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RUSSIA: Lenin's Body



From Moscow, Cameron Sawyer says: "Ronald wrote that when he was in Russia during the Soviet era, an educated woman said to me in a reverential tone "Lenin was a saint". This was not a casual comment. For all of Communism's scientific and atheist basis, in Russia at least it used traditional Russian religious ideas to the fullest. Which is why Lenin's body was dealt with as the bodies of saints were dealt with in medieval Russia.

How times change. Recent surveys show that Russian schoolchildren today have only a vague idea of who Lenin was. In St. Petersburg, a famous avant garde artist opened a restaurant which is called, roughly translated,"Lenin s Mating Call" . The name is a spoof on the names of Soviet factories and collective farms Lenin's Ray , Lenin's Way , etc. The whole restaurant, which serves Soviet and Anti-Soviet Cuisine , is a grandiose piece of installation art made of hundreds of discarded busts of the Bolshevik fuehrer, arranged around Soviet-era television sets which show videotape loops of Brezhnev-era propaganda films and graphic pornography".

RH:
I suggest that Cameron visit Lenin's mausoleum in Red Square ( is it still Red?) to see if Lenin is turning over in his glass casket. When I visited it, there was a very long line waiting to see it. Since I was a foreigner accompanied by an Academy official, I was allowed to go to the head of the line. How long is the line today?

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From Moscow, Cameron Sawyer said that Lenin was virtually forgotten. I asked about the line of people waiting to see his body in its glass casket in the Kremlin. Martin Storey reports: "Lenin's body was in the paper yesterday because he is due for a change of suit. He'll get a brand new black suit and a white tie, so he can be exposed "for the next hundred years"."

RH:
Surely a red tie would be more appropriate, but as least hs curators are curating. A complicated airconditioning system preserves the body. I trust it is still working. The length of the line would give us some idea of what remains of reverence for him. I understand that there are still statues of him scattered around Russia. Is Stalin still ensconced (cremated?) in the Kremlin wall?

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We wondered if Lenin was forgotten in Russia. I said: "The length of the line would give us some idea of what remains of reverence for him. I understand that there are still statues of him scattered around Russia. Is Stalin still ensconced (cremated?) in the Kremlin wall?". Derek Davis replies: "I have been to Moscow's Red Square three times in the last year. Each time there was a line of at least 50 people waiting to see Lenin's body. I have no idea if they were Russians or tourists. Either way, Lenin lives".

RH:
Which leads me to ask Derek why he went to Moscow three times.

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From New Zealand, Michael Bassett reports: "Re Lenin's tomb: My wife and I were in Moscow in September 1989, just before the collapse of the Berlin Wall. It was the done thing to visit Lenin. The crowd stretched back along Red Square and down to the Kremlin gates when we joined it as curious onlookers. As we got near the top of the stairs to the tomb, a guard ran an eye over would-be visitors, deciding whether they were adequately attired. Ties were straightened etc. All of a sudden, a young married couple appeared from left stage, she still in her bridal garb. They wore party medals. The queue was stopped in its tracks, and the young couple [we gathered from the provinces] were given an exclusive few minutes with the dear dead leader. Only then did the regular parade re-commence. Clearly, a visit to Lenin's tomb was de rigueur for party officials visiting the capital.

Ten years later when we were in Russia (my wife teaches Russian history) we were back in Red Square. There was a straggly line of about 20 people, several of them foreign tourists, so far as we could see. The "fanfare" was on a much reduced scale, and we formed the impression that those in the line were older people going through some ancient form of worship.

This time we left them to it: the stories we were told was that the wax works hadn't been working so well of recent years, and the body was not in its former state. The centre of attention within Red Square had long since shifted away from Lenin's tomb to GUM, which for a change had some useful merchandise on sale. Russians were enjoying the fruits of capitalism rather than some ancient piece of idolatry".

RH:
When I was there, GUM was a very drab place. What about Stalin's remains? There was talk of removing them from the wall.

Ronald Hilton - 11.16.03


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