Sunday, July 29, 2012

Debate rages over fate of Lenin's body

A catchphrase of the 20th century - Lenin lives forever - may not survive post-communist Russia's search for self-identity. 

By Sergei Strokan
With the Soviet empire now consigned to the history books, descendants of old Bolsheviks are locked in a fierce debate over whether to bury the body of the leader of the world proletariat, now resting in a glass coffin near the Kremlin wall in the Red Square mausoleum.
The man at the centre of the latest controversy over the fate of the most famous Russian of the 20th century, worshipped by some and denounced by others, is Russia's newly appointed Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky.
The 42-year-old former diplomat, historian and author is after the removal of Lenin's mummy from the Red Square.
'I have always believed that a body should be entrusted to the earth. And Lenin's relatives begged the authorities not to place him in the mausoleum,' Mr Medinsky told radio Ekho Moskvy recently, a comment that caused a furore.
The mausoleum has always been used as a centrepiece of Russian politics, from the top of which every Soviet ruler had made his pronouncements, including Josef Stalin's famous maiden speech, made after Adolf Hitler attacked the Soviet Union in 1941.
Vladimir Lenin's body was mummified in 1924, shortly after his death at the age of 54, Soviet Russia's greatest national tragedy at the time. The first version of the mausoleum, a wooden one, opened in January that year near Kremlin's Senate Tower on Red Square.
From then on, Lenin was worshipped as a Russian icon, and the mausoleum repeatedly reconstructed.
The Red Square mausoleum is full of symbolism, with red zigzag strips on the walls of the mourning hall representing Soviet banners. Lenin, lying in his crystal tomb, is dressed in a dark suit on which is pinned a Soviet Union Central Executive Committee member's badge.
In 1973, at the time of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, Lenin's body was placed in a bulletproof sarcophagus.
But in October 1993 - two years after the fall of the Soviet empire founded by Lenin - the customary changing of the guard ceremony at the mausoleum was stopped.
Mr Medinsky, considered to be one of Russia's new ideologists, believes that Lenin's body should be removed the way Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev buried the mummified body of Stalin in 1961, eight years after his death.
The mausoleum can then serve as a museum, solving the problems of space at the national Museum of History, he says.
The debate on whether to bury Lenin's body started in the 1990s after the break-up of the Soviet Union. But the first wave of public debate died away, doing Lenin no harm. The new Russian authorities at the time were forced to shelve the idea after an outburst from among hundreds of thousands of former Soviet communists and their sympathisers.
Today, Russian society is still split over the issue.
The ageing and numerically shrinking communists, who make up 20 per cent of the voters, consider the very idea of removing Lenin from the Red Square immoral.
The younger generation, though, is brought up in a new spirit. 'I am telling my students that it is useless now to argue over whether Lenin was right. Russia is not ancient Egypt - we need to move on from this,' Ms Arina Alexeyeva, a teacher of history, told The Moscow News daily.
Said writer Mira Salganik: 'The debate on Lenin is not merely the question of what to do with the body. This is the question of what to do with public consciousness and its archetypes which die very slowly.'
Because Lenin was the prime deity of the Soviet mythology, 'it is so difficult for many in this country to put up with the idea that Lenin was not a god, but a mortal - like all of us'.
Indeed, Lenin worship had become a pivot of Soviet communism, 'changing into a quasi-religion complete with mass pilgrimage', she told The Sunday Times.

Background story
Death of an icon
'The debate on Lenin is not merely the question of what to do with the body. This is the question of what to do with public consciousness and its archetypes which die very slowly.'