100 years after his death, Russians shrug at Lenin’s legacy

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100 years after his death, Russians shrug at Lenin’s legacy

Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - File photo of people taking red flags and portrait of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin during celebration of the 68th anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution in the Red Square, Moscow, Russia, on November 7, 1985. — AFP pic

MOSCOW, Russia, Jan 21 — For almost a century after his death, Vladimir Lenin’s carefully preserved body has lain in a purpose-built mausoleum on Red Square — a glaring reminder of Russia’s communist past.

But the father of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution that founded the Soviet Union — and the 100th anniversary of his passing — have largely been ignored by ordinary Russians.

Few official events have been scheduled to mark the centenary today, beyond a Communist Party ceremony at his tomb in the shadow of the Kremlin.

For President Vladimir Putin, who has publicly chided Lenin for his supposed role in dividing the Russian Empire into nation states like Ukraine, this is convenient.

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Putin, now mired in an almost two year assault against Kyiv, has instead championed Joseph Stalin — the man who led the USSR to victory in World War II, and who purged all his political opponents in a years-long reign of terror.

This picture taken on September 16, 2014 shows a statue depicting Lenine at the Lenine square center of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine. — AFP pic

This picture taken on September 16, 2014 shows a statue depicting Lenine at the Lenine square center of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine. — AFP pic

Tourist attraction

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When Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (Lenin) died on 21 January 1924, Soviet authorities at the behest of Stalin began embalming his body and building a mausoleum.

The red and black polished stone temple has stood at the heart of Red Square since October 1930, and briefly housed Stalin’s remains until 1961.

Huge crowds of people queued to pay their respects to Lenin in Soviet times, but today, ceremonies honouring the revolutionary are attended mainly by those nostalgic for the communist era, flags and red carnations in hand.

His embalmed body has become, primarily, a tourist attraction. Once every 18 months, the mausoleum is closed to allow scientists to re-embalm his body and repair the damage caused by time.

Only 23 per cent of Lenin’s body remains intact, housed in a glass sarcophagus at a constant temperature of 16 degrees Celsius, the TASS state news agency has reported.

Since the collapse of the USSR in 1991, a debate about whether to close the mausoleum and bury his body has regularly cropped up in Russian media.

But the proposal has been met with fierce resistance from communists and has never seriously been considered by the authorities.

File photo of local residents walking on a bridge over the Dnipro River in Kyiv, on January 14, 2024, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. — AFP pic

File photo of local residents walking on a bridge over the Dnipro River in Kyiv, on January 14, 2024, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. — AFP pic

Putin, Lenin and Ukraine

Putin rarely mentions Lenin. So his attack on the instigator of the October Revolution, days before ordering his troops into Ukraine on 24 February 2022, was notable.

In a vitriolic speech questioning Ukraine’s statehood three days before the attack, the Kremlin leader accused Lenin of having “invented” Ukraine when he founded the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).

By giving the Soviet republics a degree of autonomy, Putin argued, Lenin allowed the emergence of nationalism and the eventual implosion of the USSR.

“It was because of Bolshevik policy that the Soviet Ukraine came into being, which (one) would be perfectly justified to call Lenin’s Ukraine,” Putin raged.

“He is its inventor, its architect,” he continued.

“And now,” Putin said, “grateful descendants have torn down Lenin’s monuments in Ukraine.”

But Lenin has not been completely erased. His likeness still dominates many city centres in Russia, even though most of the statues were removed when the USSR collapsed.

In Moscow, a 22-metre Lenin monument still looms over Kaluga Square. In Ulan-Ude, in Eastern Siberia, a head of the revolutionary stands on a pedestal 14 metres high.

And in Antarctica, at the Pole of Inaccessibility, there remains a bust of Lenin outside a defunct Soviet research station — now mostly buried in the snow.

Kremlin ‘needs a Stalin’

Of all the Soviet leaders, it is Stalin that the Kremlin chief refers to most often -- not to denounce his appalling record of repression, but to praise the statesman and wartime leader who defeated Adolf Hitler’s Germany.

Putin has always sought to frame his military campaign against Ukraine through the lens of World War II, comparing Ukrainian authorities to the Nazis and presenting the conflict as an existential struggle for Russia’s survival.

For the Kremlin, Stalin remains a model of victory and power, while Lenin is a loser.

“The current leadership needs Stalin because he is both a villain and a hero,” Alexei Levinson, a sociologist at the independent Levada institute, told AFP.

“He won the war, so all his atrocities are erased,” he said.

In contrast, Lenin’s achievements have been undone or never materialised, he explained.

“Lenin is the leader of the world revolution — it never happened. Lenin is the leader of the world proletariat — it doesn’t exist. Lenin is the creator of the socialist state — it is no more,” he said.

“And no-one wants to build it anymore either.” — AFP

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