The question over what to do with Lenin’s waxy corpse has been brought up since the fall of the Soviet Union, and today the NY Times had an article on the politics behind the decision (or lack thereof):
Revisiting a proposal that thwarted Boris N. Yeltsin, who faced down tanks but in his time as president could not persuade Russians to remove the Soviet Union’s founder from his place of honor, a senior aide to President Vladimir V. Putin raised the matter last week, saying it was time to bury the man.
“Our country has been shaken by strife, but only a few people were held accountable for that in our lifetime,” said the aide, Georgi Poltavchenko. “I do not think it is fair that those who initiated the strife remain in the center of our state near the Kremlin.”
In the unending debate about what exactly the new Russia is, the subject of Lenin resembles a Rorschach inkblot test. People project their views of their state onto him and see what they wish. And so as Mr. Poltavchenko’s suggestion has ignited fresh public sparring over Lenin’s place, both in history and in the grave, the dispute has been implicitly bizarre and a window into the state of civil society here.
As for myself, I do not have any strong feelings either way. Yes, the USSR is gone, so wouldn’t it make sense to bury the icons of the past? Yet, Russia hasn’t gone very far in this regard – visitors to the country can still pose with a multitude of Lenin statues, admire the decorative hammers and sickles in the Moscow metro, or do their best to avoid the rough-looking paratroopers sporting Soviet crests on their berets. The fact that Lenin remains in his place of honor then, is hardly surprising. On the other hand, though, this waxy corpse once played a very important part in Russia’s history. Here is, after all, the man who led a revolution that entrenched the Soviet state for over 70 years. So, perhaps from a historical viepoint, one could argue for leaving him on Red Square. Personally, as a student of Russian politics and history, I was very much looking forward to visiting Lenin’s tomb on my first trip to Moscow in 2002. Such a trip is an almost mandatory part of your first visit to Red Square, so it would seem odd to go there and not see the red and black marble structure next to the Kremlin walls. If they remove Lenin, would they also remove or demolish the mausoleum? Certainly, for historical purposes, the structure should somehow be preserved whether in its original location or through removal to a museum.
Perhaps the first step could be removing the “honors” that are currently accorded to him. Before visiting the tomb, guards search you for cameras – why not let people take pictures? At St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, you’re allowed to take pictures of the preserved Popes, so how about letting people do that with Lenin? Hell, go one step further, and follow Russian tradition by charging tourists a few rubles for a photo pass that allows them to take pictures. Also, replace the well dressed, solemn-faced guards with some slouching militsia. The last time I saw Lenin (Uh, I think it was my third – in 2003), a guard came up to my friend Luke and told him to remove his hands from his pockets because it was disrespectful (and by the way, no stopping, keep moving, no talking). Oh come on now, there’s no need for that! We can look at display cases filled with the bodies of Popes and mummies of Egyptian pharaohs without being hassled by the overzealous “respect” police…why not turn Lenin into a real tourist attraction? How about letting people visit other parts of the tomb? I would surely get a kick out of climbing to the top to get a picture of myself waving from the balcony. By changing the tomb’s environment from a respectful viewing area to a museum display, you are no longer “paying your respects” to a tyrant but rather viewing him as what he is today: a morbid tourist attraction.
Once, after we visited Lenin’s tomb, my friends and I concluded that Russia should send Lenin on a world tour. The Russian government has sent art to an exhibition in New York and the Romanov’s jewels to museums throughout the U.S., so why not do the same with Lenin. People with an interest in Russian history would surely pay $10 to visit an exhibition on Soviet history, with the man himself as the main attraction. Cheaper than visiting Moscow, right? And, needless to say, sending Lenin’s body on a for-profit tour of the major capitalist countries would be the ultimate insult to him and his twisted ideology.