Russians mull burying Soviet leader Lenin

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MOSCOW — Russians soon may come not to praise Lenin, but to bury him.

The embalmed body of Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin has lain in a glass coffin in a mausoleum on Moscow’s Red Square since his death in 1924.

But recent comments by Russia’s new culture minister have brought closer the possibility that the father of the Bolshevik Revolution could finally be laid to rest, signaling an end to the cult of Lenin.

“I have always believed that a body should be entrusted to the earth,” said Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky late last month. “And Lenin’s relatives begged the authorities not to place him in the mausoleum.”

“Many things in our life would symbolically change for the better after this [burial],” Mr. Medinsky said, adding that he thinks Lenin should be buried with full state honors and his Red Square mausoleum turned into a museum of the Soviet era.

More than 20 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Lenin remains very much an everyday presence in modern Russia.

The country’s biggest library and a nearby subway station in Moscow are both named after the founder of the Soviet state. And though the city of Leningrad reverted to its czarist-era name of St. Petersburg in 1991, the region that surrounds it still bears Lenin’s name — as does Leningrad, one of the country’s biggest rock bands.

Dozens of Lenin statues still stand across Russia, with more than 80 in Moscow alone. A newly restored Lenin statue was unveiled in the Urals city of Ufa late last year, and the ceremony was attended by senior Communist Party officials.

A ‘hot’ issue

Not everyone is happy with the abundance of monuments to the man whose Red Terror saw tens of thousands of people executed in the battle to establish Soviet power.

In 2009, unidentified vandals used explosives to blow a massive hole in the buttocks of a Lenin statue in St. Petersburg, triggering outrage among communist-era pensioners.

All this Lenin mania stands in stark contrast to the fate of his successor, Josef Stalin, who was denounced by the Communist Party for his “cult of personality” after his death in 1953, leading to the wholesale destruction of statues and monuments in his honor.

The question of whether to bury Lenin has been raised every year since the Soviet flag was lowered for the last time over a snowy Red Square in December 1991. But this is the first time such an influential figure has spoken in favor of it.

President Vladimir Putin — a native of Leningrad — has simply said the “people must decide” but has given no indication of when that is likely to occur.

Andrei Vorobyov, a leading official from the ruling United Russia party, has described the issue as a “hot one.”

An online poll held by United Russia on the anniversary of Lenin’s January 1924 death found that 70 percent of the 270,000 Russians surveyed favored burying his remains.

But the Communist Party, the largest opposition group in the country, said the results were “skewed.” Many of the party’s followers are pensioners or live in the country’s rural regions, where Internet use is less common.

“This issue has already been decided by our fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers,” said Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, who came in second at this year’s presidential elections. “Any attempt to diminish or rewrite the Soviet era or humiliate Lenin is an attempt to undermine the unity of the Russian Federation.”

Fellow presidential candidate Vladimir Zhirinovsky, notorious for his outlandish comments, said that if Mr. Zyuganov is so in favor of keeping Lenin on Red Square, then a “second place should be set aside for him in the mausoleum.”

Lenin will live!’

Even the Russian Orthodox Church has been cautious about backing a proposal to bury the creator of the world’s first officially godless state, in which churches were turned into factories, warehouses or museums of atheism — when they weren’t simply destroyed.

“When taking this decision, we should take into account the views of different groups in society and do nothing to create a split within it,” said Vsevolod Chaplin, head of relations between the church and society.

Many older believers in Russia combine their Christian faith with a nostalgia for the Soviet era and respect for Lenin.

“I guess we should wait for a while so as not to upset the old folk,” said Alexander Kashin, 25, an office manager walking on Red Square. “But I’m totally in favor of burying him at some point. After all, this isn’t ancient Egypt.”

Others object on moral grounds to Lenin’s continued presence in the heart of Russia’s capital.

“The country’s main square isn’t the place for such a big criminal,” said Yan Rachinsky, one of the heads of the Russian human rights group Memorial, which researches crimes committed by Soviet-era authorities.

Any decision to bury Lenin would bring to an end one of the most curious episodes in Russia’s history.

Russians of all ages are familiar with the rallying cry “Lenin lived, Lenin lives, Lenin will live!” But very few are aware that it was no mere slogan: Certain Soviet officials believed Lenin would rise from the grave to inspire the world’s proletariat once more.

The construction of Lenin’s tomb was overseen by Soviet Foreign Trade Minister Leonid Krasin, a follower of the ideas of 19th-century Moscow-based ascetic-philosopher Nikolai Fyodorov, who was convinced that science eventually would conquer death.

Krasin successfully argued for Lenin to be embalmed to preserve his body for future science. A subsequent statement in the state-run Izvestia newspaper said workers of the world “would not be reconciled” with Lenin’s death and would not rest until he was resurrected by Soviet scientists.

As a character in Soviet writer Andrei Platonov’s 1929 novel “The Foundation Pit” stated: “Marxism can do anything. Why do you think Lenin lies in Moscow perfectly intact? He is waiting for science. He wants to rise from the dead.”

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