Friday, January 30, 2004

MOSCOW — The head of a once-secret Russian committee that maintains the embalmed body of Vladimir Lenin has denounced calls to bury him and vowed to preserve the revolutionary’s remains for generations.

Members of the Mausoleum Group still tend to his body 80 years after their predecessors embalmed it.

Valery Bykov, the head of the 15-person group, criticized politicians for using the anniversary this month of Lenin’s death to resume a bitter debate over the future of the body.

“These people are mostly fools,” he said Thursday of a broad spectrum of politicians who want Russia to bury Lenin, close his tomb and let his legacy lie. “They have left no mark on history and never will. They are of no interest to us.”

Opinion polls suggest growing support for removing Lenin’s body from Red Square.

There was constant debate over the matter during Boris Yeltsin’s presidency. His successor, President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB spy, has discouraged such talk; instead, he has restored the Soviet national anthem and encouraged Russians to be proud of their history under communism.

Mr. Bykov is the fourth man to lead the Mausoleum Group since scientists were summoned to the Kremlin to freeze the decomposing body of Lenin, who died after a fourth stroke on Jan 21, 1924. They also removed and studied his brain in a search for the source of genius.

Mr. Bykov’s team checks Lenin’s body every week for damage caused by the lighting in the mausoleum or changes in temperature or humidity.

They treat it with a chemical solution developed in secrecy and periodically change its clothes.

“Lenin is in a fine state, and we will make sure he remains so for our descendants,” Mr. Bykov said. “We can guarantee preservation of his body indefinitely, certainly for a century and more.”

The Mausoleum Group also mummified and helps to maintain the bodies of Mao Tse-tung and Ho Chi Minh. It is based at Moscow’s biomedical technology center.

Some have said the basement holds Lenin look-alikes ready to take his place in Red Square if his corpse crumbles. Mr. Bykov denied that conjecture.

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