MOSCOW — Orthodox priests chanted prayers and believers lighted candles as Patriarch Alexy II led reburial rites yesterday for Gen. Anton Denikin, who fought against the Red Army during Russia’s civil war and is now cast as a patriot.
The ceremony was Russia’s latest attempt to close a bitter chapter in its history, when the country was divided into communists and their foes. The reconciliation seeks to give respect to all Russians who fought for their nation.
Gen. Denikin, who died in exile in the United States in 1947, was laid to rest together with Russian philosopher Ivan Ilyin and the wives of the two men in the historic Donskoy Monastery in central Moscow.
“Today’s event testifies to the fact that the restoration of the unity of our people, divided by the tragic history of the past century, is being completed,” the patriarch said in an icon-filled chapel.
Russia has long been split over its historic legacy, but some warned that the rift could not be repaired by the reburial alone.
“This is a small step toward reunification … toward forming some new identity,” said Andrei Zolotov, chief editor of Russia Profile magazine who has written on cultural and religious issues.
He said that besides symbolic gestures, reconciliation will require a broad public discussion of the country’s history.
“We need to be clear on our identity. … Are we in Russia, are we in the U.S.S.R., or are we in the West?” asked Igor Chubais, a historian.
The reburial came as debate reopened on whether to remove the body of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin from its mausoleum on Red Square for burial in a cemetery.
In a sign the Kremlin was testing public opinion for the removal of Lenin’s embalmed remains, Georgy Poltavchenko, a regional envoy of President Vladimir Putin, said last week that the body should be buried in a cemetery with other Bolshevik dignitaries.
Mr. Putin said in 2001 that he opposed the removal of Lenin’s body from its Red Square tomb in order to keep civil peace. His predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, strongly pushed for the removal, but was opposed by the Communist Party and others.
Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov yesterday renewed his objections to removing Lenin’s body, calling the notion “a crusade against ideas, graves and against history.”
Mr. Zyuganov, however, said he didn’t oppose Gen. Denikin’s reburial, reasoning that everyone has the right to be buried in his homeland.
About 500 Russians attended the heavily guarded ceremony yesterday, some holding flowers and lighting candles.
In accordance with Russian tradition, Gen. Denikin’s daughter, Marina, who is her 80s, tossed a handful of earth onto the coffin as it was lowered. Earlier this year, Mr. Putin granted her Russian citizenship.
“People are finally returning from forced exile,” said Dina Chernova, a 66-year-old pensioner. “These were true people, true sons of Russia.”