World Watch: Lenin might finally be able to turn over in his grave
MOSCOWRussians are having a hard time settling on what to do with a relic of their Soviet past, the embalmed body of Vladimir Lenin. Dressed in a dark suit and black and white polka-dot tie, Lenin rests in a glass box in a marble mausoleum just outside the Kremlin, as he has for nearly eight decades.
Crowds of visitors still stand in line outside the tomb, often for hours at a time, awaiting the chance for a brief glimpse of the father of communism. He remains, to many Russians, a symbol of past glory, while to others the display of the waxy-looking corpse of the first Soviet dictator is an embarrassing anachronism. Not to mention prone to the occasional outbreak of fungi.
The question of whether to finally bury Lenin has been, at least in the post-Soviet years, a recurring topic of debate. Maintaining his shrine seems oddly out of place in Russia's new era of capitalist enthusiasm, and a few weeks ago a senior aide to President Vladimir Putin suggested it is time for a move: "Our country has been shaken by strife, but only few were held accountable for that in their lifetime. I don't think it's fair that those who initiated that strife remain in the center of our state near the Kremlin."
The idea to bury Lenin by his mother's side in St. Petersburg was first broached publicly by then President Boris Yeltsin not long after the demise of the Soviet Union in December 1991. But Russia was not ready to bury the past thennor, it seems, even now. To visit Red Square is to witness a country very much confused over how to come to terms with a contentious, even brutal past. Behind the mausoleum is a row of graves, among them those of Joseph Stalin (a dictator said to have killed millions of people) and Felix Dzerzhinsky (the ruthless founder of the KGB). Their graves are adorned with bunches of red carnations and bouquets of flowers wrapped in cellophane. A few yards away, a Lenin look-alike waves a faux edition of the Soviet-era newspaper Pravda and invites visitors to have their picture taken with him for 100 rubles (about $3). Nearby, the erstwhile state superstore GUM sells Soviet kitsch at a handsome markup.
Russians themselves are fiercely divided over the issue. Russia's post-Soviet Communist Party demands that officials keep their hands off Lenin, the man who led the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and became the first Soviet dictator. There is speculation that Putin is testing the waters by allowing his aide to raise the matter publicly. And for a president often accused of reverting Russia to the Soviet days, removing Lenin and all other former Soviet leaders from Red Square may be just the thing to move the country back to the future.