Lenin Is Dead, Museum Is Finnish

TAMPERE, Finland -- While Moscow may have lost its museum dedicated to the life and times of the leader of the Bolshevik Revolution, in this small Finnish city the cult of Vladimir Lenin's personality is alive and well.

Statues of Lenin, portraits of Lenin, Lenins made of beans, Lenins made of grain, sugar Lenins, wooden Lenins, plastic toy Lenins -- if it's icons and relics of Vladimir Ilyich you're after, then this is the place.

While Russia's authorities have moved to shed images of the country's Communist past, business at Tampere's Lenin museum has never been better.

"Until 1991, we had mainly tourist groups from the Soviet Union," said Leena Kakko, the museum's acting director. "Now, we still get a few groups from Russia, but a lot more Western tourists, particularly Americans."

In 1993, more than 7,500 visitors walked through the doors of the museum, housed in the stylish art nouveau Tampere workers hall, the site of the first meeting between Lenin and Stalin at a Bolshevik party conference in December 1905.

"Stalin had heard of Lenin, and because of his great reputation imagined he would be a big man," Kakko recounted. "But when he saw Lenin he was disappointed because he was not so tall."

While few records of the conference remain, it is known that the Bolsheviks were given use of the rooms free of charge, which at the time housed Finland's first workers' college, and that they held a further session the following year.

Indeed, Lenin spent the better part of two years in Finland following the collapse of the 1905 Revolution. Forced into hiding by the Provisional Government, Lenin returned to Finland for a couple of months before the October Revolution in 1917 and spent much of the time writing "The State and Revolution." The desk at which he worked during that time, other furniture from the Helsinki flat where Lenin lived and even his walking stick occupy a corner of one room.

One of the more intriguing exhibits is a copy of a December 1917 letter from the Soviet government, which granted Finland independence from the tsarist empire and was signed by Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin.

Finland had been an autonomous duchy within the Russian empire since 1809, when the country was ceded by Sweden. Many Finns sympathized with Lenin because of his fierce support for their country's independence.

That Tampere should provide Lenin with one of his last refuges, therefore, is not surprising.

The city -- a major industrial center often called the Manchester of Finland because of its 19th-century red-brick textile factories -- was a bastion of Red resistance to the Whites during Finland's own Civil War of 1918. Thousands of Communist supporters were shot there in the bloody settling of scores that followed the defeat of the Reds.

The museum has housed exhibitions showing photos from the lives of Finns who fled to the Soviet Union after the 1918 Civil War, and in December the museum is planning an exhibit on Finnish Communists who disappeared in Stalin's gulag system.

Other exhibits have included recently discovered photos of Lenin's last years, in which he looks pained and drawn, and Lenin's portrayal in socialist realist art. In the future, the museum is hoping to gain access to some of the nuggets of history from the now-defunct Lenin Museum in Moscow.

When speculation about the future of the Lenin Mausoleum was at its height, some newspapers even reported the remains of the Bolshevik leader would be moved to Tampere, Kakko said.

While interest in the museum has revived since the collapse of the Soviet Union, not all of it has been friendly, and there have been local calls for the exhibition to close.

"A few very noisy people wrote letters to the papers," Kakko said. "But a planned demonstration a couple of years ago against the museum failed when only two people showed up."