Smashing Lenin Won’t Save Ukraine

Roundup: Historians' Take
tags: Soviet Union, Ukraine, Vladimir Lenin

Justinian A. Jampol is the founder and executive director of The Wende Museum and Archive of the Cold War in Culver City, California.

LOS ANGELES — As Ukraine’s president fled Kiev and protesters roamed his mansion and took over the capital, old statues of Vladimir Lenin were toppled and dragged through the streets in several Ukrainian cities.

The vandalism and destruction of Lenin statues across Ukraine is only the latest attack on symbols of the old Soviet state and its Eastern European satellites.

As the Soviet Union crumbled in the late 1980s and early 1990s, images of Lenin were defaced and graffiti artists mocked the Communist Party. In East Germany, most of the scorn was saved for the party leader and head-of-state Erich Honecker. His portraits were vandalized and altered, representing widespread anger and charges that he was a war criminal resulting from the shooting deaths at the Berlin Wall. Mr. Honecker avoided trial because of deteriorating health and was allowed to be exiled in Chile.

The East German flag, with the central state seal cut out of the middle, was waved in opposition rallies, indicating a desire to return to some notion of unified German statehood, suggested by the historic black, red and yellow stripes of Weimar. And perhaps the most striking example was a bust of Lenin, once white, that was painted in the midst of the October uprising in Leipzig, using Western-made fluorescent pink and green paint....

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