Goodbye, Lenin: Will Russia Really Bury The Bolshevik Dictator?
Russia is in ferment. As President Vladimir Putin tries to ensure the stability of his regime, protesters have been assailing his administration as corrupt and moribund. It's becoming cool and hip and fashionable to complain about the state of affairs. Thus even socialite Ksenia Sobchak, described by the Washington Post as Russia's "It Girl," has joined the ranks of the malcontents.
Now comes a new bombshell. Russia's new culture minister Vladimir Medinsky, who has something of an equivocal record when it comes to judging the Soviet past, says he wants to shut down a state-run enterprise. He says it's time to let Vladimir Ilyich Lenin rest in peace. No more Lenin's tomb in Red Square, no more glass coffin, no more enormous lines. Such a move might represent something of a setback for Russia's tourism industry, not to mention the old-guard Stalinists who revere the founder of the modern communist state. Where would the embalmers ply their trade? What would happen to their expertise? Would this be another Russian tradition that falls by the wayside to modernization?
Putin has been more circumspect about the matter. But Medinsky seems serious. According to him,
Maybe, indeed, many things in our life would symbolically change for the better after this.
Whatever his motives, I think Medinsky is right. In fact, Lenin should have been buried a long time ago. It was Stalin who cooked up Lenin's burial as a way of legitimizing his own nasty rule. It was also Stalin who may have poisoned the old boy, hastening his own bloody, dictatorial rule. But it was Lenin who, of course, made Stalin possible, which is different than saying his rule was inevitable. Medinsky wants to turn the mausoleum into a museum. It would be a pity if it were to glorify Lenin, the inventor of the Russian concentration camp and a murderous killer in his own right. Truth to tell, Lenin deserves the kind of burial that Osama Bin Laden received. Both men were terrorists, but one managed, thanks to World War I and a hapless tsar, to shoot his way into power, including murdering the defenseless royal family. Lenin, a sanctimonious windbag, began the destruction of Russian society, a job that Stalin completed. It has yet to recover from their depredations. A museum could begin the process of telling the truth about this thug.
An online poll indicates that many Russians also believe that Lenin should be removed from Red Square. As Medinsky has noted, Lenin and his relatives were never keen on the idea of public displays. The pharaonic element in Bolshevism was introduced by Stalin. Walter Rodgers, writing in the Christian Science Monitor, has warned against removing Lenin's corpse. In his view,
Interring Lenin beside his mother in St. Petersburg may paper over, but will not expunge, the bloody Bolshevik past. Shakespeare reminds us that “the evil men do lives after them.” Modern Russia would dishonor communism’s victims if Lenin’s corpse is smuggled out of town on a moonless night.
But it's also possible that an interment might prompt Russians to confront his sanguinary legacy, to reexamine his misdeeds, to recognize that his actions continue to shape modern Russia in profoundly destructive ways. Lenin's burial need not be an occasion for burying the past. In removing Lenin from Red Square, Russia would be saying that he no longer serves as a father figure. It could come one step closer to confronting its past honestly. So far, Putin has seemed disinclined to face up to it. The issue of his interment might offer him a different route to follow, one that could set a different tone for modern Russia.