Andrew Osborn: Russians Consider Burying Lenin

Roundup: Talking About History

On the fringe of a sprawling sombre cemetery in St Petersburg, an unsmiling metal-grey statue of Maria Ulyanova, mother of Vladimir Lenin, peers into the distance as if waiting for the return of her famous son.

The boy she gave birth to in 1870 may have laid the foundations of the world's largest superpower and been the first politician in history to put Marxism into practice, but in death he has turned out to be less potent.

Eighty-one years after his fatal stroke in 1924, his wish to be buried alongside his mother in St Petersburg's Volkovskoye Cemetery, resting place of writers, intellectuals and academics, remains controversially unfulfilled.

Instead, his painstakingly embalmed corpse, replete in its three-piece suit, continues to lie in what is purportedly a bullet-proof, blast-proof glass case in a mausoleum in Red Square in Moscow, 400 miles to the south. It is exactly where the tyrant who succeeded him (against Lenin's will), Joseph Stalin, decreed that he should be deposited.

Stalin judged rightly that the mausoleum would feed a cult of personality around Lenin, the father of the 1917 Russian Revolution, and boost the popularity and credibility of his own leadership by association. Yet 'Uncle Joe' died in 1953 and the glory days of Marxism-Leninism, let alone Stalinism, are long gone. Russia has turned its back on the ideology that Lenin propagated, many of the statues that were lovingly forged in his likeness and used to grace towns across the Soviet Union have been dismantled, and the Russian Communist Party today looks more like an enfeebled collection of pensioners than the vanguard of the revolution.

Yet still the curious and the reverential troop through the dimly lit macabre tomb in Moscow. And still Lenin's name and unearthly presence hover eerily above Red Square, Russia's spiritual and historic heart.

The question is, though, for how much longer? Calls for his corpse to be removed were first heard soon after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, and gained added impetus in 1993 after troops loyal to the then president Boris Yeltsin stormed the Russian White House to crush Communist-nationalist opposition to democratic reforms.

[Editor's Note: This is a very short excerpt from a much longer article. Please see The Independent for more.]

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