14
Feb
11

Modern Russia, USSR memories… and Lenin’s body

Nearly a century after his death, communist leader Vladimir Lenin still rests in a glass display case on Red Square, his embalmed body a stark counterpoint to Russia’s latest modernisation effort.

The controversial idea of burying Lenin has been a permanent feature of Russian politics since the Soviet Union’s fall in 1991, when millions happily parted ways with a system that had outlived its times.

But so far, no one has dared take the ultimate step of so dramatically breaking links with a leader who introduced Russia to both the promises of communism and the horrors of Gulag death camps.

While Russia tries to present a modern new image under its iPad-toting President Dmitry Medvedev, tens of thousands of people still come every year to see the communist founder, his finely-coiffed body reclining in a sarcophagus.

This dissonance seems to be needling the ruling United Russia party on the eve of December parliamentary elections, with several officials leading calls for Lenin to be laid to rest alongside his mother in Saint Petersburg.

“I do not see a single thing standing in the way of his burial,” United Russia lawmaker Vladimir Medinsky told AFP, arguing that a Saint Petersburg burial was a part of the Lenin family’s will.

United Russia has even set up a special website, http://www.goodbyelenin.ru, named after a 2003 German tragi-comedy about the fall of the Berlin Wall. Two-thirds of the respondents to the site’s survey said they wanted to see Lenin go.

Though informal, the poll was confirmed by another study conducted by the respected Levada Centre, which showed that 56 per cent of those questioned favoured seeing the body removed from public viewing.

But while it might make for good pre-election politics, a Kremlin official said last month that for now at least, Lenin was staying.

“As far as I know, no decision on this subject has yet been reached, and none is forthcoming,” said Kremlin property manager Viktor Khrekov.

Analysts say that while the issue is less poignant than it was a decade ago, government officials still raise the prospects of burying Lenin to draw in the country’s younger voters, some of whom have no memory of Soviet times.

This is “an eternal debate that follows the recipe of uniting non-communist voters,” said Andrei Ryabov of the Carnegie Moscow Centre.

Lenin or no Lenin, the country’s leftists have been losing members years, their ranks unable to pick up younger voters who either go with the Kremlin candidate or ignore politics altogether.

Russia’s Communist Party received just 11.57 per cent of votes in the 2007 parliamentary elections and its candidate, Gennady Zyuganov, won just 17.72 per cent of the ballot when he ran for president the following year.

But Russia’s more liberal forces take the debate further, arguing that the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin — whose body once shared the mausoleum with Lenin – should also be removed from its place of honour in the Kremlin wall.

“We have to get rid of all these symbols of the Soviet Union,” said former Soviet dissident Lyudmila Alexeyeva, 82. But there is little doubt that the mausoleum has already lost some of its appeal.

Former Russian president Boris Yeltsin removed its guard of honour in 1993, and the communist shrine is no longer a place of mandatory visits for the country’s school children and kindergartners.

The state also no longer assumes the cost of keeping Lenin’s body on display.

The laboratory in charge of the process – an affiliate of a Soviet-era centre called the All-Russia Research Institute for Medicinal and Aromatic Plants – primarily receives its funding from communist organisers.

The mausoleum is open to visitors four days a week between 10:00 am and 1:00 pm. Entrance is free, but there is a strict policy against pictures and video.

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1 Response to “Modern Russia, USSR memories… and Lenin’s body”


  1. 1 Cory
    April 4, 2011 at 6:46 am

    i dont think lenin should go. whether one is a communist or not, that is russia’s history. and, for people like me, i want to be able to see lenins tomb. it would definately be an experience, and i dont want that ruined. so personally, i say no to burying lenin.


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