By Scott Patterson
Illustration by Jennifer Kearney
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, November 7, 2005
Vladimir Lenin’s corpse has occupied a space at the foot the Kremlin wall for 80 years now. The time to bury him has not yet come.
After his death on Jan. 21, 1924, Lenin remained a visible presence within the Soviet Union. Not because of his communist ideology. Not because of his “workers unite” spirit. Not because of the timelessness (or lack thereof) of his theories. But thanks to his body being put on display in Moscow’s Red Square.
Within six days of his death, Lenin’s successor, Josef Stalin, had Lenin’s body embalmed and a tomb built. At 4 p.m. on Jan. 27, 1924, Lenin’s mummified corpse was “laid to rest” in the then-newly constructed dais. He remains there today.
Being an American, it is difficult to comprehend the nuances of having a mummified body on display in a nation’s capital. I tried picturing George Washington’s or Abraham Lincoln’s corpse on display outside the Washington Monument, but to no avail.
Loose similarities, however, can still be found. Russia’s Lenin is analogous to Germany’s swastika, reminiscent of our own Confederate flag. On the one side you have death, destruction, racism, genocide. On the other, you have an influential part of a country’s history. But the real question is, does the baggage behind the symbol outweigh its historical significance?
Does the baggage behind the symbol outweigh its historical significance?
In Lenin’s case, the answer is no. Lenin’s presence does not harm society. On the contrary, the political backlash from removing him would make Russian President Putin’s next few years in office long and arduous. There are too many people left in contemporary Russian society who aren’t ready to bid farewell.
Born Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, Lenin is the father of communism. Through his actions, communism made its mark on the world following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.
To some, he was an academic, a theorist, a linguist, a writer, a rebel, a revolutionary, a politician and a great leader. To others, he was a criminal, a manipulator, a thief, an oppressor, a dictator and a tyrant. To these people, Lenin was to Russia what the Black Plague was to Europe.
Whatever your viewpoint, there is no denying that Lenin played a colossal role in shaping not only the history of Russia, but also the history of the world. Lenin was ranked No. 84 on renowned scientist Michael H. Hart’s list of the most influential figures in history. History classes around the world will be discussing him for generations to come.
In Russia, the public presence of Lenin’s body remains an issue for political debate, which can be summed up in a Shakespearian sort of way: “To bury or not to bury?” with Lenin lying in his sarcophagus, asking, as Queen did, “Bismillah, will you let me go?” Ironically, Lenin himself wanted to be buried next to his mother in St. Petersburg; Stalin didn’t oblige.
Russia’s first president Boris Yeltsin wanted to let him go, but never achieved this. A few weeks ago, a senior aide to Putin suggested the time to let him go has come.
“Our country has been shaken by strife. … I don’t think it’s fair that those who initiated that strife remain in the center of our state near the Kremlin,” he stated.
Putin has remained silent on the issue.
Last week the Russian Orthodox Church also called for letting Lenin go, suggesting the issue be voted on through national referendum. The next few weeks are crucial in deciding the fate of the communist leader’s remains.
Opposition to the proposal has not remained silent. Despite 15 years of pseudocapitalism, a strong reverence for communism remains deeply embedded in certain cleavages of Russian society.
The poor and elderly, for instance, have not fully embraced capitalism. Instead, they long for a return to the Soviet Union, when everyone had money for bread and a place to live. Russia’s post-Soviet Communist Party demands that Lenin not be touched.
The whole situation reminds me of that saying about bad apples and lumberjacks: “You don’t cut down a tree because of one bad apple.” Moreover, throwing away your bad apples removes your basis for comparison. Without that, you cannot understand how good your apples truly are.
Much like our own Confederate flag, Lenin is a symbol of Russian history. Even if you disagree with everything he stood for, removing him now is not the answer. To truly understand where you come from, you must absorb both the good, and the bad. Moscow’s Confederate flag still deserves a place in Russian society.
Scott Patterson is an international studies senior. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.