Weekly column by Marc Bennetts
Do you know how many Lenin statues there are in Moscow? That was the question I posed to friends and acquaintances on Monday after an evening of research (it was a quiet evening). No one guessed the answer. It's been more than twenty years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, yet there remain 82 Lenin statues in the Russian capital! And that's the official number. Connoisseurs say there are at least another ten the authorities have missed. You can check them out here.
Yes, I was stunned as well.
Oddly enough, there are a mere three in the centre of Moscow, with the rest located in the city suburbs. Not far from the capital, in the small town of Dubna, stands the second largest Lenin statue in the world, at 25 meters (37m if you include the pedestal.) In case you were wondering, as you undoubtedly were, the largest Lenin statue on the planet is in Volgograd, which is also home to the gigantic Mother Russia World War II monument (they don't do things by half in Volgograd).
All across Russia, there are scores more monuments to the father of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. There's an odd and massive disembodied Lenin head in east Siberia's Ulan-Ude. A tiny, bronze Lenin monument set among the magnificent scenery of the remote, mountainous Altai Republic. A coal-caked Lenin in the industrial city of Novokuznetsk. And so on. Communist Party head Gennady Zyuganov even attended the unveiling of a newly restored Lenin statue in the Urals city of Ufa late last year.
But Lenin remains an everyday presence in Russia. The country's biggest library is still popularly known by its Soviet-era name in honor of him (although it was renamed in the 1990s) and a nearby metro station in Moscow still bears his name.
This continued Lenin mania is in stark contrast to the fate of his successor, Josef Stalin, who was denounced by the Communist Party for his "cult of personality" after his death in 1953, leading to the wholesale destruction of statues and monuments in his honor.
Of course, not everyone is overjoyed at all these Lenin statues, and several attacks on them in recent years has proven as much. In 2009, someone blew a gaping hole in the buttocks of a St. Petersburg Lenin, and the words "Cannibal, Reptile and Traitor" were daubed over another one in Moscow this April.
Of course, the most important monument to Lenin in Russia is in the centre of Moscow, in Red Square, where the founder of the Soviet state's embalmed body lies in a tomb, gawked at by tens of thousands of tourists (I touched on this theme briefly in last week's column, but please allow me to expand).
Not surprisingly, given the continued existence of all those Lenin statues across the country and the reverence they imply, a recent proposal by Russia's new culture minister, Vladimir Medinsky, to finally bury the mummified revolutionary caused an uproar.
Medinksky said he believed the time had come to respect both Lenin's wishes and those of his relatives, who were equally as opposed to his embalmment and being placed in a tomb like some kind of socialist pharaoh. (Stalin was also laid to rest in the tomb next to Lenin after his death, but removed a few years later after a "secret" speech condemning his excess by Nikita Khrushchev. And if that wasn't enough, a Communist Party member told a party congress that she had dreamt that Lenin was displeased with having to share his mausoleum with Stalin.)
But despite an online poll run by the ruling United Russia party in January that found that 70 percent of Russians would quite like to see Lenin entrusted to the soil, the issue remains controversial.
Even the Russian Orthodox Church has been wary about committing to burial for the man who founded the world's first officially godless state. That's hardly surprising: quite a few Orthodox Christians, mainly pensioners, manage to combine their belief with a fondness for the Soviet era. (It's not uncommon to see Stalin icons at demonstrations by Russia's "religious left.")
In fact, the issue remains so controversial that a newsreader in the Siberian town of Tomsk hopelessly mixed up her Vladimirs earlier this year and told startled viewers about the results of the United Russia poll on whether or not "to bury Vladimir Putin."
The views expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
From lurid tales of oligarch excess to scare stories about Moscow’s stranglehold on Europe’s energy supplies, the land that gave us Roman Abramovich and Vladimir Putin is very rarely out of the news. But there is much more to modern Russia than billionaire tycoons and political conspiracy. Marc Bennetts’ weekly column, Deeper Than Oil, goes beyond the headlines to explore the hidden sides of the world’s largest, and often strangest, country.
Marc Bennetts is a journalist who has written about Russian spies, Chechen football and Soviet psychics for a number of UK newspapers, including The Guardian and The Times. He is also the author of Football Dynamo: Modern Russia and the People’s Game (Virgin Books).
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Earlier this month, Russia hosted the Fourth International Meeting of the Arctic Council at Naryan-Mar, a seaport in the Barents Sea, to discuss issues relating to the infrastructure and safety of ships passing through the Northern Sea Route (NSR).