
carried out according to state ritual, with due respect, with a
military salute, and at a befitting location.”
Lenin’s mausoleum was constructed in the very heart of Moscow,
near the Kremlin wall, by the brilliant Soviet architect Schusev
after Lenin’s death in 1924. Since that time it has been used as a
centerpiece of Russian politics, from the top of which every
Kremlin ruler made his pronouncements.
One may recall that famous Stalin speech of 1941 after Hitler’s
attack on the Soviet Union, where for the first time he addressed
the nation: “Brothers and sisters” was made from there.
The Changing of the Guard ceremony took place at the mausoleum entrance till October 1993 – for two more years after the Soviet empire, founded by Lenin, collapsed in December, 1991.
In fact, the debate on whether Lenin’s body should left rest in
the ground or be kept in the mausoleum first started in early
’90es, shortly after the disintegration of the USSR. It was during
the time of Boris Yeltsin – the former Soviet Communist party
apparatchik-turned-ardent anti-communist and the first president of
However, the first wave of public debate died away, causing
Lenin no harm. The new Russian authorities were forced to shelve
the idea, which at that time sounded heretical and evoked an
outburst of indignation among hundreds of thousands of former
Soviet Communists and Communist sympathizers.
Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov came second at Russia’s presidential election of 1996, losing to Boris Yeltsin in a neck-to-neck race. The election commission documents unveiled recently indicate that Comrade Zyuganov at that time came first in the race and was probably robbed of the presidency. So Yeltsin was probably wise enough not to antagonize the public, with many considering downfall of the Soviet Union as a personal tragedy.
Sixteen years later, Gennady Zyuganov, still rated the second
most-popular Russian political figure after Vladimir Putin, calls
the latest initiatives to remove Lenin monuments from Russian
cities and to bury his body nothing else than “provocations”.
Meantime, Russian society of today is split on the issue of Lenin’s
fate, just as it was during the first years of post-Communist
development. While an ageing and dwindling Communist
electorate – which still comprises some 20 per cent of
voters – considers the very idea of removing Lenin from Red
Square immoral, the new generation is brought up in new
Meanwhile, it looks like the debate on Lenin is not merely a
question of what to do with the monuments and the body. This is a
question of what to do with public consciousness and its
archetypes, which die very slowly.
For more than 70 years Lenin was at the center of the new Soviet
mythology, serving as its prime deity. This is the reason that
today – two decades after the collapse of the Soviet
Union – psychologically it is so difficult for many in this
country to put up with the idea that Lenin was not a God, but a
mortal like all of us.
Another striking point is that while Russians are debating
Lenin’s future, his mausoleum still remains a holy place for
die-hard Communists the world over. I saw it with my own eyes in
Calcutta, West Bengal, where Lenin’s monument is worshipped by
thousands of ardent Indian communists who believe the time for the
world proletariat revolution is yet to come.
During his latest visit to Moscow this summer on the way home
from his trips to China and Vietnam, 81-year old Cuban leader Raul
Castro was reported to have visited Lenin’s mausoleum to pay
tribute. Comrade Castro also took a keen interest in Russia’s
famous embalming laboratory and the work of its experts, who shared
their embalming technique with Vietnamese colleagues during the
construction of Ho Chi Minh mausoleum in Hanoi.
So the octogenarian Cuban leader, as well as Indian communists, who used to give their newborn boys and girls names like “Vladimir Lenin” and “Karl Marx”, seem hardly aware of Russia’s debate on Lenin’s heritage, as they are still quite far from the winds of change that have already swept Russia.
Sergey Strokan, for RT
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.